My Living Books Life – Celeste Cruz

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Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.

–Henry David Thoreau

Like many homeschooling moms, I have always been a lover of books.  I’m embarrassed to admit how many Baby-Sitters Club books lined my shelves, but I also gobbled the good stuff: I re-read my Little House books until the covers fell off and rejoiced over the vintage hardcovers passed down to me from my mom’s childhood.  In high school, I earnestly dipped into the classics and developed an intense appreciation for poetry. From there, I jumped into my college studies with enthusiasm: I double-majored in English and Humanities, minored in Art History, and earned a graduate degree in Literature.  I spent those years gulping Milton, Eliot, Dante, Austen, and Shakespeare (especially Shakespeare!).  I poured it all right back out into the students I was teaching and into writing—and all the while I was gulping more. I hit a healthy balance of the poetic and the analytic: I knew how to love a book and the ideas it contained, and I also knew how to pull it apart to marvel at its inner workings; sounds like a Living Books Life, right?
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But actually, my true Living Books Life started after that.  I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and spent my first trimester sick in bed, where I read all the books Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott ever wrote.  I also started reading another female writer, Charlotte Mason.  In the months and years following, in the midst of the daily chaos with a brood of young children, I undertook a new kind of reading life, one that looked more like Miss Mason suggested.

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

The difference? I delved into the beautiful habit of slow reading multiple books across genres and subjects.  Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another in that wondrous web governed by the Holy Ghost.  Those connections are best understood by reading liberally—and that moving beyond literature and grabbing books about math, cultural commentary, theology, and the sciences.
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And something else was different too: that slow, broad, relational reading changed my perception of success. No longer did I measure my reading life by how many books I finished or how many pages I wrote on them. In those gulping years in an academic environment, I perpetually felt a combination of buzzed and burned out.  I still get that buzz sometimes—a lot of the time, actually. This is an exciting life of learning! But rather than bouncing between two extremes, I am continuously fed, soothed, invigorated, challenged, encouraged, and blessed.  My new goals are to cultivate virtue, to notice details and delight in them, to meet great minds, and to build knowledge of man, nature, and God.

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

–Oscar Wilde

A Living Books Life promises that we might have life—and might have it more abundantly. One can only approach such a promise with a posture of humility and gratefulness. I cannot adequately express my deep thankfulness for the lessons learned on this road of self-education, with Miss Mason as my guide. And the best part of it all? I get to live this with my kids. Abundance indeed.
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Living books are meant to be savored; slowing down allowed me time to process to commonplace alongside, to discuss with others, to ponder, to wonder, to connect with the author and his ideas, to notice how the readings connect with one another
20140824_180303-001Celeste Cruz is mommy to eight children under age ten. Once upon a time she was training to be an English professor; now, she can often be found chasing her little ones while schooling her elementary kids. (Some days are more successful than others.) When she has her hands free, she enjoys distance running, nature journaling, traditional Catholicism, exploring her native Northern California, and beach-combing with her husband of thirteen years. She moderates for the AmblesideOnline Forums, fits her life into small squares on Instagram, and shares the joys of a Catholic Charlotte Mason home education at Joyous Lessons.

My Living Books Life – Catherine Shelton

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…reading a wide selection of living books has not only increased our children’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world around them but has also given them a thirst for more living books and a general love of learning.

I’ve always loved books, and started reading fairly early. As a young girl I devoured the Famous Five series and pretty much anything by Enid Blyton. I remember being discovered by my parents, more than once, reading under the bedcovers with my torch, long after lights were supposed to be out. My favourite book was ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, perhaps because I shared a name with the heroine.

Fast forward many years and I found myself at Oxford University studying Maths and Philosophy, reading Descartes, Aristotle and Aquinas. Around that time I felt God was calling me to overseas mission, and so I lapped up all the missionary biographies about heroes such as Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael and Elizabeth Elliot. I loved reading about their amazing adventures and their passion to know God and to make Him known. It wasn’t long before I was at Bible college, meeting my future husband and then heading off to Russia to work in Bible translation – the ultimate ‘living book’!

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There’s something about living overseas that makes you filter out ‘twaddle’ like never before. With limited room in our suitcases and no access to libraries or Amazon (we didn’t discover the wonders of the Kindle until later), books became really precious and we only brought the best books into our home – ones we knew we’d read again and again and recommend to others. That applied to our children’s books too, especially once we started out on the wonderful journey of homeschooling. We had to plan well in advance what books we really needed, acquire them while we were back home on furlough, and make sure we had room in our suitcases. When we had to return home for good, 11 years later, at least half of the 15 bags we were allowed by British Airways were filled with books we couldn’t bear to part with.

