Thursday, March 8, 2012

Living Book Failures

From time to time just to keep things interesting (for me, if nobody else), I add a non-AO book to my children's school reading. O.K. AO is interesting enough on its own, so t's really not just to keep things interesting. Usually what happens is I come across our book in our own many volumed library, I skim it and think it looks delightful. This is usually a book no longer in print (and thus not readily available to AO members), but I think it is a book my children should definitely read. Furthermore, we own it, after all, so we should use it, yes?

Recently, my 15 year old brought me one such book I'd added to her school list and asked if I would read a chapter aloud to her. I complied.
"Hmmm," I thought, as a tiny twinge of doubt struck me. What looked like lively writing when I'd skimmed it by myself seemed stilted, awkwardly phrased, and distracting when read aloud. Especially when I was the one doing the reading aloud. But I didn't say anything. I wanted to think about it.

The next night she brought it back to me for the next chapter. I was just about to read aloud to the two small children who come visit us most weekends, so I read this chapter, one on Queen Elizabeth and Drake, aloud to them instead. The older boy promptly fell asleep. The younger boy crossed his legs one way and then another, twisted, twitched, and sighed dramatically until his torture was over. It was my own private torture as well.

Reading aloud isn't my favorite thing to do at any time. If the book is really well written and engaging, however, my problem is that I want to quit the tedious pace of reading aloud and skim quickly through the rest of the reading. With this book I merely wanted to quit the tedious read aloud and go do something more profitable and amusing with my time. I wanted something more stimulating, like playing tic-tac-toe with a 7 year old who has figured out how to win, or scrubbing the grout in my bathroom. It was really that bad.

I do not know if this was my 15 year old's nefarious ploy all along, but I've taken this particular book back off of her schedule, and I have put 'read a chapter aloud' on my internal list of things to do when deciding if a book is a living book or not.

I do not know better how to describe the sort of books that children's minds will consent to deal with than by saying that they must be literary in character.
...the question of books is one of much delicacy and difficulty. After the experience of over a quarter of a century [The P.U.S. was started in 1891.] in selecting the lesson books proper to children of all ages, we still make mistakes, and the next examination paper discovers the error! Children cannot answer questions set on the wrong book; and the difficulty of selection is increased by the fact that what they like in books is no more a guide than what they like in food.
Charlotte Mason, volume 6, Toward a Philosophy of Education.

It is a great comfort to me that after over a quarter of a century Miss Mason and her colleagues were still making mistakes in the books they chose. They only found their error at the end of a term, when students sent in their examinations.

We homeschooling parents can discover that we have chosen a stinker of a book within a chapter or two.

P.S. I don't want to tell, but I am sure you'll all be asking- The Book of Courage by Hermann Hagedorn.

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