Great Ideas: Enjoying Life with Living Books

Give Your Children a Diet of Great Ideas

“In truth, a nation or a man becomes great upon one diet only, the diet of great ideas communicated to those already prepared to receive them by a higher Power than Nature herself.”

Charlotte Mason believed that children should use real books to learn from.

“I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated.”


“…ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds.”

“…we have it in us to discern a living book, quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.”



“Every scholar of six years old and upwards should study with ‘delight’ his own, living, books on every subject in a pretty wide curriculum. Children between six and eight must for the most part have their books read to them.”



“By means of the free use of books the mechanical difficulties of education––reading, spelling, composition, etc.––disappear, and studies prove themselves to be ‘for delight, for ornament, and for ability.”

We have “…made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge.”

We must “…put into children’s hands books which, long or short, are living.”

— Charlotte Mason

What are the elements of living books?

  1. Books written by a single author with expertise and enthusiasm for a subject;
  2. Books well written in an engaging style such that they are an enjoyment to read;
  3. Books with high quality information, both in morality and depth.

Some of our favorites are:

  1. Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil
  2. Laddie by Gene Stratton Porter
  3. Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
  4. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
  5. Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
  6. Books by George MacDonald
  7. Books by G. A. Henty
  8. Lamplighter books

How do I use them?

I find a good, living book on a topic that I feel the Lord is telling us to learn about. He does that in many different ways. Sometimes it’s while I’m at the library walking among the shelves. A title will jump out at me, and I recognize it from one of the reading lists, and I just know it’s the one for us right now. Other times, I will be looking through a Sonlight catalog or other list of good books, and a title will catch my eye. Sometimes, I start thinking about what part of history we’re learning about right now, and I go to the library catalog and find books about a particular era or President or event, and I ask the Lord to help me find the right book to start reading to the kids.

There have been times when I found that a book I thought was going to be good and wholesome and living was not so, after all. I quit reading it when I discovered that, even if I was caught up in the story.

I always have a good book going with the older kids that I’m reading aloud to them – at least one! There have been times that I have had two stories going at once. I almost always have a biography or a well-written history book that I’m reading aloud to them, too. The average number that I’ve been reading to them lately, besides the Bible, is three other books.

Right now, I’m reading Jungle Doctor by Paul White and Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere, and I’m about to start on Princess Adelina: An Ancient Christian Tale of Beauty and Bravery by Julie Sutter from Vision Forum.

With these types of books, I don’t have them narrate. But many times the kids will catch me up on where I read last so I can find the right place to start, and in the process they end up narrating the story up to that point. Tricky, huh?

I usually read for about two hours. Sometimes they beg me to read one more chapter. At other times, they know that the chapters are long, and it’s time to move on to something else. Sometimes, I read until I can’t read any more!

My kids often ponder what I’ve read to them and ask me questions later or comment on something that I read about. My oldest son is by far the most engaged with the books I read aloud to them. He thinks about the things that were written, and many times will tell his dad what we read during the day. He especially enjoys and is stimulated by the George MacDonald books I’ve been reading to them. There is a lot of philosophy and theology in these novels that really make you think and give you new perspectives on basic issues like a personal relationship with God and how nature causes a person to believe in God. I consider them living books, and we enjoy them immensely.

I’m reading a book to the younger kids right now. It’s a very long one, and I don’t read it to them every day. But they enjoy it. It’s called The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud by Jenny L. Cote.

I also have books that I don’t have time to read aloud from our home library or from the public library that I assign to one or more of the children to read on their own. These may go along with the topic we’re studying or may be something that I just feel they would enjoy or would benefit from reading.

How do I choose them?

Here are some good book lists that I have used over the years:

Sonlight catalog lists readers and read-alouds that are excellent and correspond to time periods of history.

All Through the Ages by Christine Miller lists books by time periods and reading levels

Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson

Teaching Children by Diane Lopez

Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt

Lamplighter Books catalog or website

Heart of Wisdom – in this curriculum, Robin Sampson lists books that go with the topic covered. She believes in living books, too!

Diana Waring’s history curriculum – History Revealed – you can find this at Answers in Genesis

If you would like to know what our use of living books has yielded in the lives of my children, you may check out the post “Fruits of a Charlotte Mason-Style Education”.


  1. Penney. Thank You for the links. We read lamplighter books and I also take a looks at the Sonlight catalog titles and grab a few from there. We also read Christine Millers books and I pull things from her resources as well. I guess I do a lot more living books than what I thought I did. This is a nice revelation. I haven’t heard of George McDonald — if I have I don’t remember. So, thank you for that suggestion.

    1. You’re welcome, Carmen. I consider these all living books because they follow the criteria of being by one author and being well-written and memorable. Whether Charlotte Mason would consider them “living” or not, they sure have brought life to our homeschooling!

  2. I second that! Great book list. Some of those titles are new to me. I hope someday my kids will enjoy listening for more than a few minutes at a time! lol

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