It’s a bit harder to fight against the twaddle now that the kids have access to their local library here in England, but we keep up our focus on living books as much as we can. One of my favourite childhood memories is of my mother reading ‘The Hobbit’ to my brother and me on holiday one year, so last summer I took that as our holiday read-aloud. The children were enraptured. My then 5 year old claimed it was his favourite part of the whole holiday! We’re now about a third of the way through ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and my son has been inspired to write his own book – ‘The Adventures of Bobo’ – which he works on diligently every day and illustrates too. My daughters are enjoying the likes of Anne of Green Gables and Caddie Woodlawn.

The children were enraptured

One of the things I love about home education is that it gives our children time just to read. All six of us are at our happiest curled up on the sofa with a good book – even the one-year-old pretends to be reading and knows how to lick her finger to turn the page! I’ve noticed that reading a wide selection of living books has not only increased our children’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world around them but has also given them a thirst for more living books and a general love of learning.

All six of us are at our happiest curled up on the sofa with a good book – even the one-year-old pretends to be reading and knows how to lick her finger to turn the page!

The writer of Ecclesiastes may well have said “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.…” (Ecc 12:12) but I like to think he wasn’t talking about living books!

 

 

Catherine Shelton (1)Catherine Shelton and her husband have been married for 15 years and they have four children, aged 11, 8, 6 and nearly 2. In a former life she worked as a secondary school maths teacher and then later as an exegetical advisor in a Bible translation project in Russia. After living overseas for 11 years the family had to return to the UK, and Catherine now continues to home educate her children full-time using the Charlotte Mason approach, specifically following the Ambleside Online curriculum. She also enjoys writing and can be found blogging over at www.catherineshelton.net. Catherine de-stresses from busy family life by training for half marathons and by spending time at the beach near where she now lives in the south of England.

My Living Books Life – Nancy Kelly

 

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My life has been forever enriched by reading slowly, surely, and widely

When did my living books life begin? My mom tells a story of when I was hospitalized at age nine with spinal meningitis.  She says that when the nurse leaned over the bed and asked what I wanted to have – and I could have anything – I whispered, “My books, please.” I like that story, and always remember that I loved books, but I’m not sure what books I was reading at that age.  Some Little House on the Prairie with some Nancy Drew on the side, most likely. Pretty sure I didn’t do any reading that day after the spinal tap.

I’d say that my real journey with living books began when I moved from California to my husband’s small hometown in Minnesota in 1993. With only preschoolers in tow at the time, I really didn’t have much of a library.  But then came a call from a retiring school librarian which changed things.  That sweet lady had heard that I might be homeschooling and so wouldn’t I need books?  And would I like to come pick through the stacks and take what I think might be useful? They were pruning most books printed before 1975.  Truth is, I didn’t even know what to look for and there was no time (or internet!) for research. So I filled up a dozen boxes with what looked like they might make for good reading – Landmarks, Signatures, Messners, as well as books by McClung, Wheeler, Earle, Petersham, the D’aulaires and many more. Then I giddily threw myself into the author research, the library sales, the donations, 4 more children and a 3 story house that happily creaks with all those books today.

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In the early days of my living books life, I was reading all about Charlotte Mason and her ideas of what a living book actually is. I could see that it needed to be well-written, engaging, by a passionate author, and that it should stir the emotions.  But I think there is something else going on with living books, something spiritual between each individual child and certain books that makes them living.

But I think there is something else going on with living books, something spiritual between each individual child and certain books that makes them living

I found that out early on as I sat for hours reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my two  young sons. I watched and observed how those precious children responded with excitement and wonder, acting out scenes and describing episodes to their father at the end of the day. Whatever was going on with their strong reaction to the story is exactly what I wanted more of for them, for their education, and for their lives.

Whatever was going on with their strong reaction to the story is exactly what I wanted more of for them, for their education, and for their lives.

Because I’m never sure which book will move which child, variety is important.  Just because one daughter has read the 12 books from the Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons twice, doesn’t mean the next child will be interested in them.  Why one son wants every Jim Kjelgaard ever printed and the other prefers Leonard Wibberley, I can’t say. Why the quiet child consumes everything by Roald Dahl and the loud one prefers Ursula Le Guin is a mystery to me.

I love what Charlotte Mason says about the child and living books:

A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case (School Education,  p. 228)

For myself, Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald goes down as the first book to make me cry. Years later I read it aloud in school (unabridged)  and it took almost 2 years.  No one minded.  I cried that time, too.  As a family we have enjoyed dozens of titles out loud such as Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer, Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan Eckert , the Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, A Family of Foxes by Ellis Dillon, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, to name just a few.

My life has been forever enriched by reading slowly, surely, and widely. Think the turtle, not the hare! I’ve enjoyed all the Miss Read titles, old books about my favorite president James A. Garfield, theology from N.T. Wright, Richard Foster, and John Piper and my current interest – beautiful vintage collections of devotions, prayers, and poetry that follow the church year (see my reprint of The Cloud of Witness). By establishing an atmosphere filled with books and an expectation of learning, every family member has been positively and eternally enriched. With a living book to look forward to every evening when I crawl into bed, alongside my morning devotions, and during the school day with my children, I invite and ensure that new ideas will be at the ready in my mind on a daily basis.  That, I have found, leads to a living a very full life.

