Beginning To Spread a Broad Feast

by Lisa Ripperton
​March 21, 2019

Those involved in Charlotte Mason education often refer to the idea of spreading a feast for their children, meaning that an educator’s task is to offer a rich array of books, topics, ideas, etc. for their student(s) to devour. In spreading a broad feast, we ensure that we both pique a child’s appetite and give them the opportunity to discover new interests.

Ms. Mason refers to education as a feast in two notable instances in Towards a Philosophy of Educationor Volume 6 of the Charlotte Mason Series:

As for literature––to introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served.” (Vol. 6, p. 52)


“We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.” (Vol. 6, p. 183)

This concept of spreading a broad feast was one that greatly influenced our family’s read aloud habits. It has also impacted our work at both Yesterday’s Classics and Gateway to the Classics. So, today’s post is all about how we first encountered the idea of spreading a feast through our literary choices, and how it might change your family’s read-aloud practice.

​Our read aloud journey begins

Not having been raised in a “read aloud family,” I had no idea of the importance of reading aloud until soon after my oldest son was born. I was first introduced to the idea after receiving a copy of the 1982 edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease as a gift from my sister-in-law Betsy. 

Since that edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook contained 37 pages of picture book suggestions and 54 pages of novels, I figured that I had our course of read alouds all mapped out and that we were completely set.

​Awakening to living books

All of that was upended, however, when I attended my first homeschooling conference in May 1994.

There I gazed eagerly at table after table of new books offered by vendors such as Beautiful Feet, The Elijah Company, The Book Peddler, Greenleaf Press, and Lifetime Books and Gifts. Even more wondrous were the bookshelves full of used books at the One More Page and Books Bloom booths!

They included picture books and novels, of course, but so much more! Books that I had never seen or even heard of before in the genres of Nature, Science, Faith, Geography, Biography, and History all called out to me. Ostensibly I was there to acquire some books for the classroom library at my oldest son’s school (which I did), but more importantly, I was awakened to the wonder of living books and of the many genres they encompass.

​Incorporating living books into family reading

How to incorporate living books of various genres into our read aloud time was a puzzle to me until I encountered Ambleside Online. Perusing their booklist for the early years, I found so many titles I didn’t want my children to miss. AO, following the principles of Charlotte Mason, scheduled many books for reading each term, with a short reading from each book each week. I figured I could incorporate a short reading from one of the AO books each night during our family read aloud time.

Instead of easing into this transition, we started all at once with the following schedule:

      Monday: Aesop’s Fables

      Tuesday: Paddle to the Sea

      Wednesday: A Child’s Book of Myths and Enchantment Tales

      Thursday: Secrets of the Woods

      Friday: Our Island Story

      Saturday: The Burgess Bird Book

      Sunday: Our Island Saints

The first week was a little rocky, with protests lodged by both children, but by the third or fourth week, they were eagerly anticipating each night’s offering. Once we finished a title, we started another book in the same genre in its place.

We did not eliminate our reading of picture books and novels. We simply read these after our special reading of the night.

​Range of living books

A Delectable Education divides living books into a number of categories:

      Knowledge of God:  Bible, Sunday reading

      Knowledge of Man:  history, geography, arts, music, literature, language arts

      Knowlege of the Universe:  nature study, natural history (science),  math, physical geography

and recommends that you choose a balanced diet of books both for reading aloud and for independent reading. Spreading a broad feast extends a child’s horizons, providing lots of food for thought, enriching their imaginations, and contributing to the building of relationships.

​Our experience

As a family, we read widely in faith, literature, and history, but not so much in the other areas. In the future we are planning to write about how to broaden the table you set, in case you need inspiration for exploring different genres. Hopefully your feast will be even more abundant than ours was!

Share your experience

Have you broadened the scope of your reading in your family? If so, please let us know in a comment how you went about doing so, and what results you observed. We love hearing from you!

Purchase Books at Amazon

​The Aesop for Children by Milo Winter

​Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling

​A Child’s Book of Myths and Enchantment Tales by Margaret Evans Price

​Secrets of the Woods by William J. Long

​Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall

​The Burgess Bird Book by Thornton W. Burgess

​Our Island Saints by Amy Steedman

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What Makes a Children’s Book Worth Bringing Home?

by Lisa Ripperton
​March 14, 2019

Today’s post is the first in an on-going series about the selection criteria we use for children’s books. Through this series, our aim is to answer the question “what makes a book good enough to bring home?”

A quest to articulate selection criteria

For years I have chosen books mostly by instinct.  More recently, however, I am feeling the need to discern the selection criteria I use so I can clearly articulate them to others. I have been thinking about this issue a good deal after a recent encounter offered me a new perspective on choosing children’s books. This encounter, described below, has set me on a mission to answer the question of “what makes a book good enough to bring home?”

Typical parent-child interactions at our local book sale

I am fortunate to live in a town where the Friends of the Library Book Sale has a building the size of a high school gymnasium dedicated to their efforts. With sales held both in the spring and the fall, volunteers work year round to organize on shelves the hundreds of thousands of books donated to them every year.

Since children’s books typically comprise over 40,000 of the 250,000+ items offered at each sale, there is a dedicated corner for the display of children’s books. Wide aisles, a comfortable chair, attractive displays, and a nook under the table of easy readers for toddlers to hide in make it an inviting space for children and their parents. 

As a regular visitor on the days that the sale is open, I have observed many interactions between parents and children there over the years. Many of them proceed like this: parent, with arms laden with books of their own choosing, escorts child into the children’s corner (almost it seems as an afterthought), then urges them to pick a book (or occasionally two), and do it quickly, because they have some place else to go.

An encounter of a different kind

But one day I observed a young mother settle down with her small son on the floor in one of the wide aisles. She had a sizeable stack of picture books to one side of her and her son, who appeared to be about three and full of anticipation, on the other. She explained to him that they were going to “read through the books to see if any of them were good enough to bring home.” Being a week-day it was a quiet time at the sale and they were able to make their way through the pile one book after another.

I was really struck by the phrase “good enough to bring home.” In my experience at book sales I had mostly heard reasons offered to children for why NOT to get a book. Indeed, I shudder to think, I probably uttered a few myself. 

But this young mother changed my perspective. What a powerful thing it is to have positive reasons for choosing books rather than negative ones for discarding them! I regret that I didn’t linger, so had no chance to overhear what criteria guided her selections.

Our first criterion: the language must have a “forward-moving flow”

For any book that I am going to read aloud─picture books and unillustrated books alike─the text must read well, and it must be so engaging that I am willing to read it again and again.

I will never forget the weekend we spent with my sister’s family at Myrtle Beach when my two year old son Nathan called upon his 12 year-old cousin David to read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to him dozens of times in the course of the visit. Poor David had a very difficult time grasping the insatiability of an eager young listener!

My experience aligns with Dorothy White’s which she expresses in her Books Before Five (1954):

“I do enjoy the reading more, however simple it may be, when the prose has a forward-moving flow about it, the cadence which one hears in ‘If it were not so I would have told you’ or ‘Once upon a time there were three little rabbits and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.’ “

Share your experience

I will return to the subject of selection criteria in subsequent posts. In the meantime, if you have selection criteria you use when choosing picture books, please share in the comments below! If not, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about this topic.