Friday, 30 May 2014

A Little Library's Dream, Part 2

Can One Little Library Do Anything?

By Liz Cottrill of Living Books Library, reposted here with her permission.

It is true that I have, on several occasions, written about the decline in reading in our country, even lamentably in the homeschool community, in hopes of doing my part to turn the tide. Indeed, we have this library to help turn that tide.

It is also true that I have grieved over the rapidly diminishing numbers of beautiful children's books in the libraries, in the thrift stores, and in the discard bins. Each library sale I attend yields fewer and fewer treasures.

Eight years ago this month we invited some local families to our home to encourage them to use living books in their children's education, gave demonstrations, showed them the kinds of books we collect, read to them, and basically begged them to try a different kind of library and, even more boldly, a different kind of education for their children. A few of them took us up on it and within a year we were having to put families on a waiting list to obtain membership in our private library.

Tomorrow is library day and I went into my library this morning to begin to get ready. There are stacks of books on every available surface, not enough space on the shelves to put them all away, and I know that as parents and children come and go tomorrow, they will return piles more. They will also be searching for piles more to take home with them to enjoy. Even if I get everything in order today, 24 hours from now, it will look like a book swamp again. It's like this every week.

Rather than be a discouraging or wearying burden, Emily and I actually find it thrilling. After all, doesn't this mean that there are hundreds of books not only coming and going, but actually being read? Haven't our hopes and dreams absolutely come true?

We had a mother write yesterday whose son has, after four long years of hard rowing in the reading river, finally broken into clear sailing on his own into oceans of books. She is grateful. Tomorrow we will hear eager readers retell their favorite finds of the past month. Moms are thankful to have a place where they can easily find plentiful choices of high quality books.

So, though the future of reading in general appears gloomy, I do not despair.

Last spring Emily and I and my youngest son, just a budding reader at the time, were prowling through a building packed with discarded books from a small town's efforts to rid themselves of thousands of unwanted books. I became aware of a conversation between my son and a rather cranky old man.

"Can you read?" he inquired of my son.

In honest humility, my son shyly answered, "A little, not very well yet."

"What grade are you in?" barked the man, sounding indignant.

"Third," his meek reply.

"Well, why don't you spend a little more time with books instead of all your stupid electronic games?" he retorted.

Being brought up not to argue with adults, my son didn't inform him that he's never had an electronic game, but has had a life full of endless hours of reading. I was not unsympathetic to where this man was coming from. I have certainly read the reports, seen the results close at hand, felt that frustration myself.

Just this past week, I was again at a sale, waiting in line for the doors to open, and again eaves-dropped on a conversation behind me in the line. A couple of elderly folks were cynically remarking on the tables piled high around the gymnasium in front of us and how probably no one would be coming to purchase any of them. Their general consensus was that, "People just don't read's really sad...guess books are on their way out."

I sighed inwardly in silent agreement. I sympathize with their sentiments, see that writing on the wall too. The state of reading in this country is appalling, and very alarming. I know I am not alone in my concerns.

But, in some of the books I've read, I have learned that battles, important discoveries, the course of history even, has often been altered by the smallest, seemingly inconsequential incidents, that some of the greatest heroes have been unknown and unassuming people who simply did what they knew was the right thing in the right place at the right time.

When we started this library, we didn't have knowledge enough, space enough, or money enough. We didn't have an instruction manual to guide us, or any guarantee for a sure and certain outcome. We did have the need to do something.

Eight years later, we are helping others to catch the vision and start libraries in their communities literally all over the country. Since opening ourselves, we have been instrumental in getting another started 60 miles away from ours; next fall two others in between there and here will be lending books from their homes too.

Good things usually do start with small and seemingly insignificant beginnings. Tiny seeds sown in a field transform it to fruitful abundance in just a few weeks. Ideas gleaned from books take root. Ideas shared with others - like learning through literature, building your own home libraries, and even sharing your collection with other families, also transform lives, communities, and (dare I say it?)--cultures. The future could be bleak, but it also could be beautiful.

I'm choosing to believe that the investment of time to search out superior literature and make it available, to invite others to share in these riches, and nurture them in the exploration of these books, is making a difference.

For the joy of reading,


A Little Library's Dream, Part 1

I Couldn’t Have Dreamed This Up

By Liz Cottrill of Living Books Library, reposted here with her permission.

Life takes many twists and turns and I find, every now and then, that pausing to look backward reveals an amazing journey. The parade of ordinary days, small decisions, little efforts produces, well, things one could never have dreamed up.

When a friend gave me the book For the Children's Sake nineteen years ago, I never would have guessed how much my homeschooling journey would be changed by that book. That was the first time I heard of “living books.” My children have been blessed by my realizing how much they could learn from living books.

Five years later another friend told me about a lady starting a homeschool library and my source for these wonderful old, out-of-print books became reality. My children, then between two and eighteen years old, began some real book adventures there. In the basement of her home, my soon to become dear friend, Michelle, had packed twenty thousand precious treasures for all of us to revel in. Then we had to move away.

