I think almost all of us who use the Charlotte Mason Method have a desire to see our children love to read. We know how much richness good books can add to our thoughts and our lives, and we want our children to experience that too. So on one hand, when we see one of our children eager to read and always looking for another book to get his hands on, we rejoice. But on the other hand, having a voracious reader can present some challenges. Let’s discuss those challenges and some ideas to help.
Sonya: I’ve asked my friends, Laura Pitney and Jenn Faas, to add their thoughts to this discussion. Welcome, you guys, thanks for joining me.
Jenn: Thanks for having us.
Sonya: Here is the question, as one mom described it; here’s her challenge. She said, “What about when a child reads voraciously on his own at a rate that I can no longer pre-screen or skim everything before he devours it? So far, not a problem. He likes to tell me excerpts, and if we run into anything questionable, we chat about it, but unless he brings it to me, I may not know the idea he’s encountered that he innocently thinks is normal, because he read it in a book.”
Laura: That’s a great question.
Sonya: It is. We don’t know how old this child is, so we might need to discuss in general terms, but how have you handled making sure the books that your children get their hands on are good?
Laura: The first thing that comes to my mind is that I feel like we can all relate to that question, because I think there’s a little bit of fear for us. Here we are deciding to homeschool and to invest in our children, and what if we expose them to something they’re not ready for, or we’re not there holding their hand? I feel like the root of that question is summed up in that we want the best for them. In the world of literature, at some point, it’s kind of no longer in our control, so there’s some fear from the parent’s perspective of how to handle that. For me, literature is something I struggle with, because I was not a strong reader as a young adult. I am just now growing into that myself. So to have a child that loves to read, which I do have one of those, has kind of revealed some of my own insecurities. I think it’s great, and I want her to thrive in it; but it kind of scares me, too, because I haven’t read these books before, because they’re new to me as well. So to have a trusted friend who’s a good reader, it’s great to be able to toss around ideas or ask about books. For me, it helps to have a good source that I can turn to as a book-review type person, if you will. Jenn’s kind of my go-to, also because she has older children that have read the books before my children coming along.
Sonya: It’s so helpful.
Laura: Yes. If I’m not on my A-game, pre-reading (which I’m not hardly ever), it’s good to have a good friend that is kind of in the same boat, in your community. “Is this book good or not?” That kind of thing.
Sonya: What about you, Jenn?
Well, I would definitely agree that I have always loved to read. That’s just always been a part of my life. The problem for me, and my background is, that I wasn’t always reading the right books that maybe I would want my children reading now. That has really come with living this Charlotte Mason lifestyle for a long time. I feel like not only is this education for our children, but wanting our kids to read these good books plays a role for us as well.
Jenn: My oldest is 18, so I have been at this for awhile. And I also have some other friends in our community that have older kids than my oldest, and so that definitely is helpful, seeing what they’re reading. But my oldest is a voracious reader. We would get books from the library, and she would start reading them on the way home, in the car. So we were going through them so quickly! And I, like this mom, knew that I had a problem on my hands that I needed to think about and get a solution for. One of the very first things that I did, once upon a time, was get a book, because, again, I didn’t trust myself. I knew that some of the books that I was going through when I was younger are not the kind of books that, especially in that middle school time period, . . .
Laura: It’s different when we’re reading it for ourself than if we’re reading it for our children.
Sonya: Or you remember it differently. You only remember the good parts, and you forget: “Oh, I forgot that was in there!” And after a few of those surprises, you say, “I can’t rely on my memory.”
Jenn: Or so many of the mainstream books or series that are out there may not be the best literature that you want your children reading. I have heard the argument of, “Well, at least my children are reading.” And I really strongly disagree with that.
Sonya: Thank you!
Jenn: I really, really disagree with that, because I think it does matter what they are reading. It’s not “as long as they’re reading, it’s good.” And once you set the bar for the type of reading that they’re spending their time in, it’s very hard to raise the bar. And so when my oldest was fairly young, when she was really starting to read on her own, I got a book that I could physically take to the library with me that had lists of good books. It was a book with lists of good books. And there are so many of those out there now. I brought them in.
