I am reading a newly published book: 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. I’m testing it out for Beauty and any Living Book characteristics and the worthiness of it to an education, in particular my homeschool. My next tester is my daughter (11). My sons are too old for this book but I might get them to read it while they are on Spring Break for realness. For good food in books is one thing my family delights in and savors.
N.D. Wilson starts his novel with:
“ Henry, Kansas is a hot town. And a cold town. It is a town so still there are times you can hear a fly trying to get through the window of the locked –up antique store, but if you press your face against the glass, like the fly, you’ll see that whoever they are, they don’t have much beyond a wide variety of wagon wheels. Yes, Henry is a still town. But there have been tornadoes on Main Street. If the wind blows, it’s like it won’t ever stop. Once it’s stopped, there seems to be no hope of getting it started again.”
Well, have you been captivated into a place? Captivated enough to put your whole attention to the story, find wonderful quotes to dictate or copy, tell me just from THAT paragraph what it is like in Kansas?! Here’s the next description which gave me a chuckle:
“ Mrs. Willis couldn’t hold nearly as still as the town. She was brimful of nervous energy and busily stepped on and off the curb as if she were waiting for the bus to take her off to another lifetime of grammar school and jump rope. . . . She had been canning in her kitchen and looks pleasant . . . . On this day, if you got close enough, as her nephew would when hugged, she smelled strongly of peaches. She was of medium build in every direction, and she was called Dotty by her friends. Dots by her husband, and Mrs. Willis by everyone else.
People liked Dotty . They said she was interesting. They rarely did the same for her husband. They said Mr. Willis was thin, and they didn’t just mean physically. They meant thin in everywhere and every way. Dotty saw much more than thin, and she liked him. Frank Willis didn’t seem to notice much of anything beyond that.”
So here we have the description of a couple. Already I want to smell Dotty and watch her beside her thin husband whom she adores. And what does that word picture mean? “Thin in everywhere and every way.” I read this out loud to my daughter who told me exactly who Mr. Willis was like. A good short narration on the spot! Words that went deeper than his physical appearance.
Just from these two paragraphs we now have a couple we can draw in our minds. In our imagination we continue on reading as this new author takes us into a fantasy story about a house with 100 cupboards that are portals to other worlds. Narnia in a way. We look for the great paragraphs and the phrases that make us see a place or hear the sounds or yearn to taste the food or climb through or not. We narrate, find copy work and diction to help us cultivate a sense of beauty in our minds. We may compare it to Lewis’ Narnia and then tell our favorite scenes from Cair Paravel or going through the Wardrobe. We have been captivated by the beauty of words and a good story teller as pleasure comes and you have to share the story, read the words out loud to the next person who walks in the room. That’s exactly what I did! When your students do it to you, you know learning is taking place and beauty is being sought. They narrate without being asked!
Charlotte Mason named two colleagues: Imagination and Beauty. (Ourselves, 41 paraphrased) They stand side by side because they are in relationship and when one takes off the other follows. It is a living power.
I believe that and am trying to cultivate the sense of beauty in my children’s minds and hearts to see it and hear it and taste it. Living books become friends and literature is a “rich and glorious kingdom” as Charlotte wrote.
Charlotte writes in the second book within Ourselves “the book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” Another test for beauty in the power of living books: a reread. My daughter is doing that right now with The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. She bursted out with a deeper understanding this second time. She’s watched one of the Shakespeare plays so now understands the nuances to that play. We decided this book might have to sit on our shelf in ownership. A true test. I haven’t finished 100 Cupboards yet and now Emma started it last night. If it is very good, I’ll write a recommendation in the Journal like
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt of Calvin College. Look for it. These books haven’t stood the test of time yet as the books in the past have.
Perhaps they will. Any new books on your shelves?