S6 E3 | How to Identify a Living Book (Jeannie Fulbright)
Living books are a vital and necessary part of a living education. They are full of ideas and personality that sparks the imagination, imparting interest in the subject, and building a love for learning. But how do you know if a book is a living book? How do you tell a living from a dead book? Jeannie Fulbright shares the way you can tell almost immediately if a book is a living book. She gives examples from living books and twaddle. By implementing the method Jeannie describes, you can easily identify a living book.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright [00:00:04] Welcome to the Charlotte Mason Show, a show that discusses Charlotte Mason's philosophy, principles and methods. It is our hope that each session on the Charlotte Mason Show will mentor you in the Charlotte Mason model, inspire you with ideas, and offer practical ways to implement Charlotte Mason's unique and effective methodology in your home school. I'm your host, Jeanie Fulbright, and I am so glad you joined me today. Today's episode is brought to you by Medi-Share. Find out how this affordable Christian alternative to traditional health insurance can help you at medishare.com.
[00:00:42] So today I want to talk to you about how to identify a living book. And it's easier than you might think. But I will give you examples from both living books and let's just call them dead books. In our Charlotte Mason circles, we talk so much about living books and our children, how they must be given living books full of living ideas. "Let the lessons be of the right sort," Charlotte Mason says, "and [the] children will learn them with delight." She says, "The child must learn [...] in order that ideas may be freely sown in the fruitful soil of his mind." She also explains that ideas are the mental pictures that we form when we are reading or learning something new, that we get a mental image, something that sparks our imagination. Charlotte Mason says, "the business of teaching is to furnish the child with ideas, any teaching which does not leave him possessed of a new mental image [...] has missed its mark."
[00:01:46] So we see that living books give our children mental pictures or images that spur the imagination. That's what we're looking for, is a book that spurs the imagination, whether fiction or nonfiction. Charlotte, Mason expounds even further on this. She says, "An idea is more than an image or picture; it is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force--with power that is to grow and to produce after its kind." She says, "It is the very nature of an idea to grow." When we're giving our children ideas, those ideas spark the imagination and then begin to produce after their own kind; they begin to grow. Charlotte Mason tells us, "The mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas [only]; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body."
[00:02:42] Charlotte Mason always tells us, "Information is not education." We can have information in a living book, but that information is presented in a way that feeds the imagination, that is living--living ideas. The information brings ideas and thoughts into our imagination where it can grow and form new ideas. I would say that most fiction books are in the category of a living book, but not all fiction--well done fiction. I'm going to give you an example from a wonderful fiction book called The Adventures of Peter Cottontail by Burgess. I'm going to take the first paragraph of that book and I'm going to break it down into mere information and drain it dry of the living ideas, the living way that Burgess wrote the first paragraph. So here is the dead presentation of Peter Cottontail:
[00:03:44] Peter was sitting in the old briar patch, scowling. He was unhappy. He was unhappy because people laughed at his name. He believed that one's name mattered. If you did something important in life, no one would care if you had the wrong name.
[00:03:59] That's telling you exactly what happens in the first paragraph. If I were to do a summary of that, to summarize that book, that's what I would write. So now let's infuse it back in the way that Burgess wrote it with a living--just a beautiful, living way that he wrote the story. This is the first paragraph:
[00:04:17] "Peter Rabbit! Peter Rabbit! I don't see what Mother Nature ever gave me such a common sounding name as that for. People laugh at me, but if I had a fine sounding name they wouldn't laugh. Some folks say that a name doesn't amount to anything, but it does. If I should do something wonderful, nobody would think anything of it. No, sir, nobody would think anything of it at all. Just because--why just because it was done by Peter Rabbit." Peter was talking out loud, but he was talking to himself. He sat in the dear old briar patch with an ugly scowl on his usually happy face.
[00:04:51] I love that. We see Peter Rabbit's personality. We hear his voice. We're given a peek, a glimpse into the mind of Peter Rabbit. We have access to his thoughts as he thinks them. We know this character, his personality. We can feel how he feels. We can see the way he sees the world. Again, the author is showing us something. He's showing us his character through the character's thoughts, through the character's words, through the character's actions, and we know how the character feels. So I'm going to give you another example from my Rumble Tumbles Through Time: Dinosaur Days book. In this scene, we have the main character, Marco, upset with a kid that he's met named Noah. Noah has done something that's upset him, and instead of saying, "Marco is upset with Noah and he storms towards him and starts yelling at him and Noah calms him down," which would be sort of a telling way of saying that, I show you:
[00:05:54] When Tamar and I reached a large boulder, Noah and Rumble were sitting on the ground. Rumble lapped water from a wooden bowl. I jumped off the bird's back and stalked towards Noah. "You left me!" "I told you to take Tamar." "Right, Noah, but in case you hadn't noticed, Tamar's a terror bird. I don't make it a habit of jumping onto the backs of carnivorous predators." "Predator? Tamar? Look at her!" Noah chuckled and pointed. "She's as gentle as a kitten." He lifted his hand. Tamar sauntered over and nuzzled her head into his neck. I tried to calm my nerves. No luck. Seeing Tamar, the terror bird, inches away from snapping off Noah's hand sent a chill up my neck. This must be how Kahn feels when he's upset: helpless, frustrated. The thought of Kahn sent my mind racing. I missed my twin. I missed Esther. I missed my whole family. Life was a lot easier in the future. I sat down and rubbed my stinging eyes. The terror birds plop to the ground and began grooming each other. I shuddered. I could fit my entire head inside one of their mouths. At the same time, I couldn't help admiring them. The birds look like a cross between an ostrich and a parrot. Their colorful faces resembled a parrot, but their bodies looked like an overgrown ostrich. It's amazing and a little sad how many animals ended up becoming extinct in the future. My future. Rumble laid his head in my lap. "I've read that terror birds were dangerous predators," I mumbled. "Most are, but these two think I'm their momma," explained Noah. "Several years ago, I found their eggs in my hunting cave. When their mother never returned to her nest, I brought the eggs home. I was the first thing they saw when they hatched, so they think I’m their momma." That made perfect sense. After all, this is Noah who will one day build a Titanic like boat, but it won't sink like the Titanic did. Every kind of animal will willingly wander in right before it starts raining. I really hope I'm not here when that happens.