Sonya: Go ahead and show some.
Jenn: Okay. This was the first book that I got: Books Children Love.
Sonya: By Elizabeth Wilson.
Jenn: Yes, and this was a fantastic book. The only disclaimer with this would be, a lot of these books are out of print. But oftentimes at your library, they do have books that are out of print. So this was the first one that I had, and I would just take it with me to the library.
Sonya: I did too.
Jenn: I would just sit in the children’s section, and Delaney and I would open it up, and we start searching for authors. And some of them we would find and some of them we wouldn’t.
Laura: I find this really funny, because, y’all are so likeminded. When my kids got old enough to do the library trips, I had to ask the librarian to show me how to do the library. Like, how to find things! It had been so long since I had really been in a library. Because I wanted to teach them. “Okay, this is the author; this is the type of book. So how do we find it on all these shelves?” I was like, “Can you give us a little tutorial?”
Sonya: That’s a good idea! I bet the librarian loved showing them.
Laura: She did. But I just feel like y’all are really good!
Jenn: Well, you know what? Fast forward many years: Delaney just took a dual-enrollment class, an English 1101 class, and one class period they spent in the university library having a tutorial on various things.
Sonya (to Laura): You’re just ahead of your time, sweetheart.
Laura: I’ll take it.
Sonya (to Jenn): So what are the other books that you would use?
Sonya: Gladys Hunt is the editor of that one. And she also did one called Read For Your Life: Turning Teens into Readers; so it’s more than just the book lists, but there are a bunch of books in the end of it. What I like about these is it’s not just “Here’s the title,” but it’s almost a review, and it will give you some heads-up if there’s something that you might need to know about. A couple of other resources that I’ve used along the same lines are Jan Bloom’s Who Should We Then Read? In these, she gives a short biography of different good authors and then she just lists all the books that they’ve written. So it doesn’t necessarily have a review for every title, but it really helps you find the good authors. She has two volumes of this. (Someone borrowed my other volume; so whoever it is, you know who you are! Give it back.) And then another one that I got long, long ago. My copy of this book is probably almost 30 years old now, I think. I got it when my oldest was little, tiny: Educating the WholeHearted Child by Sally Clarkson. In the back of this one, it gives their favorite books for the different age levels as well. Their family’s favorite books.
Jenn: And now her daughter . . .
Sonya: Oh yes, Sarah.
Jenn: Her daughter has another book of booklists out now that are more updated.
Sonya: Those are so helpful, because you can find book lists on Amazon and wherever, but they’re not from trusted people who share your values. And I think that’s what this lady’s question is all about: “How do I filter the values and the ideas that are coming in through the books and make sure that I’m giving my child good ones?” So yes, those are very helpful.
Jenn: And then I would say beyond the books with the book lists, in the Charlotte Mason world, there are many different curriculum lists that are out there.
Jenn: So you don’t have to buy a certain curriculum, but you can look at their book lists. On the Simply Charlotte Mason website, there are book lists for the different ages. And there are many different websites that you can look at that use the Charlotte Mason Method that have very trusted book lists there too.
Laura: I also think that part of that question that I’m hearing is, okay, let’s say our child is this great reader, and they come across something that maybe they have a question about, or they think, “You know what? This isn’t aligning with what my mom or dad say about something”; you know, for that child to recognize the things, which is ultimately what we want. We want them to become their own filter, but there should be that habit of good communication between us as teachers and our children as students, so that not only are we talking about the great things and the exciting things and the plots and the endings, but we’re also comfortable talking about the hard things. Ultimately that’s why we want them to read, is so that they can be exposed and learn and these ideas can grow. That way when things happen in their life that are similar, they can draw strength from the characters and the plots that they are familiar with from the books. So I see that, too, as, she understands that the child is this great reader, but also “How do I navigate it when we need to talk about something?”
Laura: So I think there’s a lot of good in giving them the right books and the right resources, and us being responsible to make sure we’re feeding them the correct books, but I think there’s a deeper level of the communication in the relationship with that child to be able to talk about the good and the bad.
