Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reservoirs of Life

I recently took a quick tour through a modern bookstore.  I usually avoid them, knowing that most of what is currently published is devoid of beauty, both of sight and of mind.  But I had a few minutes to kill so, as the bear who went over the mountain, I went in to see what I could see.  I left dejected, uninspired and definitely unimpressed.  What little life that was there was crushed among the death-obsessed tomes.

I went home to dig out one of my favorite book treasures, Five Years of Children's Books:  A Supplement to Realms of Gold.  Oh, what a gem this book is!  Published in 1936, this secular list of books contains wonderful selections for children in all genres that had been released since 1930.  Just browsing its pages lifts the spirits for it contains snippets and illustrations of many of the books it lists.  Over the next weeks, I hope to offer select quotes from this book to show what authors of past generations sought to instill in children...reservoirs of life.

From page 11 we read:

To estimate the importance of these beautiful books and to realize fully what they may mean to children and to the rest of us, we must ourselves believe that the artist creates life.  He sees with more than the physical eye.  He sees with the vision of the soul.  The artist creates for the child a noble reality by which the child - and we ourselves - may grow.  We have had too much emphsis upon realism and all its insignificant and often ugly detail.  Let us be thankful for this wonderful gift of genius, cherish it, and let us expose our little children to these beautiful books as to "a simple atmosphere of all fair things, where beauty, which is the spirit of art, will come on eye and ear like a fresh breath of wind that brings health from a clear upland, and insensibly and gradually draw the child's soul into harmony with all knowledge and all wisdom, so that he will love what is beautiful and good, and hate that which is evil and ugly (for they always go together) long before he knows the reason why."

Page 3 reveals the purpose of collecting a list of these treasures into this volume:

As for the values which we claim are strong and clear in children's books, the first of these is a sense of God.  "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."  A seeking after truth and beauty; a sense of wonder and reverence; the balance and proportion which humor gives:  these are values in terms of the spirit which shape the design and form for living.

In Eleanor Farjeon's words, such a child would have ever "new eyes, new ears and a new vision of life."

The books which fill these pages have the power to add life and reality.  Our hope for the book is that it may serve to introduce books, to reveal them as reservoirs of life.

May our children grow to offer reservoirs of life to a dying culture.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When you reread a classic,
you do not see more in the book
than you did before;
you see more in you
than was there before.
 ~Clifton Fadiman~

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Human Equation ~ Geography

One of the greatest joys of our lives is to have hosted foreign exchange students from all over the world.  Two boys in particular have become like sons to us.  In fact, when folks ask how many children I have, I say I have five boys including two French sons.  You see, for us France is more than just a spot on a map, more than just landscapes and landmarks.  It is two very special people. 

Recently Francois returned to the US for a three week visit.  We laughed as we relived the great times we had during his year with us.  We cried when he left.  But we carry a bit of France in our hearts knowing he is there thinking of his American family.  The time with him and our other exchange students is very special to my boys.  When newsworthy events happen in these countries, they immediately connect to those who have shared our home.  As we study geography, we have real faces and real relationships.  A human equation. 


We don't have to host foreign exchange students, however, to experience this human equation.  Living books about the people and cultures of those countries can help us build personal relationships with others around the world.   The golden age of children's literature is replete with gems to introduce us to the world.  Below are just a few of my favorites.

If you would like to begin your world tour at home, Lois Lenski wrote an extensive collection of regional stories such as Judy's Journey.  Some of these treasures have been reprinted!

One of my favorites series and that of my patrons is the Twins books by Lucy Fitch Perkins.  Lucy wrote many titles of a set of twins in many cultures.  The Dutch Twins, The Chinese Twins and The French Twins are just a few of the books in this endearing series.  Some of these have been reprinted as well.

In the 1930's Madeline Brandeis traveled the world with her daughter and her camera.  She photographed the people and places, weaving stories around them.   Filled with photographs and cultural facts woven in story, these books are a fascinating look at the world.  Some titles in this series are Little Philippe of Belgium, Little Anne of Canada, and Little Tom of England.  When my French sons were here, I read Little Jeanne of France.  The boys were continually pointing out the landmarks that they pass by everyday.  It didn't hurt that they could help me pronounce the French words.  :)

Charlotte Mason used living books to introduce her students to many cultures.  When I Was a Boy in Japan by Sakae Shioya was one of her choices.

Simply Charlotte Mason has published a geography curriculum that combines living books, map work and cultures by introducing us to families in various countries around the world.   Their Visits to... Series is a good choice if you would like more guidance.


It is a small world after all.  When we reach across political and social boundaries, we may learn that people are not so different.  Reach out and develop a relationship.  You may change a life...even your own.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beach Books

Vacation time for a homeschool family often involves taking a break from regular studies and learning about the location they will be traveling to.  As we prepare for what we hope will be a quiet, restful and WARM week at the beach, I thought I'd share some of the books we have been enjoying to open our eyes to what we might find.

Spring Comes to the Ocean by Jean Craighead George is a fascinating look at the changes in the sea this time of year.  As this longed-for season approaches, it is interesting to learn about those things on earth we cannot see.

Beachcombing by Jim Arnosky - We so enjoy Arnosky's nature books.  The boys love searching to see what treasures they can find.  This book helps identify them.

Fish Do the Strangest Things by Lenora Hornblow - Part of the Step-Up series, this book gives young readers a fun look at the creatures under the sea.

Manfish:  A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne - This is a lovely picture book of the great "oceanographer and champion of the sea."

