I know I joke that if food fails in my house, my kids can just eat the books, but there is a sense in which I am dead serious.
Books are nutrition for the soul. There is a hunger as critical to life as the physical need for food. The Bible says, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” The books we read nourish our mind. Our thoughts are shaped by the thoughts we consume from the authors we read. We hide stories in our heart, and “out of the heart flow the issues of life.”
Last summer, I delivered a lecture at an education conference where I told the story of how stories had shaped my life, from my first recollections of Mother Goose being read at bedtime, to my Grandpa’s Aesops’ fables, to my vividly recalled Bible story of Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors heard on the radio, to my first chapter book adventure with Heidi up the Alm to her grandfather’s hut. My life is a trail of books that have formed my character. At every age, there have been books that have shed light on my path, that have given me vision for living.
These are not new ideas. Most parents are quite aware of the way the stories they read affect their children, and choose as wisely as they possibly can. But there comes a day, when Mom and Dad let go of the control of the stories their children read. While they are small is the time to build their appetite, develop their taste for the good and beautiful. It is too late to feed them when they are helping themselves to the bookshelves and taking the recommendations of friends over the suggestions of parents.
So it was with curiosity that I read a lesson plan I came across the other day of a teacher of high school girls over a hundred years ago. Clearly, she not only felt it her duty to introduce her students to the best in literature, but she had no reservation about helping them to see what should shape their book choices. I thought my Story Warren friends might get a kick, and a bit of encouragement, from reading her lesson plan:
1. To give some main principles to guide the choice of reading…
2. To emphasize the fact that very thoughtful reading is necessary in order to get full pleasure and benefit from a book.
Step 1. Decide with the pupils as to some principles which should guide us in the choice of books, such as the following:
Never waste time on valueless books.
Have respect for the books themselves.
Try to cultivate taste by noticing the best passages in any book that is being read.
Time is too short to read much; there is a necessity, therefore, for judicious selection.
The best literature can only be appreciated by those who have fitted themselves for it.
It is more important to read well than to read much.
The gain of reading some of the most beautiful literature while we are young is that we shall then have beautiful thoughts and images to carry with us through life.
To get at the full significance of a book it is necessary to dig for it…[the book} is a reflection of the writer’s character…” (School Education, by Charlotte Mason)
No one ever pointed these things out to me as a young person; I was on my own. I remember reaching an age where I did not consult with my mother about what to read. I didn’t ask her if Jane Eyre was okay, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Jane and Francie are my friends to this day. Taste is acquired in childhood, refined in our teens, and our appetite for books only grows with the passing years.
There is a hunger in all of us for more than food. It is a gift to expose children to the best books. If the appetite is whetted and nourished early, for their whole life, they will have meat and drink indeed.