Sonya: Yes, you have to have your hearts turned toward each other, and it’s not just discussions on books.
Sonya: You’re laying that foundation on discussions on everything. I can understand, as you said, there’s that fear of, “Well, what if they pick up this incorrect idea, a lie? What if they just innocently think it’s true?” But the truth of the matter is, you cannot control everything that your child sees or hears or reads. You cannot control it. And that’s a scary thought. At some point, it hits you. But now that my kids are grown, I can kind of look back on it, because now I’m really not controlling what they’re seeing. They’re all out of the house. What do I do now? But I can look back on it and say, “Okay, there’s a transition that has to happen as they get older.” Our pastor usually says that as the kids grow up, they have this box around them that “These are the boundaries.” But as they get older, that box needs to be inside them; that these are the core beliefs, “This is what I adhere to,” so they can then filter those things for themselves, as you said. And I think we’re doing our children a disservice if we continue to shelter them and isolate them and insulate them all the way up to graduation, and then say, “Okay, now you’re on your own.” They’re going to have quite a shock of what all’s out there.
Sonya: So we’ll need to gradually make that transition. But underneath it all, it’s about continuing to give them truth, continuing to discuss and study the core beliefs, and keeping your hearts turned toward each other. Yes, do the best you can picking out good books for that child, but some things are going to slip through.
Sonya: But the main thing is if you’re covering that child in prayer. Because you can’t control what that child thinks, you can’t control what nestles in his heart, but God sees the inside. And so if you’re covering that child in prayer, I think that’s going to go a long way, as well.
Jenn: Sure, sure.
Laura: I think that gives us permission to not be angry at ourselves for feeling like we fall short. So I appreciate that encouragement.
Sonya: I remember when my oldest was looking for more books. Very voracious reader; still is. And I just was looking at a list of classics. One of them was The Three Musketeers. I thought, “Oh yeah! I’ve seen the musical version of that with Gene Kelly.” So I gave her The Three Musketeers, thinking “It’s a classic; it must be okay.” She came back to me a little bit later—she was probably maybe 10 at the time—and she said, “Mommy, this isn’t a good book,” and she gave it back to me, just because there are a couple of episodes in there that are more for mature readers, that would be fine now because she has the filter inside her, but at that point it wasn’t the best fit. So I think age also has something to do with it.
Jenn: Right. I think it’s definitely a process. Like you were saying with the box, we’re choosing those books for them, or setting parameters. There were times at the library where my kids would find another book, and I would just sit there and look at it and read it myself before we checked it out. And there is a place for that, for sure, and for making sure that you know what’s in that book. You’re laying this foundation for them, and you’re setting that bar where you want it set, and not where the culture is saying that the bar should be set. So you’re giving them this wonderful foundation. But then, yes, you don’t want them to go out into the world without you to be able to kind of help them with that transition period. So talking with them about, “Look, these are things that you may see other kids reading, and this is why we’ve chosen not to read these books.” There has been a book that many people were reading, and my oldest had asked about it. We avoided it for awhile, and then at some point, as she’s 18 now, I decided this was not a hill I wanted to die on. I told her, “Go ahead and read this book, and then come back and tell me what you think.” So starting to get her to internalize, like with the box, right? It was a series, and she read two or three books; and then she stopped at some point, and she said, “I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not okay anymore.” She made that decision on her own. So I feel like, yes, at some point, you do have to start letting them make decisions for themselves; because otherwise, they won’t be able to stand on their own two feet. So definitely a process, for sure, and age definitely plays a role in that. And maturity. It may not be like, “These books are okay for ages 10 and up,” but it would depend on their maturity and that kind of thing.
Sonya: Absolutely. And when that child comes back to you and says, “This is the decision I made and here’s why,” when it’s a good choice, it just does your heart so good! So encouraging.
Jenn: It does. And then when you see your kids in their free time reading William Shakespeare, and you’re like, “Wow. I didn’t do that when I was in high school.” So yes, it’s really awesome.