Water People by Wilfrid Bronson - Another excellent look at underwater life.

Pagoo by Holling Clancy Holling is a classic to read before a beach trip.  The life of a hermit crab is gorgeously illustrated by this beloved author.

Seashore by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne - This book is in the wonderful One Small Square series.  Learn about the variety of life at the edge of the sea.  Many other habitats are featured in this series such as deserts, Arctic tundra, backyard, woods, rain forest, etc.  Don't miss these to enlighten your nature studies.

Friday, February 28, 2014

My List of Book Lists

If you read my last article, you were cautioned about allowing book lists to paralyze you into feeling chained to particular literary recommendations.  Now that I've released you from book list slavery, let me share with you some of my favorite resources for finding the best living books.  ;)

Many years ago when I first began collecting books in earnest, I relied on Valerie's Living Books.  Valerie has been buying, selling and writing about living books for nearly 20 years and her website is a wealth of information.  (You can also buy wonderful titles from her.)

Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt is another resource that has been directing parents in choosing the best books for their children for many years. 

Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson is a great choice.  Based on the writings of Charlotte Mason. 

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson is a relatively new publication of book lists.  You might recognize Sarah as the daughter of Clay and Sally Clarkson, authors of Educating the WholeHearted Child.  Sarah was brought up on the best the world of children's literature has to offer and shares her favorites in this book.

If you are looking to liven up your history study with living books, you might consider All Through the Ages by Christine Miller.  This book lists books by historical time period as well as geographically and by age.

Of course, the TruthQuest History guides offer an exhaustive list of books of each topic covered.  Michelle Miller is not only the author of these profound guides, she owns a homeschool lending library herself so is well-versed in the golden age of children's literature.

My most used resource is Jan Bloom's Who Should We Then Read Vols. 1 and 2.   Jan's books are unique in that she lists books by author including a brief biography of each and a list of every book he/she wrote.  This is an indispensable resource if you are seeking to build a collection of your favorites.  My copies are marked and highlighted treasures.

Last but not least is my precious copy of Realms of Gold and it's companion volume Five Years of Children's Books.  These books are from the 1930's and list the most wonderful titles published for children during those years.  Many of these we recognize from our childhoods.  In the introduction of Five Years of Children's Books we read the standard for books published during this time...

"As for the values which we claim are strong and clear in children's books, the first of these is a sense of God. 'God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.'  A seeking after truth and beauty; a sense of wonder and reverence; the balance and proportion which humor gives:  these are values in terms of the spirit which shape the design and form for living.  The books which fill these pages have the power to add life and reality."

As we seek to find the best books to place in the eager hands of our children, may God lead us to life and reality, to truth and beauty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Lists: Bane or Blessing

As a homeschool librarian I am often asked by prospective patrons if I have the books listed on various homeschool curricula book lists.  I remember as a new homeschooler 18 years ago trying to find a curriculum that utilized real, living books.  After we finished our time with Five in a Row, we definitely did not want to settle for dry facts common in the textbooks listed in most homeschool catalogs and marketed at homeschool conventions.  I found only one such curriculum at the time.  We plunged in, enjoying the books we could locate on that list, substituting books we could not find or...gasp...leaving them out altogether.  It really never occured to me that my child's education would somehow be ruined if I did not have the exact book recommended on a particular list.

I so appreciate the variety and sheer volume of book lists available today.  I collect these lists, mull over them, mark what I own, eagerly scour used book stores, library sales and internet websites to add to my collection.  But I don't own everything.  I never will own everything.  But I try to make every purchase count in my effort to put the best that the golden age of children's literature has to offer into the hands of eager young readers.  I have literally thousands and thousands of books, mostly out of print and written during a time when authors sought to edify their audience of young minds, on my shelves and add more almost weekly.

I can understand a new homeschool mom's panic when faced with the great responsibility of the education of her children and the outside pressure of doing everything "right."  She studies the homeschool catalogs, talks to veteran moms, goes to conferences, previews curriculum, and on it goes.  Mom brings the new, expensive curriculum to my library in anticipation of returning home with a tote full of the books she will need to fill her children's minds with all that is necessary for a well-rounded education...and I have only three of them. 

Let me explain.  By default, most producers of curriculum, even those that utilize living books, must use books that are in print.  Most public libraries have discarded the best books and are left with twaddle at best and poison at worst.  Unfortunately, although the homeschool library movement is growing, there are very few of us in the country.  So the vast majority of the moms will only be able to locate books that are in print.  Are these books the best that are written on the topic?  Maybe.  Probably not.  They are the best that the curriculum writer had available at the time of writing.  But I find so many moms distraught that they will somehow be shortchanging their children's education if the exact book is not found.  Also is the fact that there are often specific lesson plans that revolve around said book and mom has no idea how to deviate from those plans to make a substitution. 

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  I very much appreciate the admonition Michelle Miller gives to families who use her TruthQuest guides.  Use what you have!  If you are blessed to live near a homeschool lending library that specilizes in living books, become a patron and select the best of the best to lavish upon the minds of your children.  Read book lists, learn from them.  But don't be a slave to them.  Be willing to step outside the box of the curriculum to choose something better if it is available to you.  You will be amazed and blessed by the treasures you may find.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Sale Pages Updated

I have updated my Book Sale Page.  This is a massive list of wonderful living books. 

To help you add more books to your collection, if you buy 5-9 books, take 10% off.  If you purchase 10 books or more, take 25% off! 

There are some great titles here.  Email me at with your questions or purchases.  Thank you for your support.