Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living Book Review: Time of Wonder

How does one explain "living books" to someone not familiar with this cornerstone of Charlotte Mason philosophy? Sometimes it helps to put it into language people are more familiar with. Here is one of my favorite quotes about good literature, which, of course, is what a living book is.

"The classics are books that refuse to be eradicated from your mind and hide themselves in the folds of memory. A classic is a book that is never finished saying what it has to say."
Italo Calvino

We don't often think of children's literature fitting into the "classics" category. We should. C.S. Lewis wrote that any book worth reading at age 10 should be worth reading at age 50.
The books we read to our children, should bring us as much pleasure and enjoyment as they do to our kids.
Here is a perfect example.

You have probably read some, or all, of Robert McCloskey's books: One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings. This one, Time of Wonder, is my favorite.

The illustrations are beautiful, like this spread of the rain coming across the water of the bay.

The language is beautiful, like this passage about the ferns:
"And that other sound--not the beating of your heart, but the one like half a whisper-is the sound of growing ferns, pushing aside dead leaves, unrolling their fiddle-heads, slowly unfurling, slowly stretching."

We walked through a growth of ferns today and saw fiddle-heads for the first time. It made this page even more real to us.

There is shared delight with the children jumping from the rocks and into the sea. There is shared experience as the next page shows the tide out. "Just like at our beach, Mommy."

And then there is this page, when the family packs up to leave their island. This page that brought tears to my 5 year old son's eyes because he understood the emotion, the sadness that something beautiful was coming to an end.

That is a living book. There is an emotional connection to the characters, the story, the moments in the book. James has never spent a summer on an island, weathered a hurricane, or even been to Maine. But he understands the feelings of these characters because he has felt them too.

"Good literature helps me understand who I am in relation to what others experience. Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality." Gladys Hunt


  1. Lovely post. I do have a hard time explaining living books. You've done it perfectly.

  2. What beautiful quotes, I especially love the Italo Calvino one. So touching that your son related to it that way. Precious time spent together :)