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Lessons in Literature; Purging with a Purpose

I live in a 350 square foot home with five other people.

By choice.

And it’s awesome!

However, because the total living space of our fifth wheel is approximately the size of the average American living room, we are naturally quite limited with what we carry onboard with us.

This past week I have been in the process of culling our children’s book collection in order to make space for our new literature and history books as we roll into our second year of homeschooling on the road. Besides taking up a lot of space, books are also rather heavy, and we have a weight limit for our truck and trailer to safely travel down the highways and byways of our nation that we need to remain mindful of.

To make a long story short(er), we have a lot of books.

“Hi, I’m Stephanie, and I’m a book hoarder.” (Because the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.)

Mostly we have really good books, as I’ve been collecting children’s books for nearly 15 years, since the early days of my elementary education studies. Books that I am rather attached to, because I loved reading them to my former students and look forward to reading them with my own kids, or books that I know my daughters and son will one day enjoy reading.

However, there are other books that have crept onto our shelves that are of lesser literary value. Charlotte Mason, whom we loosely model our education methods after, referred to these books as “twaddle”.

Today I tackled the twaddle on our shelves.

Those books that are simply filling our shelves, but aren’t nourishing our children’s imaginations, nor are they bringing much to the table beyond adding to the kids’ page count for free reading time. While such classics as “Little Red Riding Hood” permeate a child’s imagination, captivate them with an engaging plot line, and challenge them to raise questions, the dumbed-down twaddle of “Minnie Red Riding Hood” needed to be plucked from our shelves to make space for stories with greater literary value. The fairy-series-come-lately books were taking up valuable bookshelf real estate that meant that “Anne of Green Gables”, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Charlotte’s Web” had been relegated to a milk crate in a storage bay. No longer is that the case!

After just over an hour of sorting and purging books, I walked out of the kids’ room with two grocery bags full of books that were simply taking up space on our shelves, and replaced them with books that had been in the storage bay. Books that had been awaiting space for them to rest on the children’s bookshelves and make their way into the kids’ hands.

After removing the twaddle from their bookshelves, the kids' have more great literature selections to choose from.

After removing the twaddle from their bookshelves, the kids have more great literature selections from which to choose.

So what will become of the culled books?
About half of them will be donated to either the next campground that we visit that has a lending library, or to a local ministry or shelter. The other half will become our bag of travel day books that we’ll keep in our truck for those days when we are moving from “here” to “there”. These are the books that the kids are more attached to, or that are in such poor condition already that their next stop is fuel for a campfire. Those are the books that someone took a crayon to half of the pages, or practiced their scissors skills on page 9; the ones that we simply cannot pass on to an unsuspecting ministry, with a good conscience.
While they aren’t the high quality literature that I want to see my kids reading on a regular basis, sometimes on travel days you do whatever you have to do to talk a preschooler on the verge of a tantrum down from the ledge of making everyone in the truck lose their minds. And if that means reading a few Mickey Mouse books, I’m okay with that.

And that’s the bigger picture.

I desire for the bulk of my kids’ literary choices to be of a higher quality. Books that will fuel their imaginations and books that will give them a deeper understanding of the world in which they live. However, the occasional “Pinkalicious” in their literary diet isn’t going to strike a nail in the coffin of their creativity. By being exposed to, read to, and independently reading quality literature, that is what they will continue to come back to and what they will choose, when given free reign of their reading selections.

We’re raising readers, but we’re also raising thinkers, and we’re raising people of action.

All of these things are largely inspired by literature. That’s one reason that we choose a literature-based education for our family.

If you’d like to read further about Charlotte Mason’s perspective on the importance of what children read, this essay is what inspired today’s purge and renewed focus on keeping only quality literature in our limited bookshelf space.