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What Makes a Book a "Living Book?"

A Stack of Beloved Living Books

Stack of Favorite Living Books

Stack of Favorite Living Books

Books that Live and Breathe

Some books are so so engaging, so classic, and so endearing that they deserve the label living books. Any genre or form can be a living book (or not): fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry.

But not all books are living books.

Charlotte Mason, the British educator, is the person who coined the term living books. The descriptions of living books here are based on her explanations.

Characteristics of a Living Book

Living books make an impact on you. They are worthy of your attention and time. Here are more details about what a living book does:

Grabs your heart

Living books speak to your heart as well as to your head. They touch on deep feelings and classic themes that all of humanity can relate to -- justice, love, reality, hope.

Appeals to all ages

A good test of a living book is its appeal factor. Does it appeal only to small children or only to teens? If so, it is probably not a living book. A living book can be appreciated on different levels by different readers. A child enjoys the suspense and characterizations. A teen can appreciate the symbolism and timeless themes.

Is there a book that you read as a child and then reread as an adult, enjoying it much more the second time through? That is a living book.

Says something important

Living books make statements. They are not preachy; the important themes are skillfully woven into the story. But there is something meaty there to be had. A living book is more than entertainment. A living book holds truth within its pages.

Makes you think

Because living books say important things, they make you think. The ideas are worthy ones, things to wrestle with, to savor, to ponder. The book itself doesn't have to be complicated with long, complex sentences and advanced vocabulary. But the ideas within a living book are substantial.

Draws clear mental images that give you food for thought later

A living book sticks with you long after you read it. Months and even years later, you still have images of scenes from the book which bring back certain themes or emotions.

Can be appreciated on different levels

A living book is layered with literal and abstract meanings. This is why a living book appeals to all ages -- there is something for everyone. Every time you read it, you glean something fresh because there are many levels of understanding.

Appeals to your imagination

A living book is so real that you create an emotional attachment to the characters and setting. You hate for the book to end because the experience of reading it is just so enjoyable.

Books About Living Books & About Reading Them

Assessing & Finding Living Books

How will you know if a book is a living book or is twaddle? You can take the recommendations of others as a guide. If a picture book or novel is frequently mentioned in homeschooling circles and is often in curriculum booklists, then it has a good chance of being a living book.

However, the only sure way to know is to read the book yourself and make an assesesment. There is truly no substitute for being an informed parent. So as much as possible, preview all the books you offer to your children.

For help in finding booklists of living books, try these sources:

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  • homeschool catalogs
  • Scott O'Dell award winning books
  • Newbery award winning books

TWADDLE --the Opposite of a Living Book

In homeschooling circles, especially among Charlotte Mason educators, people often throw around this term "living book" in contrast to "twaddle." Twaddle is the opposite of a living book.

Twaddle may appeal at the entertainment level, but it provides little long-term value to the reader. An example of twaddle would be the Junie B. Jones book series.

A good test to determine if a book is living or twaddle book is this: Can the book be enjoyed by both the parent and the child simultaneously? If the book has a story that engages a small child and has the depth to satisfy an adult reader, then that book is likely a living book.

Twaddle is insipid, predictable, ordinary, dull, or shallow. Books that are twaddle generally lack moral value. That is not to say that they are immoral but that they don't offer the reader any grand ideals to aspire to.

And don't be misled that just because a book is old that it is not twaddle. There is "vintage" twaddle just as there is modern twaddle.

How to USE Living Books in Your Homeschool


thebookmom from Nebraska on August 08, 2011:

Love the word "twaddle" can't wait to use it with our book group!

Becca on May 24, 2011:

I love both definitions! As a new homeschooler I've often wondered what makes a living book and how to find them. Thanks for the tips.

cashmere from India on May 01, 2011:

Sounds like an interesting concept. Must try it out. I've been stuck with twaddles so far :)

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on December 28, 2010:

I think this is a great label. I have read many books and book series that I would consider living books.

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on December 26, 2010:

I'd never heard of this label, 'living book' before. Now I'll be thinking about that when I pick up my book again.

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