It was a cold night when we made our first visit to our new local public library, and seemed even bleaker on the way home with a meager harvest from those shelves. We had to begin hunting for better books on our own.

After getting to know other homeschool families in our area, and wistfully recounting to them the marvels of the private homeschool library we had left behind, they sympathized with our loss. Then one day boxes of books began arriving at my doorstep. They were just the kind we had grown to depend on. Where were they from? Why was this happening? The donor remained anonymous.

My husband started building new bookcases. My house was groaning under the load of books. I began feeling like a hoarder. Friends hinted, gently urging, “Why don’t you start a library?” No way, I couldn't possibly, not in my wildest dreams.

My daughter, Emily, unapologetically book crazy, has one fault. She doesn't like to be told, “It can’t be done.” I balked for several reasons, not the least of which was that I still had three young children to homeschool. I also didn’t know the first thing about running a library. And, most shamefully of all, how could I let other people carry off my precious books to homes I had never seen?

The problem was, I saw the need. Most of the families I knew depended on curriculum in a box. I observed young mothers struggling with multiple children of different ages and learning needs. My decision to share our books finally boiled down to the old, but simple command: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So we organized and labeled the books and opened our front door.

It’s embarrassing to recall my reluctance now, now that I am the one blessed by the children who have come, read our books, and rewarded me with, by now, hundreds of delightful conversations about what they have read, and learned, and are planning to do. I could ramble for hours with the memories. “I’m here for My Friend Flicka!” from an eight-year-old girl who literally bounded through the door one afternoon. “Ms. Emily, these are the books I’d like to renew,” from a two-year-old toddling to the check-out desk with his tiny box of Beatrix Potter books. Or, the rebellious lad whose mother was at her wit’s end trying to find anything he would read, coming in a year after discovering Living Books Library to ask if I thought he
would enjoy Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

A couple of years ago, Lisa from Yesterday's Classics challenged Emily and I to work toward a homeschool library in every county in America. We howled with laughter. How in the world would that be possible? That’s a crazy dream. But three years ago, another one opened in northeast Tennessee.

This week Emily and I will be sharing about living books, organizing your home library, and what is involved in possibly opening a lending library in a workshop at the Childlight USA Conference in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. Imagine being given the privilege to share about our passion for books and the incredible potential of introducing children and parents alike all that can be discovered in the world of living ideas from living literature.

On June 28, the first ever Homeschool Librarians Conference will be taking place here in southwest Virginia. Families are coming from Washington, California, Kansas, Texas, Maryland, New Jersey to name a few. We are going to share the dream and how they can make it a reality in their hometowns. I know the chances that other libraries will spring up near them are great since we have seen that trend already.

So when I look back and reminisce, I am amazed. God knows our path when we do not. We make our little choices and He knows them, every one. Our path is not a mystery to Him. I cannot guess the plans He has for any of the lives that have crossed our path, but I know they might accomplish things they haven’t even dreamed of yet. We’re still living ours, and it’s better than we could have ever dreamed.

For the joy of reading,


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Little House .... Through the Times

Reliving pioneer times with Laura Ingalls Wilder ~ 

The Little House books have been popular with readers for many generations; they are a wonderful living account of what life was like for pioneers on the wide prairies.

Although the core of these books is still composed of the original ones written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, other series have been added and contributed to the charming atmosphere around Laura and her family.

There are, for example, the books about her daughter, Rose, written by Roger MacBride - or about her great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, who was born and raised in Scotland, and about Martha's daughter, Charlotte, who would give birth to Laura's mother, Caroline. Both, the Martha and the Charlotte Years were written by Melissa Wiley:

The Caroline Years, in turn, about Laura's mother, lead up to the time when Caroline and Charles get married. These books were written by Maria Wilkes and Celia Wilkins.

These series, all about different members of the same family, are just wonderful. My oldest daughter still treasures them; they are among her very favourites.

Because they are so lovely, it is hard to understand why the publisher decided to discontinue the original series and replace them with significantly abridged editions, with "photo covers", cutting out even the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams.
This is a fate which sadly befalls many beloved children's books!
You can read more about the Little House abridged books here:

The complete, originally unabridged editions though, including those about Martha, Charlotte, Caroline, and Rose, are all available for checkout in our library!

If you enjoy the Laura Ingalls books, Valerie from the Crafty Classroom has a great lapbook to go with the Little House in the Big Woods. It is free and unlike many workbook-style lapbooks, this one is really creative!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Little Nuggets

"What did they come to school for? To be bored by pages and pages of workbooks? To decide they hate learning? To be tested so that grownups can be satisfied making graphs about them or analyzing them on computers? Meanwhile our children perish. That greatest and most beautiful resource - the child - is lost, having been allowed to waste away with a malnourished mind. (...) You can even safely stop school for a few years and feast on good books and right living! Your children or students would experience childhood with a lot more zest and vigor. And they would not lose out, by the way."

              ~ Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in Books Children Love , by Elizabeth Wilson

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Go ahead and read widely ~

"The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves. We do think in words, and the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think."

~ Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, on the decreasing vocabulary in today's culture.