Last month I was putting in a mid-year order to Rainbow Resource Center for some more homeschool books and I needed one more item to reach $50 so I could get free shipping. It was a great chance for me to indulge: order something I didn't absolutely need but would just enjoy. So, of course, I ordered a book about reading.
The book I chose was Read from the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. This is a time of year when my family has more time to read aloud on cold, dark evenings and I always have my eye out for reading lists and book suggestions from trustworthy sources.
I absolutely LOVE this book. What makes it stand out from other similar books is that it was written by a young woman who grew up in a literature-rich homeschool environment. She has been through exactly what I am trying to create for my children and has come out the other end with a passion for good wholesome literature which is incredibly contagious.
The book is the perfect length: long enough to be really useful but short enough to not be overwhelming. She begins with a few chapters on the whys and hows of reading and then follows with her annotated book lists, grouped by genre. All of it is enjoyable to read because she writes with a lot of feeling and insight (I can't help but think of the rich harvest her homeschooler mother is reaping from this daughter!)
I was particularly inspired by these words in the first chapter:
"As I have considered the many wonderful reasons to read, a steady progressions of scenes from my childhood has come to my mind, each one a poignant portrait of a reading life. One by one, these scenes remind me of the reasons I read: for a wakened heart, a strong mind, and a steadfast soul."
I love that so much I want to put it on a sign in my library or make it my homeschool theme or something: A wakened heart, a strong mind, and a steadfast soul. Yes! Yes! Yes! That is want I want books to give my children. It is what they gave me, and it is a gift I value beyond that of riches.
In the second chapter, she has some really eye-opening things to say about the power of literacy. Here is a part of her message:
"Reading shapes the way the brain encounters new concepts, creating a space for contemplation and discernment that electronic media never provide. Reading requires diverse areas of the brain-- each controlling a different part of sight, speech, or sound-- to work together to extract meaning from a page of text. Every aspect of this description suggests that reading is an intense mental activity. It produces the exact opposite of TV's passivity, resulting in a brain trained to interact with ideas and a mind able to comprehend, choosing what it will accept or reject as true."
The third chapter gives some solid and practical ideas on how to build a culture of literacy in your home. This includes both tips for reading aloud and ways to promote individual reading. I love how her focus is on making it enjoyable and natural.
I wondered as I approached the book lists if I would find much there that was new to me. I am a life-long bibliophile, well-versed in the world of classic children's literature. I was pleasantly surprised to find that while quite a few of the books on her lists were old favorites, there were a great many I had never encountered before, especially in the children's picture book section. It's like discovering a whole bunch of new flavors at the candy store.
I really love the way she gives a brief synopsis of each book, including age-appropriateness and cautions about possible disturbing content. (A classic example of this is Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is a very powerful and worthwhile book but also very troubling.) Other book lists I have that I have used a lot don't do this, and there have been times where I had a child read something that turned out to be something I wished I'd waited a couple years to give to them. In my ideal world, I pre-read everything for my children, but in our fast-paced reality that doesn't happen, so it's nice to have someone with values similar to mine who can tell me in advance what to expect about a book.
On the back of the book it says, "Owning this volume is like having a children's librarian for a best friend." I would say that pretty much sums it up. Passionate, inspiring, and incredibly useful, Sarah Clarkson's book is going to be a well-worn and frequently-used reference in my home from here on out. I ordered it for fun as a side-note to all my curriculum, but it just may end up being one of the most influential volumes in my homeschool library.
Sarah (Birrd) and her husband (Badger) are the parents of six little bibliophiles. She is currently reading aloud "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" to her twelve-year-old, Elizabeth Enright's "Melendy" series to her ten-, eight-, and six-year-olds, and "Winnie the Pooh" to her toddlers. She reads from the cozy bookshelf-lined living room of her snow-covered house in a remote region of the western United States. Visit her at The Birrd's Nest.