Childlight USA Conference, Homeschooling, Living Books, Mason Co-op, Reading
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Living Ideas in Living Books: Choosing Worthy Books for Home and School Libraries by Jeannette Tulis

This is the working title for our upcoming workshop for this summer’s ChildlightUSA Conference, June 6-9. Choosing books with living ideas is a daunting task but one that Charlotte Mason identified as a key principle. Children are to be nourished with ideas and many of these ideas come from the books read aloud to them and from which they read. It is the task of the mother and the teacher to be sure these books are readily available and a part of the child’s life.

If we had a week, the four of us could easily fill it talking about all of our favorite books in every subject. Alas, we have only an hour or two at most during which time our aim is to equip you with inspiration from Charlotte as well as practical tools to help you and your students list, locate and love these literary treasures.

What happens to a child when inspired by a living book?

“The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.” School Education p. 178

“It is the very nature of an idea to grow: as the vegetable germ secretes that it lives by, so, fairly implant an idea in the child’s mind, and it will secrete its own food, grow, and bear fruit in the form of a succession of kindred ideas.” Home Education p. 173

To set our students’ feet in that large room that Charlotte so often writes about, is to put them in contact with great minds and great ideas.

What are the qualities one should look for in a living book?

• “A work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken.” Parents and Children p. 263

• “Their lesson-books should offer matter for their reading, whether aloud or to themselves; therefore they should be written with literary power.” Home Education p. 229

• Not with dry bones of fact, but with fact clothed upon with the living flesh, breathed into by the vital spirit of quickening ideas.” School Education p. 124

Why is the choosing of a child’s books so important?

• “The selection of their first lesson-books is a matter of grave importance, because it rests with these to give children the idea that knowledge is supremely attractive and that reading is delightful. Once the habit of reading his lesson-book with delight is set up in a child, his education is — not completed, but — ensured.” Home Education p. 229

“A corollary of the principle that education is the science of relations, is, that no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge.” School Education p. 226

Charlotte’s words inspire us to take seriously the task of providing a literary atmosphere for our students. How to apply these ideas to our world today with its ever-growing supply of books written for children, and its changes in how those books are formatted (e-books and e-readers) can be quite a challenge.

To help teachers and homeschooling parents meet this challenge we hope to equip you with practical tools such as favorite author lists in main subjects, the top books on books to help you in selecting books for your libraries, how to start a lending library and where to find living books in your city.

We hope you can join us for the discussion on Living Ideas in Living Books.

About the workshop presenters:

Elizabeth Cottrill

Elizabeth Cottrill is mother to six children and lives on her family’s small farm in southwest Virginia. Having been part of a unique homeschool library back in Michigan, she and her daughter Emily aspired to start one of their own when they relocated. Living Books Library opened in 2006 lending her family’s personal collection to 12 local families and now has grown to almost 15,000 books and serves 50 families not only with wonderful, mostly out-of-print treasures, but in teaching local families about the Charlotte Mason method of education.

Emily Cottrill

Emily Cottrill, Elizabeth’s daughter, has a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Wheaton College. Emily has a passion for diminishing the number of “I-can-only-draw-stick-figures” adults in the world, and to that end has taught art to homeschooled children for the last eight years. However, most of her energy is now invested in Living Books Library, maintaining its website, recording Charlotte Mason’s books on audio, milking the family cow, and writing the Picture Study Portfolios published by Simply Charlotte Mason.

Living Books Library

Kerri Forney

Just like so many others, Kerri was introduced to the life-giving principles of Charlotte Mason through the reading of For the Children’s Sake. She and her husband, Scott, along with their five homeschooled children ages 5 to almost 15 are growing in their ability to live out these principles on their direct-to-consumer farm in Franklin County, N.C. Kerri helps lead a CM study group for moms in North Raleigh, and periodically she and the kids enjoy rescuing used living books from ending up in trash heaps around the state.

Jeannette Tulis

 Jeannette was introduced to the ideas of Charlotte Mason when her husband, David (then her fiance), gave her a copy of “For the Children’s Sake” and said, “This is how I would like us to educate our children.” In God’s providence, David and Jeannette were blessed with four children. Their eldest, a daughter, has graduated and studies the classical figure at a sculpting atelier in Manhattan. The others, boys ages 9 to 18, have mostly followed Ambleside Online’s curriculum, as did their sister. Jeannette loves the stories behind the studies, especially the stories behind art, wildflowers and history. She and her husband are experts at creative book shelving with the motto, “If there is a space, we can put a shelf there.” Jeannette can wile away hours talking about books, especially classic children’s literature, but fears she is a literary fraud as there are still far too many great books on her shelves that remain unread. Living just outside of Chattanooga, Jeannette writes for the local homeschool newsletter Esprit, helps lead a CM support group and teaches a CM-styled class for early elementary homeschooled children in a local co-op.

A wall of Jeannette’s home library

© Jeannette Tulis, 2012


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. Teresa says

    Makes me wish we lived in VA. My kids love the library! They would never want to leave!!

  2. I am so glad that the four of you will be presenting this workshop at the conference! Your combined wisdom will help anyone get a great start in this area. The lending libraries are such a blessing to families and children, especially those pursuing a Mason education.

    (Confession – I clicked on Jeannette’s home library pic to enlarge and see what titles I could see. Plus I want that red Victorian chair.)

    From joy to joy,

    Here’s is a favorite Mason quote about reading that I’d love to hang in my house –

    “People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think.” (Vol. 6, p. 31)

    • Jeannette says

      We will be discussing e-books, and some of our books on books will cover high school age. It will require much discipline not to gush too much over our favorites!

  3. I suspect your libraries have so many more living books than the library down the street in our rural county. I don’t even go there any more! Thanks for putting down in one place descriptions of a living book is.

  4. says

    Did I miss something? Join you in what discussion? I’m in Australia anyway. But that last paragraph – “To help teachers and homeschooling parents meet this challenge we hope to equip you with practical tools such as favorite author lists in main subjects, the top books on books to help you in selecting books for your libraries, how to start a lending library and where to find living books in your city.” Would love information on authors and books to select books. Thanks

  5. Tania says

    I’m from England and like the writer of the comment above have fairly given up on my local library now I’ve discovered living books (which the library doesn’t stock). I would like to set up a living book library here in England. Since I cannot attend the conference (much as I would love to) – where else could I find out information about setting up such a resource?

  6. Pingback: Weekly WrapUp - AussieHomeschool

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