[00:07:33] So instead of just telling you what happened, I show you what happened through the characters thoughts, through the characters words, through the characters actions. That is how we can tell a living book from twaddle or a book that is trying to be a fiction book, but actually just is too much telling of information. We want to see information happening. We want to hear the thoughts of the character. We want to be in their mind. We want to feel their personality coming through the page. That is the key. It's personality. That is what a living book is--it is a book with a personality, and that can be done through nonfiction as well as fiction.
[00:08:13] So now I'm going to show you an example from a nonfiction book. The first example is going to be a nonfiction story taught in a way that is drained dry of living thought, that we do not hear or see the author's personality in the book, but what we do hear and see is simply information. And again, mere information is a meal of sawdust to the body. This is a book I have called The Story of America in Pictures. I'm going to tell the story of William Penn.
[00:08:49] Penn's Treaty. In settlement of a debt owed to his father, Charles the Second gave William Penn a grant of land in the New World. In 1682 the young Quaker, fired with the idea of governmental and religious freedom, sailed up the quiet waters of the Delaware to take possession of his grant. The name Pennsylvania is the latinized form of Penn's words. Almost Penn's first act was to make a treaty with the Indians, and his next was to establish for his colony a liberal form of self-government.
[00:09:18] So now we understand what happened with Penn. He was given a grant of land. He had religious freedom and governmental freedom on his mind. He formed a treaty with the Indians and then formed a self-government. So let's listen to that written in a living way. And this is a book that I'm creating called Living Streams of Early American History, and it should be ready hopefully this fall. Here is the story of William Penn in this book:
[00:09:46] Penns Woods, 1681. "Good evening, Chuck," William Penn said as he stood before King Charles the Second. "Mr. Penn," the Duke of York said in a deadly tone, "You will address your king as His Majesty the King. Take that hat off your head and bow before your king." "That I cannot do. I am of the Society of Friends. We do not consider any man above another man. Therefore, I do not address men as though they are above me. I do not need to take off my hat to show respect. Furthermore, I do not bow to anyone but God. All men are equals before the most holy God." A deadly silence fell over the court. No one could believe what William Penn dared to say. Then everyone erupted in whispers and murmurings. "What manner of man is this to defy the King of England? He'll lose that head with the hat. He's a mad man." The guard wearing full armor started towards the treasonous Penn. As the clanking of his armor drew near, the king interrupted the proceedings by taking off his crown. "All right, young Penn. Only one man may wear a hat in the king's presence. It's usually me, but today I'll let it be you. After all, your father was my closest friend." "Thank you," William Penn replied, "It is my understanding that my father lent you a great sum of money." "Yes, he did. I'm deeply in his debt. Since he has passed, I'm now in your debt. But it will be too difficult for me to get that much money together. I simply don't have it. As to that, Chuck, I have a solution," William Penn smiled. "My people, the Society of Friends—" "We call you Quakers," the king interrupted. "Do you know why?" Yes, Chuck, because our founder, George Fox, was said to tremble at the Word of God. Be that as it may, my people are horribly persecuted here in England. Therefore, instead of money, I would like you to grant me a large tract of land in America. There, my people and others who are persecuted for their beliefs may go. A place where we may live at peace and brotherly love with one another."
