Living Books versus Twaddle

Charlotte Mason, an 18th century educator whose work has influenced the modern homeschooling movement coined the terms ‘living books’ and ‘twaddle’.

Living books are like healthy food for the mind while twaddle is the equivalent of junk food.

Charlotte Mason advocated using living books to spark the thought environment of children.

Little Footprints - a living books curriculum

Living books are usually written by one person who is experienced in or passionate about the subject about which he is writing. They make the subject-matter ‘come alive’ as you learn about it through the eyes of the characters, in a story, or the author’s subjective passion in a reference book.

In contrast, encyclopaedias and text books are usually written by a panel and may contain snippets of facts and information written in a more impersonal, formal and objective style. Some refer to the latter as “dumbed-down twaddle” and “lifeless pedantic texts”!

One of the aims of a liberal education, according to Charlotte Mason, was to connect children with the minds of great masters – authors, poets, artists, etc – through their works (or the writing of the those who really know them.)

Living books

  • Are engaging, spark ideas
  • Make the subject come ‘alive’
  • Convey the author’s passion
  • Interesting, insightful
  • Captivating and compelling
  • Subjective, personal, “feels like a friend”
  • Spark further curiosity
  • Make the reader feel changed in some way
  • Stir emotions, form opinions, enlighten us
  • Fictional or non-fiction


  • Patronising, ‘dumbed-down’
  • Impersonal, objective
  • Unemotive
  • May be written by a committee for a specific purpose
  • Lifeless, dry, factual, boring, snippets of information
  • Leave the reader unchanged and unstimulated

TheVeryHungryCaterpillarFor example, you could read a child a science text book about how caterpillars turn into moths or butterflies, or you could read a story book, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and learn not just about the life cycle of the butterfly but also about healthy eating for kids – and much more too in a most engaging format!

Long-Walk-to-Lavender-StFor older children, you could read a factual history text book about Apartheid, or you can read a story about a family in District Six, who were divided by racial classification and relocated by the Group Areas Act and you will experience, almost first-hand, how Apartheid affected real people.

Reading good quality children’s books aloud to your children daily will ensure that they develop good language skills, which are essential for their academic success. That’s why stories are an essential part of learning in my preschool programme and the three Footprints On Our Land homeschool curricula:

abc-fun-cover-spiralABC Fun & 1-2-3 for preschoolers, contains reviews of over 100 recommended ‘living’ children’s stories which you can buy or find at your library. It will give you will have all the tools you need to lay the foundation that your children need at this age to learn successfully later in life.

“If I was only allowed to pick one early learning resource, then ABC Fun & 1-2-3 , by Shirley Erwee would be it! We had lots of fun times and created a lovely keepsake and precious memories. This resource gets a definite thumbs up from us.” ~ Eloise (Australia)

“When you buy ABC Fun & 123 the greatest benefit is that you do not only buy a curriculum for your little one, you ‘buy’ Shirley’s veteran experience and mother’s heart.”
~ Wendy Young (Cape Town, SA)

Review of Footprints On Our Land: “My kids and I have absolutely loved following this beautiful curriculum and every homeschool family living in SA or SA expats should do this programme – your children are seriously missing out on the best way to learn about our beautiful country if not!”  ~ Simone Eichler

“I am so THRILLED to see my son excited about BOOKS!” ~ Colleen

“We have all been enriched by Footprints. I have learnt with the kids and we have enjoyed all the books immensely. Even Andrew, our 5 year old has enjoyed them and he loved hearing about the“whopper” and The Big Hole at Kimberley.”

“It has been a special experience; the heroes and heroines and families have become our friends; we identified very strongly with many of them.” ~ Pam, Sedgefield

Click here for more info or to order: Footprints On Our Land

Back to Homeschool Articles

Schooling is not the Secret to Success in Life

Entrepreneurs in The School of Real Life

Re-evaluating Homeschool Sport

Family – The Place to Learn

Living Books versus Twaddle

Starting Homeschooling Even at High School Level

Unschooling Success Stories

What to Do Before the GED®

Refuting the So-called Cons of Homeschooling

New Homeschooling Parents’ Biggest Worries