Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families

Read for the Heart:
Whole Books for Wholehearted Families

Book by Sarah Clarkson
Review by Virginia Knowles

Bunny trails, even the cyber kind, can lead to serendipitous discoveries, and that is certainly the case with how I found a wonderful book that is reshaping my home education path.

Late last year, I happened to be reading a theology blog that linked to a music video, which in turn linked to a writer’s forum, which fortuitously deposited me onto Sarah Clarkson’s blog. Her name is no mystery to me, though. What jumped out to me is that she is a Clarkson, twentysomething eldest daughter of Clay and Sally, whose 1995 book The Wholehearted Child (later renamed Educating the Wholehearted Child), laid an early foundation for Charlotte Mason style education in our home. Now Sarah, who was nurtured in a literature-loving environment, has penned her own contribution to the cause. She was kind enough to send me a review copy, along with a sweet note, and I devoured it in January. It’s been doing its work on me ever since, pointing me back from whence I came, back to whole literature education. But that is another story for another time.

Let me talk about the book. Bare fact: 384 pages of sheer delight. With her own warm-hearted, imagination-sparking vignettes from her family’s experience, Sarah sets first sets forth a passionate and poetic plea for us to teach our children with an abundance of well-written books. She suggests several ideas for making reading accessible and attractive to children, such as filling book baskets for each one or reading aloud while they sketch.   She also presents solid research on literacy.  For example, did you know that 15-24 year old spend only 7-10 minutes a day on voluntary reading, but 2 1/2 hours per day watching TV?  How did this habit start?  In childhood!  This is more alarming when Sarah reports on studies which show that TV viewing causes the logical left side of the brain to go into a state of passivity, while at the same time stimulating the the emotional, less rational, less discerning right side of the brain.  So, "The child is indiscriminately receptive to whatever image or idea is presented, inhibited not only in his discernement of the truth or error of the idea, but also in the basic skill of rational comprehension."  However, when we read, our full minds are engaged, "resulting in a brain trained to interact with ideas and a mind able to comprehend, choosing what it will accept or reject as true."   (Thanks, Mom and Dad for pulling the plug on our TV for six years when I was a kid, and for always taking us to the library and bookstores!)

Then, so as not to leave us floundering about what to read, Sarah lays out a feast of titles, authors, and engaging descriptions in the categories of picture books, Golden Age classics, children’s fiction, fairy tales & fantasy, history & biography, spiritual reading, poetry, and music/art/nature. Throw in several appendices, such as Caldecott Medalists, and you have a veritable treasure chest. Many of these books have been favorites in my own family as well as in my English classroom at the Providence co-op. However, she listed scores of titles I had never heard of before. So, armed with a list of her recommended picture books, I raided our public library and came home with a rich stash. Our favorite new find is Jill Barklem’s cheerful Brambly Hedge series, of which we’ve read at least five or six.

To give you a flavor of Sarah’s book descriptions, here is part of what she says about Brambly Hedge:

After months of studying the customs and traditions of English country life, Barklem set out to craft a series of children’s books filled with the hominess she found. The Brambly Hedge series chronicles the colorful days of a cheerful community of mice who love a good feast, an adventurous foray, and the charming company of their families.

Sarah wrote more about this series here: Book Review of Brambly Hedge

And, a sweet childhood recollection from Sarah:

It might be my earliest memory. I am curled in the crook of my mother’s arm in the evening. Bedtime lurks just around the corner, but for now, the two of us are nestled in the worn cushions of the old brown couch with a battered storybook open between us. My mom is reading, her voice charmingly expressive as she smoothes the glossy pages for me to see. I am entranced. The rhythm of the simple words combines with the whimsical paintings to captivate my little soul. I gaze at it all in bright-eyed wonder until I am compelled to surrender to my bedtime hour. I am only pacified by the knowledge that is will all begin again the next evening. Over twenty years have come and gone since that night, but the memory came rushing back the other day when I stumbled across the very storybook that had so delighted me as a child. I felt that I was meeting an old friend whose soul was part of my own, and I sat down to renew our acquaintance.

(This reminds me of the time my family moved to San Carlos, California when I was at the end of second grade. When I first walked into the classroom, nervous to be the new kid, the teacher, Mrs. McMillan had all of the children gathered in a circle for reading time. The book? I could never forget Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, another featured author in Read for the Heart. I checked out Blueberries for Sal from the library recently, read it to the kindergartners in our home school co-op, and enjoyed it as much as ever. The book is 15 years older than I am, with monotone ink illustrations, but it is timeless. And it was woven into my memory by a book-loving teacher. I also remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Mueller, reading aloud to us every day. One book that stands out is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, of which Sarah remarks in RFTH, "I challenge anyone to read this book without tears.")

So you’ve figured out by now that I highly recommend Read for the Heart. It’s a beautiful book, list price of $17, very professionally published by Apologia/Wholeheart. You can find it on the WholeHeart web site, on the Apologia web site, or at CBD (where you can see inside the book).
I can’t resist one last quote from Read for the Heart. Sarah slips in inspiring quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and this is from the one on Music, Art and Nature:

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” Johann Wilhelm von Goethe


Read for the heart!

Virginia Knowles

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