A Charlotte Mason Education, Books/Wide Reading, Homeschooling, Living Books, Mason Graduates, Parenthood, Reading
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I Am At My Most Contemplative at This Time of Year by Sandy Rusby Bell

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” Anna Quindlen

This season always finds me contemplative. The long, dark evenings at the end of the year invite reflection. I find myself looking back even more than usual this year though. I will soon be graduating my oldest daughter. It seems only yesterday that my four year old fireball was telling me that we could not be done lessons until she saw the school bus drive by our home. But this fall we’ve been visiting universities. My part in educating her is almost done. I’ve learned so much on this journey we’ve shared and there are many things I would do differently if I could do it all over again. But there is one thing I would do exactly the same. I would still read to her every single day of her life.

We have built a life around books. I started collecting children’s stories before my girl was even born. She’s received a book or two, and occasionally a box full of them, for every special occasion. For years the only thing Emma wanted to do for her birthday was to browse in a bookstore with me for a couple of hours. A tradition I was happy to encourage, I assure you.

My husband has been an eager participant in this bookish life. He has read to our four children almost every single evening since the day our first child was born. Many of our shared memories and inside jokes come from the books we’ve read together. There are countless intellectual and moral benefits to creating a love of reading in your children, and I could talk about those all day long, but I think the greatest gift of being a family that reads together is the relationship it builds. I try to share this with parents of young children whenever I can. The most common response I hear is, “But how do I find good books?”

It’s a fair question. One would think that in this day of Big Box Bookstores it would be easy to find great literature. But if you’re not interested in super heroes in their underwear or angst ridden vampires you might need a little help. Your local librarian might be able to offer some guidance but often she is required to stock only current and trendy books.

Would you believe that one of the best places to find good books is in books? To my husband’s never ending amusement, I have three shelves full of books about books.

My new favourite is Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. Sarah is the daughter of Sally Clarkson who wrote Educating the Wholehearted Child. Sarah writes beautifully about her childhood in a literary home. I appreciate this book because it is written from the perspective of someone who actually read the stories she recommends when she was a child. In my experience adults often love books that don’t really appeal to children. Sarah’s annotations are very helpful too. She shares just enough description to whet one’s appetite, which is much more helpful than just a list of books.

An old standby and oft given baby shower gift is The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Mr. Trelease spent over thirty years speaking with parents and teachers about the importance of reading to children. His book is an inspiring source of research. But most wonderfully, he shares pages and pages of stories that are good for reading aloud.

When my children were little, it was a happy day when our Chinaberry catalogue arrived in the mail. The Chinaberry folks describe themselves as a company that “offers items to support families in raising their children with love, honesty and joy to be reverent, loving caretakers of each other and the earth.” Their catalogue is a work of art. I spent many an afternoon drinking pots of tea and reading every poetically written annotation of the books they sell. I think almost all of our most cherished picture books were discovered through Chinaberry. http://www.chinaberry.com/

One of my best discoveries as a homeschool mom has been TruthQuest History. http://www.truthquesthistory.com/  Karen Glass, an Ambleside Online Advisory member has written, “I took one look at my ‘Ancient Egypt/Ancient Greece’ guide from TruthQuest History and became a convert for life. [Other materials] are okay, even good. But TruthQuest History is better, and I’m not a fan of curriculum, usually. I really do consider TruthQuest History to be the finest history resource available to homeschoolers. These are top-notch. Although I have no concrete evidence to this effect, I have a hunch that if Charlotte Mason sent out teacher’s manuals with her term materials, they might have resembled these guides.”

Michelle Miller, the author of TruthQuest History, has dedicated many, many years to collecting books from the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature”. One could never incorporate every book she recommends into a Charlotte Mason style curriculum but we’ve been enjoying the books she lists as evening reading for years. I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a title we didn’t love.

Have you spent time at The Baldwin Project yet? www.mainlesson.com The site exists to make children’s books from before 1923 available for free! The stories are often the very best in children’s literature and are formatted beautifully. Many of the titles are also available for purchase in hardcopy and e-book versions from Yesterday’s Classics http://www.yesterdaysclassics.com/ . The best purchase I made this year was their complete collection for Kindle.