Jeannie Fulbright [00:11:41] So as you can see, I'm saying the exact same thing that King Charles granted William Penn a tract of land in America because of a debt owed, but I have infused it with a living dialogue that brings the story to life, that makes it interesting to the reader. You can vividly imagine it in your imagination happening, and that is the telling of history in a living way. But it doesn't have to be fictionalized. So I have taken history, and I've created little historical fiction vignettes to bring the subject of history to life. But there are other books that are history books that bring the subject to life in a different way. They don't make it fiction, but they infuse it with living thought. In the book This Country of Ours by Henrietta Marshall, I believe she does a great job of bringing the story to life. I'm just going to take the part where she talks about the treaty that William made with the Indians:
[00:12:38] Beneath the spreading branches of this tree, Penn took a stand. He was young and handsome, and although he wore the simple garb of the Quakers, he had not yet perhaps quite forgotten the modest ways of his younger days because about his waist was a blue scarf. Beside him stood his cousin, the deputy governor, and a few more soberly clad Quakers. In front of them in a great half circle were arranged the Indians, the old men in front, the middle-aged behind, the last of all the young men. They were gorgeous in paint and feathers and armed with hatchets, bows, and arrows, but the Quakers carried no weapons of any kind. Greetings being over, an ancient warrior advanced and amid deep silence, tied a horn upon his forehead. This was the sign of his greatness and also a sign that the spot was sacred. Immediately, all the Braves threw down their weapons and seated themselves upon the grass. Then the old warrior chief announced that they were ready to hear the words of the white chief.
[00:13:32] So you can hear from those words, that has brought the subject to life. You can imagine the warriors. You can imagine the great elm tree that they were under, because she has infused this historical account with living ideas and living thoughts and a personality. You can hear her personality, how she explains and describes things, and that is what makes This Country of Ours by Henrietta Marshall a living book. Even though it isn't fictionalized, it is telling it in a way that infuses it with your imagination, infuses it with ideas, images, and imagination. Now, I would like to give an example from science. So I happened to have a science textbook for third graders in front of me. And I'm going to read to you the little section for third graders that talks about fungus:
[00:14:25] A fungus can be only one cell, but most fungi are more than one cell. Fungi cannot make their own food. Some fungi grow on foods. The mold in the picture is a fungus that grows on bread. Other fungi grow on living things and can make them sick. Mushrooms are fungi that get food from dead material in the soil.
[00:14:44] So I'm going to take an excerpt from my Exploring Creation with Botany book that is written for kids K through middle school. And this is about mushrooms:
[00:14:56] You've learned a lot about fungi. Now it's time to explore the fungi called mushrooms. For thousands of years, mushrooms have been an important part of society. They had many uses in different cultures and have been beneficial around the world throughout time. In fact, a man was once found frozen in the Alps on the border of Austria and Italy. Scientists believed he lived more than 3,000 years ago. Can you imagine that? His frozen body was discovered 3,000 years after he died. When scientists searched the man's belongings, they found he was carrying with him two different kinds of mushrooms. One of those kinds of mushrooms is used to ignite fires. The other is now known to have antibacterial healing qualities. Did this man know that? We aren't sure. But we do know that the Chinese have used mushrooms for thousands of years to heal all kinds of ailments. But mostly people enjoy mushrooms because they taste so good. A friend of mine lived in Russia as a missionary. Once she was invited to dine at the house of a Russian friend. When she sat down to eat, she realized the entire meal was made up of many different kinds of mushrooms, prepared in a variety of ways. That's right. A mushroom meal. I'm sure it was quite delicious and nutritious, too. You see, mushrooms are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as proteins and carbohydrates. And it's no wonder since they feed off plant and animal matter.
[00:16:12] So I'm saying the same thing as the textbook about mushrooms feeding off animal and plant matter, but I've explained it in a way that actually fills the mind with mental images and pictures. They're picturing the old man found in the Alps. They're picturing mushrooms in his pocket. They're imagining mushrooms in a way that begins to make them care about mushrooms. And those are the kinds of books we need to be using in every subject our children are learning. Books that are infused with personality that cause our children to have mental images of the ideas presented to them.
[00:16:49] Ideas and personality. Does the book have personality? Do you recognize someone's personality in the way the material is presented? Is it living? Is it filled with ideas? Is it filled with interest? Is there a voice? Do you hear a voice in the book? No matter how well written a nonfiction book is, even if it has a lot of great vocabulary and the way it explains things, if you do not hear the personality of the author coming through the pages, it is not a living book. And so essentially that is how you tell a living book from a dead—if you will—book is through personality. Does the book have a personality? Do you experience that personality? Does it fill your mind with ideas and thoughts? Do you see a mental picture when you are reading it? Does it bring it to life? And that's how you identify a living book.
[00:17:47] I have so enjoyed hosting The Charlotte Mason Show this week, and I would love to hear from you. You can find me on Instagram or on my website, JeannieFulbright.com or on my Charlotte Mason christian homeschooler group on Facebook, where thousands of women are seeking to homeschool with the Charlotte Mason model. And I would love to see you there as well. Thank you.
[00:18:14] Thank you for tuning into The Charlotte Mason Show. If you want to learn more about Charlotte Mason, go to my website at JeannieFulbright.com. There you can find my blog where I discuss so many of Charlotte Mason's principles and how to implement her philosophy in your homeschool. You can also take a peek at my Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, which is much more than a planner. It's a Charlotte Mason mentor that not only teaches you Charlotte Mason principles, but it keeps you focused on the things that are important each week, such as habit training and nature study and Scripture, read-alouds, prayer, and self-care, which often gets neglected. And I would love to meet you in person at a Great Homeschool Convention where I'll be sharing a lot of different Charlotte Mason topics. To sign up go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Thanks again and have a blessed and bountiful week as you fulfill your call to educate your children at home.