When people hear "schoolwork" they usually think of textbooks, workbooks, drills in the three Rs, quizzes, and tests. But an increasing number of students are being given a curriculum that relies upon many well-written children's books. A table is prepared and a feast is spread with many "living books." This phrase originated with the Victorian educator Miss Charlotte Mason, who taught in England during the days of Charles Dickens's socially redeeming novels. After decades of working with children, she started a teachers' training college because of the positive results gained from her experiment of educating children with real books. She called them "living books" because they were alive with ideas and opened the door of a child's mind. After reading Miss Mason's century-old writings, I felt I just had to try her experiments myself with my own children. I am able to say, after over ten years of following her sensible advice, that learning through living books has been both a delight and a strength in my children's education.
Good children's literature is not a luxury or "educational fluff" to put off for another day. This literature is essential in supplying each child with a living education-one that reaches out far beyond the confines of a textbook. While speaking and writing about Miss Mason's method, I regularly receive letters from teachers and mothers who educate with good children's literature. The letters confirm that reading these particular books are a favorite part of the learning experience.
Textbooks may include basic information, but a living book fills in the gaps with the human touch. The carefully chosen words of an author writing with a personal fondness for his or her topic speak enthusiastically to a child. Therefore not only will students widen their vocabulary, have their imaginations excited by story, and be taken to faraway times and places, but they will pick up the author's enthusiasm. This is what keeps curiosity and the love of knowledge alive! Sadly, when children are taught with a curriculum devoid of well-written children's literature, they often have their natural curiosity "schooled out" of them. School days become humdrum. But students will revive when children's literature is made an integral part of the curriculum when these books become their schoolbooks.
I couldn't imagine teaching American history without the historical fiction novel Johnny Tremain, which paints the scenes of the Boston revolt so beautifully. What were people thinking and feeling during the events of that time in Boston? Esther Forbes's characters answer that for us. And may I recommend a course in geography that relies upon the books by Holling Clancy Holling? By reading his Paddle-to-the-Sea my children are taken on a tour of the Great Lakes with a little carved Indian in a canoe. Each of Holling's books conveys facts and information in the very digestible form of an adventure. Another author, David Macaulay, uses his architectural training and pen-and-ink drawings to show us how famous structures were built. Behind the step-by-step building procedures of a pyramid, a castle, or a cathedral are fictional characters that draw us into a story.
I hope that you all allow good children's literature to be a part of your student's educational experience.