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18. Books as Food

By now, you know that books have an important place in a CM education. This week, we're going to focus on those books. Will just any book do? Is it only important that a child reads, no matter what he reads? Well, no. Let's work with an analogy: food.

We all need food. We all love to eat. We NEED to eat. Let's ask ourselves the same question, but with our new analogy: Is it only important that a child eats, no matter what he eats? What if he eats candy all day? Sugar causes a craving for more sugar. Your child will be left with an insatiable appetite for more candy, yet his body will be starving. How about sawdust? If he can manage to choke any of it down, it will probably do him more damage than good. What if he had all the nutrients he needed, but blended into a paste that you slopped into a bowl for him every morning? That may be healthy, but he wouldn't want to eat it. Those nutrients wouldn't ever make it into his body.

Okay, let's be more realistic. What about fruit? Fruit is healthy, fruit is good. But can a child live on nothing but fruit? Can he live on just bread? No. A growing body needs nutrients, but those nutrients have to be in something appealing and tasty, and those nutrients need to come from a variety of sources.

Let's get back to books. There are silly books that have enough action going on to stimulate a child's appetite for more of the same. They're like mind candy. Comic books might fall into this category. Some series books also fit here. Those books are like pure sugar -- they taste great, but too many will spoil the appetite and cause starvation -- not starvation of the body, but of the mind. Sawdust might be likened to dry, boring textbooks that are hard for anybody to choke down with enjoyment, even when all the relevant facts are there. And there are books that have all the right ingredients, but for some reason, children just don't take to them.

The right book is a joy -- the phrasing is delightful, the words themselves are beautiful and convey advanced vocabulary seamlessly, the pages are alive with plenty of interesting ideas to get the mind going . . . but even then, a variety of books about different things is necessary. Reading nothing but classic fairy tales would be like living on fruit. Where's the meat of history, the bread of geography? (What should we liken brussels sprouts to?)

You'll hear a lot about "living books" and "twaddle" if you spend much time with CM educators. Can you guess which books we've talked about would be "living," and which would be "twaddle"?

"When we say book, we don't mean any printed text with a binding. We mean a work that possesses certain literary qualities that can bring the kind of sensible joy to a reader that comes from a literary word fitly spoken." [from Charlotte Mason's Vol. 2 pg 262]

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