choosing books

It’s rather entertaining to watch shoppers in the produce section. Some approach a fruit stand with fear and trepidation. They know they’re supposed to be picky about which mangos they buy, but they haven’t the foggiest idea how to tell if it’s ripe, not yet ripe, or past its prime.

Others barely give a mango a second glance. They figure if it’s on the display, it must be good to eat.

Then there are those who are mango connoisseurs. They think nothing of spending several minutes picking through the mango offerings, keenly judging each one for quality.

You see the same three mind-sets at bookstores and in library aisles when parents choose books for their children. Some mistakenly assume that any book on the shelves will do. Some want to select only the best but don’t know what to look for. And some can find the tastiest fruit among all the rest.

Charlotte Mason was in that last category. She could spot the delightful, delicious books in a moment. Best of all, she left us her tips on what to look for.

As we mentioned last time, Charlotte used books as one means of helping a child form a personal relation with someone or some idea. But not just any book can do that important task. Here is a short list of what Charlotte said to look for when you are book shopping.

  1. Make the subject come alive.

    To make a real connection, a relation, with an idea, it must touch our emotions. Mere dry facts don’t usually accomplish that vital aspect of real knowledge. Look for living books.

  2. Get in touch with great ideas from great men.

    As much as we, parents, would like to think that we know a lot, there is so much we don’t know. So let’s allow our children to form relations with great minds of the past and present. The best way to get in touch with those great minds is by reading their thoughts. Look for worthy ideas in books.

  3. Well-written.

    Charlotte described well-written books with these terms: “written with literary power,” “a word fitly spoken,” “worthy thoughts, well put,” “inspiring tales, well told.” Look for books written in good and simple English (or Spanish or French or whatever your primary language is) with a certain charm of style.

  4. Not childish twaddle.

    Avoid books that present “little pills of knowledge mixed into weak diluent.” Twaddle talks down to the child and assumes she can’t understand more than tidbits of information. Look for books that you, the adult, will enjoy too.

  5. Give the children the idea that knowledge is supremely attractive and that reading is delightful.

    In other words, check both the content and the style in which it is presented. Look for books that will give your child a love for learning through books.

  6. The best you can find.

    Charlotte admitted that sometimes it’s very hard to find just the right book for just the right occasion. In those cases, choose the best you can find and remind yourself that those are the exceptions, not the rule. Look for the best of what’s available at the time.

Unlike fruit, when you are choosing books it doesn’t matter whether they are long or short, easy or hard, old or new. What matters is the quality. Now that you know what to look for, use these guidelines next time you’re in the library aisles or at the bookstore. With a little practice, you’ll become a book connoisseur.


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  2. I just wish I could have someone check our personal library and help me see if there is any “twaddle.” :0)

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