To introduce children to literature is to instal them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served – Charlotte Mason
I’m so delighted to introduce you to my guest on the blog today, Emily Kiser. Emily and I met over the wonders of social media and it’s my pleasure to have her share a little of her living books story here today, enjoy!
I come from a family of readers. My mother, Liz Cottrill, (who has written and spoken about her own reading background quite a bit) was diligent to read extensively to me and my siblings as we were growing up. Being blind, she read to us from Braille books, the ones she read as a girl. So my early reading life was drenched in classics like Heidi and Little Women, The Wind in the Willows and The Yearling. I loved to read and began reading for myself quite early, but still, my mother continued to read aloud to me, and I am eternally grateful that she did.
Despite the solid foundation I had in reading good books, my personal reading culture grew stagnant once I discovered Nancy Drew. I devoured mystery after mystery, not caring that the plots were all very similar. The problem wasn’t the books themselves (I still credit my reasoning skills to the hours spent solving crimes with Nancy), the problem was that I stopped reading anything else. Slowly, bit by bit, I backed out of this dead end and expanded my reading taste once again in my late teens. I discovered beauty in the sensitive writing of Madeleine L’Engle whose books led me to discover others.
After I finished college, I moved back home. My younger siblings were still being home educated, so I used to take my mom to used book sales at the public libraries in the surrounding areas combing the stacks for treasures. I didn’t really know what I was looking for beyond a few trusted authors, and the term “living book” didn’t mean very much to me at all yet. It wasn’t until I found a copy of Who Shall We Then Read by Jan Bloom (a collection of 155 excellent authors and lists of their books) on the homeschooling shelf that I stumbled into the pages of the best books I’ve ever read. Often tears would come to my eyes as my heart was overwhelmed with truth and beauty glimpsed in the pages of these books. Here I was, a twenty-something adult crying over books intended for children. While reading Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen, I actually said aloud, “Does someone have to die in every good story?” I had an epiphany at that moment. I realized that yes, someone does have to die, because someONE did die to save the world. Living books, I learned, reflect the True story that God has already written. These stories I was coming to love were not only enjoyable, they were teaching me more about myself, and also the true nature of the world. They taught me to empathize with others whose experiences are so different than my own. These books were living books and they have enhanced my own life beyond measure.
Living books, I learned, reflect the True story that God has already written
From that time on, I have been collecting books from “The Golden Age of Children’s Literature.” As my collection grew, my mom began urging me to consider helping her open a lending library for homeschooling families in our area. In the spring of 2006 we opened Living Books Library to 12 local families with our meager collection of about 3,000 volumes. We now have about 17,000 volumes and about 45 families currently check out books to use in their education. Though I am now married and have children of my own, the library is still a large part of my life. It is a great honor and responsibility to help put the right book into the right hands at the right time. Looking back, I think it was my shyness that kept me from asking for new book recommendations. I hope to be the kind of librarian that invites children to explore new horizons, to seek out unexplored lands, to walk in a different person’s shoes–the kinds of things that happen in the pages of really good books.
Emily Kiser lives with her husband and two sons on their small, family-owned Organic farm in southwest Virginia. She is the author of Simply Charlotte Mason’s Picture Study Portfolios and librarian at Living Books Library. She and her mother, Liz, along with Nicole Williams host the weekly Charlotte Mason podcast, A Delectable Education.