Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Men, Microscopes and Living Things

The long-awaited day has arrived. After years of dreaming, we are proud to announce that we have reprinted our first book!

Our library is packed with books most families cannot use because they are old, out of print, expensive, or unavailable. Families interested in using living books for their curriculum especially desire good non-fiction titles. We hope this book is the first of many buried treasures to resurface through the efforts of Living Library Press.

Our fellow podcast host, Nicole Williams of Sabbath Mood Homeschool, knows how to bring current science knowledge together with living books in a creative and thorough way for homeschooling families. Her first study guide is designed to introduce middle school and early high school students to biology through the pages of Men, Microscopes and Living Things by Katherine Shippen. This is an engaging story of the development of biology through the lives of the men who discovered some of the mysteries of God’s creation. This republished book, together with Nicole's Study Guide are a complete lab science course for Biology, and we encourage you to look into her material to accompany your family's study of this book.

It is our pleasure to offer this book to you. The cost is $13.95 (plus $3.50 shipping), and you can find it on our Living Library Press page.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Electronics and the Unreading Habit

The question this week comes from a mom of two teen boys. “They are both good readers,” she explains, “but do not read for pleasure, only if required. Part of the problem, I’m sure, is the way they spend too much time with electronic entertainment. Do you have any ideas how to wean them off those and replace electronics?”

It’s one thing to recognize a problem, and another to find an appropriate solution. Electronic devices truly hamper the reading habit. There is evidence that time on screens physiologically affects the way our brains function. But, even if we are honest enough to face this truth, how do we go about changing behavior that has become a lifestyle for most children today?

Ten years ago, when Emily and I presented workshops on the use of living books, or reading in general, I would try to gently suggest to parents that they evaluate the effect screens were having in their home. I pointed out the practical contrast between the two pastimes. Which is easier for a child?—to sit passively, barely move a muscle of a finger, and receive constant exciting images, or, hold a book, turn its pages, track with the eyes, and actively exert effort for observation, analysis, reasoning, logic, translation and comprehension, while simultaneously creating images from scratch? I ask you, given the choice, which would the average boy pick?

Then, I began observing in our library the slow disenchantment with reading that even some of our most eager young readers experienced. One year they were bounding in the door, eager for more, chattering about their latest book adventures, and the next they were apathetically wandering around and indifferent to suggestions, or, staying in the car to play electronic games or watch DVDs while mom got their books. Curious about the connection of electronics and reading, I began reading articles like this one and research on the subject from books like The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn, Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind, The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

And I found that it was not just a personal suspicion. I became less gentle in my workshops about the detrimental effect of screens on reading, and the lack of reading on our culture.

The mom who wrote me apparently has a hunch it isn’t healthy either and suspects the connection with her sons’ lack of reading. What she needs is a weaning plan. The crucial consideration is that electronic involvement is a powerful compulsion. I am not convinced that a gradual withdrawal or even limiting daily playtime is ultimately successful. Clearly, most parents agree that reading is adversely affected, but most of us do not want reading to be a casualty of an all out war to wrestle devices out of our children’s grip once we have allowed the attachment. It is not easy because reading, though superior for uncountable reasons, is not an equivalent pastime or as immediately rewarding. It is that instant reward that presents the challenge. The people I have talked to who have broken the addiction have only done so by going cold turkey. Only after weeks of non-involvement, has the desire for healthier habits reignited, such as pleasure in nature, people, and—books.

Being the mother of three boys, I understand a boy’s need for action, adventure, and physically challenging activity. I recommend replacing the time spent on electronics with much real-life action, demanding work, and pursuit of intriguing and time-consuming hobbies and service. A boy who is involved in building a house for the homeless or painting the office of the local crisis pregnancy center or tutoring underprivileged children, will reconnect with his God-given desire to love his neighbor as himself. These body-fatiguing and soul-satisfying activities will fill the void his electronics have left. I know their games keep them quiet and out of trouble, but our years with them are short, so let’s spend the few we have being involved with them and, most important, training them up to lead lives not as isolated individuals, but happy and productive members of their community.

