We must employ living books for all school subjects, not just for fiction reading- imagination stimulating, curiosity provoking books. Information is received, she said, if accompanied with enough narrative padding. Which tastes better, a vitamin C tablet or a fruit salad? Are their history books dreary accounts of dates and events, or do they reveal acts of God’s whole panoramic story? Children need plot, not timelines. Do their science books entice them to discover more knowledge of the universe? Schoolbooks are more than preparation for college, but equipment for life. Fiction functions as a scaffold to hold truth. Narrative nonfiction should be just as appealing as an intriguing story.
One biography that captivated me as a child, if you can bear one more reminiscence, was Annie Sullivan’s. No life can show the power of language to us like Helen Keller’s, in that denouement when her mind associated Ms. Sullivan’s finger spelling w-a-t-e-r into her hand, her desire for a drink, and the pump gushing H2O. remember this pivotal moment when she spoke aloud for the first time the only word she had uttered before measles had robbed her of sight and hearing? There certainly was no quenching her thirst for words after that. Annie’s tenacity woke Helen’s imagination and released her from a prison of ignorance.
This story convinced me as a child that barriers of blindness could be surmounted. My friends and I endlessly replayed this scene, and I always acted as monster Helen, giving my older friend, playing Annie, a rough and tumble time. I didn’t know that 35 years later, I would be wrestling with my own emotionally damaged, language-blocked child day and night. Do you think God knew how that childhood book would prepare me for the little terror-stricken Cambodian toddler I would adopt? Do you think the dozens of stories of orphans I loved – Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist, Tom of Water-Babies, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – somehow softened my heart toward orphans so that, one day, when I was in the midst of math with my daughter at the kitchen table and the phone rang, I would walk into the next chapter of my story as familiar territory when a stranger called asking, at the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance, if the toddler she’d adopted and didn’t want could come to our home?
The stories we read our children prepare them for their future. Mason quoted Ecclesiastes, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening, do not withhold thy hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike can be certain we have a moral obligation to sow story seeds. We are responsible, and Mason didn’t let us off the hook.
Listen to this:
"...for the keys even of this innermost chamber [the holy of Holies] are placed in the hands of parents, and it is a great deal in their power to enthrone the King, to induct the Priest, that every human cries for...the wonder that Almighty God can leave the making of an immortal being in the hands of human parents is only matched by the wonder that human parents can accept this divine trust with hardly a thought of its significance.” (Home Education, v1; p. 333)Ouch. I shamefully confess I forget this. It struck me hard one morning. I was sleepy after being out late the previous night with my Mason discussion group where we had talked about the role of the Holy Spirit as the divine instructor. Yawning, I turned to our morning Bible reading, Mark 1, a familiar passage about John the Baptist crying in the desert - I was pierced,could hardly speak the words, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” I knew this was for me, that my role in my children’s life stories was to be the one pointing to Jesus, making a path for them to find Him. Those ordinary copy work and history lessons before us were sacred means God could use to reveal Himself to them. We don’t know what He will use, when, where, how–who these children will become.
But living books enable them to see the way. The eyes of their imagination open to see how hundreds of characters believe and behave in hundreds of contexts, instruct them about virtue, choices, consequences, help them gain insight and wisdom, similar to the process in which hundreds of meals contribute to physical growth. Mason’s purpose for these books aimed at putting readers in touch with the minds of great thinkers. Our children glean much more from these writers than we could ever impart to them ourselves. Our children do not need to see life just as we do, but to learn to see themselves as God’s children. They are not ours, they are His.
For the joy of reading,