Updated from a post originally published by the author in 2012.
“It doesn’t matter what my child reads, as long as he reads,” says the well-meaning but ill-advised friend. Yes, of course, I answer, just as it doesn’t matter what my child eats, as long as he eats. Books that are shallow and condescending to children are nothing more than junk food for the mind.
Twaddle was Charlotte Mason’s exceedingly apt word for that which is insipid, silly, worthless, and trivial. The tendency toward twaddle is rampant in modern (and some not-so-modern) children’s literature. Shelves in the children’s section of bookstores and libraries are increasingly overrun with books written by authors who show little regard for the imaginations and intellectual powers of their target audience. Children are quite as susceptible to developing an insatiable hunger for twaddle as they are for junk food, so be at least as discerning in your literary choices as you are in your dietary choices.
Furnish the imaginations of your children with a treasure-trove of worthwhile stories. When they begin to put their own thoughts on paper, these riches will be at the ready. Look for stories that elevate what is good, true, and beautiful. This does not mean they should have no villains, no battles, no scary monsters—in that case, you would have to avoid reading the best of all books, the Bible. In the hands of a skillful author, elements of evil in a story can actually uphold virtue and build souls in the way that flat, one-dimensional stories can never do.
Where do you find such stories? Look first to the tales that ennobled great minds of the past—fairy tales, fables, Bible stories, myths, legends, nursery rhymes, poems. Steep yourself and your children in the beauty and truth found in the classic literature of childhood. With this as the standard, your children will learn to spot the counterfeit.
“A book which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s book. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty.” – C.S. Lewis
As every parent of a toddler knows, the first reading of a particular book inevitably leads to MANY readings of that book. Careful book choices, even for the youngest children, will end in delight instead of dread for the first, tenth, and ten thousandth reading. Goodnight Moon may be one that approaches that ten thousand mark in my lifetime. And yet, I was always genuinely delighted when any one of them handed it to me, and I continue to be delighted as I read it each week to my dear little grandson on “Grammy Day” before his nap. On the other hand, very early on in my parenting career I cleared the shelves of books that kindled dread instead of delight in my heart.
Much inspiration for your pursuit of a life well-read and many suggestions for your reading repertoire are found in these enchanting lines by American poet Strickland Gillilan:
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings —
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each Mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Chests of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I, you can never be —
For I had a Mother who read to me.
For specific recommendations of books for your young scholars, visit Primer Resources – Literature & Poetry. For additional thoughts on choosing worthy books, Ambleside Online has a page with articles, links, and explanations of Charlotte Mason’s ideal of the living book as the alternative and antidote to twaddle.
Posts: Principles & Practices Toward A Life Well-Read
- Shoe-Tying and Charlotte Mason
- “Reading Maketh a Full Man”
- “Chests of Jewels and Coffers of Gold”
- By Rote? or By Heart?
- Picture Study: Furnishing the Halls of a Child’s Imagination