 

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Nancy Kelly lives in a little town on the prairie called Windom, Minnesota. She and her husband Kent have home-educated their six children for over 20 years using the principles and practices of Charlotte Mason.  After listening to Susan Schaeffer Macaulay speak on education at the 1994 L’Abri Conference in Rochester, MN, she decided to wholeheartedly pursue this way of learning and living. Nancy has helped build a thriving educational community in southwest Minnesota that continues to learn and grow.  She administrates the Parents’ Midwest Educational Union (PMEU), a parents’ book discussion group; Truth, Beauty, Goodness (TBG), a student learning cooperative; the teacher-training Awakening sessions; and the Living Education Retreat, now in its 10th year of sharing and spreading the ideas of Charlotte Mason. Ten years ago she began sharing her knowledge and experience across the country speaking on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy at conventions and retreats. She is a sought-after educational consultant and mentor.  A trip with Kent and dear friends to Ambleside, England in 2014 forever changed her understanding of Mason’s teacher training and deepened her love for Mason’s relational philosophy. Nancy has a Bachelor of Science in Multidisciplinary Studies with cognates in English and Education from Liberty University. She is a current board member of the Charlotte Mason Institute and writes at her CM-inspired blog, Sage Parnassus.  She enjoys family, ‘bright eyes’, flower gardening, collecting vintage honeypots, exploring the flora and fauna of new places, and of course…books.

You can contact her at sageparnassus@gmail.com .

My Living Books Life – Emily Kiser

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To introduce children to literature is to instal them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served – Charlotte Mason

I’m so delighted to introduce you to my guest on the blog today, Emily Kiser. Emily and I met over the wonders of social media and it’s my pleasure to have her share a little of her living books story here today, enjoy!

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I come from a family of readers. My mother, Liz Cottrill, (who has written and spoken about her own reading background quite a bit) was diligent to read extensively to me and my siblings as we were growing up. Being blind, she read to us from Braille books, the ones she read as a girl. So my early reading life was drenched in classics like Heidi and Little Women, The Wind in the Willows and The Yearling. I loved to read and began reading for myself quite early, but still, my mother continued to read aloud to me, and I am eternally grateful that she did.

Despite the solid foundation I had in reading good books, my personal reading culture grew stagnant once I discovered Nancy Drew. I devoured mystery after mystery, not caring that the plots were all very similar. The problem wasn’t the books themselves (I still credit my reasoning skills to the hours spent solving crimes with Nancy), the problem was that I stopped reading anything else. Slowly, bit by bit, I backed out of this dead end and expanded my reading taste once again in my late teens. I discovered beauty in the sensitive writing of Madeleine L’Engle whose books led me to discover others.

After I finished college, I moved back home. My younger siblings were still being home educated, so I used to take my mom to used book sales at the public libraries in the surrounding areas combing the stacks for treasures. I didn’t really know what I was looking for beyond a few trusted authors, and the term “living book” didn’t mean very much to me at all yet. It wasn’t until I found a copy of Who Shall We Then Read by Jan Bloom (a collection of 155 excellent authors and lists of their books) on the homeschooling shelf that I stumbled into the pages of the best books I’ve ever read. Often tears would come to my eyes as my heart was overwhelmed with truth and beauty glimpsed in the pages of these books. Here I was, a twenty-something adult crying over books intended for children. While reading Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen, I actually said aloud, “Does someone have to die in every good story?” I had an epiphany at that moment. I realized that yes, someone does have to die, because someONE did die to save the world. Living books, I learned, reflect the True story that God has already written. These stories I was coming to love were not only enjoyable, they were teaching me more about myself, and also the true nature of the world. They taught me to empathize with others whose experiences are so different than my own. These books were living books and they have enhanced my own life beyond measure.

Living books, I learned, reflect the True story that God has already written

From that time on, I have been collecting books from “The Golden Age of Children’s Literature.” As my collection grew, my mom began urging me to consider helping her open a lending library for homeschooling families in our area. In the spring of 2006 we opened Living Books Library to 12 local families with our meager collection of about 3,000 volumes. We now have about 17,000 volumes and about 45 families currently check out books to use in their education. Though I am now married and have children of my own, the library is still a large part of my life. It is a great honor and responsibility to help put the right book into the right hands at the right time. Looking back, I think it was my shyness that kept me from asking for new book recommendations. I hope to be the kind of librarian that invites children to explore new horizons, to seek out unexplored lands, to walk in a different person’s shoes–the kinds of things that happen in the pages of really good books.

EmBioPicEmily Kiser lives with her husband and two sons on their small, family-owned Organic farm in southwest Virginia. She is the author of Simply Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Portfolios and librarian at Living Books Library. She and her mother, Liz, along with Nicole Williams host the weekly Charlotte Mason podcast, A Delectable Education.