Those new to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy often wonder if they should allow their children to read “fun” books. Does every book need to be a living one? Is there room in one’s life for Captain Underpants if that is what your child prefers? What about the American Girl books or Magic Treehouse?
From a favorite book of mine, The Golden Milestone by Frank Boreham, I find this answer:
“There is a place in life for the novel, the love-story, the frolic of an author’s fancy. It is sometime pleasing and restful to leave a world of facts and sail out on the fairy seas of fiction. The product of a great imagination has its irresistible charm. We are among the shallows of literature, it is true, but then we are only attempting to minister to the shallows of life. The danger comes when we settle down to the shallows; when we never hear the voice of the deep; and when the deep within us becomes neglected and starved. It is good sometimes to get away from the shallows into the deeps; to enter into fellowships with the great masters; to feel the throb of reality; and to grapple with the problems of the universe.” (from The Golden Milestone by Frank Boreham; emphasis his)
Now there are fairytales and such that we would consider living books. The test here is not whether a book is found in the fiction of non-fiction section of one’s local library. I think Boreham uses the words fiction and novel more to denote the sort of books which we would today call “popular fiction” or “beach reading.” Nonetheless, his point, I think is a good one. There is a place for our lives, and our children’s, for these easier, more purely entertaining books. The danger comes when we do not delve deeper and challenge ourselves with deeper works.
Charlotte Mason uses the analogy fo food and I think it is (if you will pardon the pun) a fruitful one. Those quality living books are the meat and vegetable sof life; they contain the proteins and vitamins which out bodies need and without which they can’t thrive or ultimately even fiction. There are other works which are more along the lines of white bread; they are not awful for one but they would not sustain one in a healthy way for long if they were all one took in. Still others are perhaps the sweets; they may be thoroughly enjoyable and in small doses will do no ultimate harm but in large doses there is danger. And without naming names, I think there are also some which are poison; which should be avoided at all costs.
The lines we draw may be different, even within a family there may be one child who can tolerate more “sweets” than another. For my own kids, I am willing to put up with a certain amount of Magic Treehouse; I do draw the line at Captain Underpants. But then sometimes if all a child has known is the teeth-rotting books, one must make the transition gradually. And over time, I do find that the palate changes and the child comes to enjoy the “vegetable” books and even to ask for them.
This analogy has probably already been stretched too far but indulge me in one more thought: the good advice which applies to food may also apply here — Avoid battles; Sneak in the healthy things as you can (audio books in the car are one example); Require a bite fo two of the quality nourishment every “meal”; But if you find youself cajoling and wheelding, just stop and back off; and, lastly, Be persistent.