And, if reading is the goal, I recommend that when they are tired and hungry after a day of sports or ministry, that family read-aloud time becomes part of the relaxation. If your boys once loved books, they will rediscover their early attachment, and if they have never loved reading, they will learn to love it because teen boys have an insatiable need for relational activities. Reading with others, about others, and for others is all that.

For the joy of reading,


Monday, July 18, 2016

What’s a Mother to Do?

Here is the question of the week: “My daughter wants to read the books her friends are reading. I have not read these and am suspicious that they are not worthy books. How can I encourage her to read excellent literature when she is wanting to read the things her friends are talking about?”

The business of growing up is not easy for the mother or the young person who is moving from childhood to adulthood, from dependence to independence. There are many fearful pitfalls the mother can foresee and wishes to circumvent. What cannot be avoided is that it is the young person who must learn to choose and make her own decisions. The wise mother allows that responsible choosing to increase gradually over many years.

So it is with the choosing of reading. If twaddle has been kept from the child and good literature has shaped the taste acquired throughout the younger years, the chances are great that the young person will not crave the trendy trash many young people take up when the choice is no longer made by the mother. But, what if the teen years come along and that habit has not been formed?

I have Charlotte Mason to thank for much common-sense wisdom in many areas. Though she didn’t have children herself, she lived and worked with them for nearly her entire life. One extremely helpful truth I have learned from her is that bad habits or choices cannot be altered by focusing and fretting over them. Instead, she believed in the inherent nature of a child to desire the beautiful. It is the responsibility of the mother and teacher to present only the best ideas to the child so that there is no time or room for anything inferior to find a place in their thoughts. Naturally, the world is full of undesirable ideas, and our children will encounter them whatever we do to direct them otherwise, but if the habit of life, the accustomed diet, has been saturated with the best, the attraction to the unlovely is weak. This is true whether we are considering courtesy and manners, food or clothing, or reading materials. Exposure to the good is the best prevention against bad choices. It is the old, "Train up a child in the way…” truth, or, as it is also expressed, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink” principle. We guide, direct attention, present the best, but in the end, they will decide.

Still, young people do appreciate guidance if they feel their personhood is being respected. One of the ways we can accomplish this is by simply explaining, not by lecture or badgering, but in simple comradely conversation, some truths that do appeal to every young person. They are more concerned every year with becoming the most they can be, after all.

A mother certainly cannot keep up with all the literature that the presses produce, nor would she want to spend her time and fill her mind with those books. Mason addressed this in some words to parents of girls at home and out of school:

“…it is hopeless and unnecessary to attempt to keep up with current literature. Hereafter, it may be necessary to make some struggle to keep abreast of the new books as they pour from the press; but let some of the leisure of youth be spent upon "standard" authors, that have lived through, at least, twenty years of praise and blame.” (School Education, Appendix)

Few would disagree, but the challenge lies in convincing the young person of the importance of good reading. Young people are not prone to look too far ahead to consequences. Obviously, the ideas expressed in literature become part of the thoughts of the reader’s mind, and those thoughts ultimately affect the character of the person. “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

Recently, I ran across a lesson plan from a student in Mason’s House of Education that shows her understanding Of the importance of appealing to the noble desires within teen girls. Here, in part, is what she intended to convey to her class of 16-year- old girls:


1. To give some main principles to guide the choice of reading…

4. 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…”

With the teen years comes a growing awareness of what others think. This knowledge can aid us in helping our girls to understand that the reading of books is the entrance, in a way, into the thoughts of another and will have a profound affect on our own. No appeal to fear or peer pressure should be our measure of a good book, but, just as clothing fads come and go, so do silly books. The highest thinking, most long-lasting pleasure, will be found in the books that have stood the test of time and endured the scrutiny of generations of previous readers.

These are ideas a mother can share. After that, all I can suggest is that the mother herself talk of good things—once in a great while--that she is reading herself, then give her daughter the space to ponder and make her own choices. It is sometimes frustrating and frightening to a mother, but we cannot do their thinking for them. They must find their own way, make up their own mind. I caution against much questioning, censoring, or managing. We must step aside and allow them time and experience to become wise readers.

For the joy of reading,