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A Strong Education Includes Real Literature | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

A Strong Education Includes Real Literature

When I first saw that Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird were being replaced in core curriculum with dry product guides, I thought it was a spoof story on The Onion. Then, I realized it was real. Whoever made that decision never read Charles Dickens’ classic novel, Bleak House.

Reading great literature has been one of the cornerstones of my children’s education. Real literature. With great stories, complex characters – books that both taught and delighted us. Reading great literature is one of the best methods I know to help kids grow into strong, creative writers.

If this becomes a trend, then it will be up to parents and family members to continue to introduce children to good literature. Here are ways we did this in our home:

  • Summer library programs – your librarian should be your friend. Make the most of their collection.
  • Read alouds can become part of family nights. In Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp (a la Sound of Music), she described her family’s reading great literature aloud together at night.  Until last year, we incorporated family read alouds of books for my children’s entire lives. As a family, we’ve twice ventured through the Little House series and also through the chronicles of Narnia. We didn’t begin with those books – we started with Thomas the Train, Peter Rabbit, and Grimm’s fairy tales when our kids were young. (Walt Disney attributed much of his inspiration to his mother reading fairy tales to him when he was a child.) Another favorite of mine was a fully illustrated children’s book telling the story of the Odyssey.
  • Bible stories are vital. We are now on our tenth round as a family reading aloud a children’s Bible; we start in August and will probably finish in May, reading a story a day. During my daughter’s high school years, we bumped this up a notch, reading aloud the complete Bible. With family schedules, this took us four years to finish but was worth it.
  • Go for the classics. It’s ok to read abridged versions of books. But make time to read the real ones too – until we read aloud as a family, I didn’t know how ornery Tinkerbell really was in Peter Pan. And I wouldn’t have cried during Heidi when the grandmother described how she liked to pray on the mountain.
  • Don’t just read American authors. Add a good sampling of British authors because often, the sentence structure is more complex, as are their characters. This will help develop your kids’ minds.
  • Find older books. For several years at homeschool conventions, we sold Bethlehem Books, which specialized in reprinting old books of historical fiction. I loved their characters, and their stories are among the finest we ever enjoyed as a family. A good way to introduce historic fiction to kids is to correspond the historic era being studied with books studied so students can better draw parallels and see the big picture.
  • This can continue in high school. With my kids, they studied world history and world literature the same year. Then, the next year, they studied American history and American literature.  As a literature fanatic, I wrote my own curriculum for my kids to use – a blend of traditional anthology combined with reading several novels and plays.
  • Shakespeare can be good even at an early age. There are great Shakespeare picture books with his greatest moments from his plays in them. I used those. Several times in English or communications classes, I’ve adapted sections from his plays into oral reading exercises for classes to enjoy. After my kids study a Shakespearean play, we make sure we see it on DVD so because Shakespeare was meant to be seen, not just read.
  • We used to call them books on tape – but they are wonderful. We love Jim Weiss and his countless stories.

Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian schoolmaster in Bleak House, begins the story demanding his students only learn “facts.” By the novel’s conclusion, he grows to appreciate poetry and literature.

The images we carry in our souls from the stories we read help carry us through life’s future tragedies. When we lost our first baby, I remember thinking that for the first time I understood the Biblical phrase of the daughters of Rachel weeping for their children. Do we really think a future generation of kids is going to draw their inspiration from an insulation EPA product manual?

I would hate to see a generation of children lose their imaginations because Gradgrind’s mistake is repeated. A child’s imagination is a wonderful thing to treasure and a terrible thing to waste.


One Response to “A Strong Education Includes Real Literature”

  1. Wayne McEvilly December 14, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Mary –
    I wish I could just wave a magic wand which would insure each and every one on twitter who has some light in their brainbox would read this post, but the one simple thing I can do, and will is to send it out to a few with whom I know your content will resonate.
    We’re all “busy” – and many are busy telling everyone how busy they are. Your recent experiences illuminate the importance of rest, renewal, and joy – and as you so eloquently express in this blog, great literature brings great joy, illumination, and understanding.
    Love to you, the PlatoPackinMama!
    Wayne

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