Once you start discovering the true gems of children’s literature you won’t be able to resist talking with your friends about them, and they of course, will want to share their favourites. Book suggestions from trusted friends are somehow doubly precious. I take great pleasure in reading a book that I know is beloved by someone I care about.

Nancy Kelly often shares delicious finds on her blog http://sageparnassus.blogspot.com/ . Everyone I know who has visited her home raves about her bookshelves. I hope to see them myself one day.

And finally, of course, there is the combined wisdom of the brilliant women from Ambleside Online. One can never go wrong with any of their suggestions. And if you do decide to purchase a book based on their recommendation, please do so through the link on their page. Buying books this way raises money for Ambleside which helps them to continue paying for their website and offering their life-changing work.

Our dear Charlotte Mason encourages us to build a memory with our children this season.

“Every Christmas and summer vacation should be marked by the family reading of some great work of literary renown, whether of history, or purely of belles lettres. The daily reading and discussion of one such work will give meaning and coherence to the history “grind” of the school, will keep up a state of mental activity, and will add zest to the general play and leisure of the holidays.” Volume 5, page 227

What will you be reading?

© Sandy Rusby Bell 2011












Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Thanks Sandy!
    One serious sadness about living overseas is the limit we have to acquiring lots and lots of books. Still, I’ve done a pretty good job, considering the ruthless baggage limits, I think 😉 I would prefer to have about 50% books, 50% everything else… clothes, meds, etc. As far as I am concerned, the percentage could even be higher, but then, our ministry would be somewhat impaired if we skimped on clothing. 🙂
    Graduating your first! Oh I’m sure you’re SO happy for her! I’m sure you have a wonderful friendship that will span your lifetime… what a treasure! I may have less than 4 years left with my oldest, when he’ll change continents, and then another year and my second will be off… oh me, oh my. But, in the same breath, I can’t wait to see what they’ll become. They are already such interesting people… such mixed feelings a mother has, no?
    PS. We read aloud every day too… and those have been the BEST times of our family!!

  2. dmjohnso says


    I’m going to read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. If you liked his The Adventures of Hugo Cabret. . . I’m also reading The Adventures of Tin-Tin so I can go to the movie. My favorite Christmas read aloud after The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson illustrated by Garth Williams.

    I can envision family Christmases past: each person still in their jammies surrounded by piles of discarded wrapping paper and ribbons reading one of their new books.

    Thomas Carlyle said, “What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is the collection of books.” .

    Donna Johnson

  3. Sandra Rusby Bell says

    Thank you Donna. We’ve discovered some great books through your suggestions. We read Hugo this fall, I’ll look for Wonderstruck. I never thought of The Family Under the Bridge as a Christmas read. I’m going to pull it out. I don’t think my younger children have read it.

    Merry Christmas to friends near and far!

  4. Gretchen says

    Thank you so much for this post. I too read to my kids each day (15 and 13). There have been times I have been tempted to give this up in the interest of time, but I have persisted because it is such a special time and my children learn so much from it. It is always encouraging to hear from someone else who has been there.

    Merry Christmas!
    Gretchen Houchin

  5. This is the kind of post I want to share with families who have no idea where to start finding living books. The links are especially helpful. I’m wrapping up Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis before I start Bronte’s Villette.

  6. Very inspiring post! Both Sarah Clarkson’s Read for the Heart and TruthQuest History have been so helpful. Recently my teens recommended Marguerite de Angeli’s Turkey for Christmas and Lion in the Box to younger friends because they had good memories of these being read aloud at Christmas. During this past break, my daughter and I have had some great discussions about Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, especially regarding the way the characters applied Scripture. She read Elizabeth Gaskell’s bio on Charlotte Bronte and is enjoying listening to all the Bronte sisters’ books on Librivox (this is in addition to her reading for school since we’re in ancient history right now). Miss Mason was right about using those holidays to continue reading…it’s exciting to see the interest and mental growth. Thank you!

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