Charlotte Mason is known for many things, one of which is her classification of certain texts and tales as “living books.”
These are books that extend beyond the page, profoundly altering the reader’s thoughts, feelings, and views. It’s a noble goal for literature.
So, where and how can you find the best living books for your learners?
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Benefits of Reading Charlotte Mason Books
In 1988, a teacher named Emily Bishop coined the popular metaphor of children’s books as “mirrors and windows,” meaning they should both reflect the reader’s own identity and create openings to show something different and new.
Two years later, children’s literature researcher Rudine Sims Bishop added sliding glass doors to the mix, symbolizing the way in which we “walk into” books and become fully immersed in the world of the story.
For many, books are one of the most accessible ways to “see the world,” and to experience diverse ideas, perspectives, and cultures. High-quality texts are engaging, impactful, and comprehensive.
All of this was critically important to Charlotte Mason, who believed in the power of great writing to enhance intellect and moral character, to a much greater degree than dry textbooks or silly stories that she called “twaddle.” Thus, “living books” are a foundational element of a Charlotte Mason education.
Mason is certainly not the only teacher or scholar to suggest that reading — and especially reading literature — is highly beneficial. According to numerous studies, reading improves memory, problem-solving, and empathy among other positive cognitive and developmental impacts.
But Mason firmly believed that the type of books we read makes all the difference.
Charlotte Mason Book Lists by Age Group
Charlotte Mason selected books that were well-written and compelling. This often meant classic literature and nonfiction texts were first-hand accounts that were narrative in nature when possible. Some well-worn tales that often find their way into Charlotte Mason lists include the following:
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Here are some Charlotte Mason book lists recommendations for different age groups based on her philosophy:
For Children Ages 0-6, Pre-school
- “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter
- “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown
- “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey
- “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey
- “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf
- “The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne
- “The Story About Ping” by Marjorie Flack
- “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina
- “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper
- “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” by Virginia Lee Burton
For Children Ages 6-9, Elementary School
- “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White
- “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame
- “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis
- “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton
- “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri
- “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams
- “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” by Richard Atwater
- “Pippi Longstocking” by Astrid Lindgren
For Children Ages 9-12, Middle School
- “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
- “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
- “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
- “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss
- “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London
- “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe
- “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson
- “The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit
- “The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley
- “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
Charlotte Mason Book Lists by Subject
Since reading plays such a crucial role in a Charlotte Mason curriculum, you will likely want to find excellent living books related to the range of subjects that your learners study. For this reason, it may be helpful to search books by subject area or theme, rather than just by age.
One of the best sources I’ve found for this type of search is a site called Stories of Color. Once you set up a free account, you can browse diverse texts on a huge variety of topics organized by genre, themes, cultural references, religions, geography, historical events, and more. The site also includes options for audiobooks as well as Spanish language and bilingual texts, making the Mason approach more accessible to learners with diverse needs and backgrounds.
Another option for browsing by subject is the CM Bookfinder from Simply Charlotte Mason. This tool allows you to search a database of over 1500 pre-selected living books by your choice of keyword or tag.
Here are some Charlotte Mason book lists recommendations by subject:
Charlotte Mason History Books
- “The American Story” by Jennifer Armstrong
- “The Story of the World” by Susan Wise Bauer
- “A Child’s History of the World” by V.M. Hillyer
- “Famous Men of Rome” by John H. Haaren and A.B. Poland
- “The Landmark History Series” by various authors
Charlotte Mason Literature Books
- “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis
- “Aesop’s Fables” by Aesop
- “Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling
- “Shakespeare for Children” by E. Nesbit
- “The Children’s Homer” by Padraic Colum
Charlotte Mason Science Books
- “The Handbook of Nature Study” by Anna Botsford Comstock
- “The Burgess Animal Book for Children” by Thornton W. Burgess
- “The Storybook of Science” by Jean-Henri Fabre
- “The Magic School Bus” series by Joanna Cole
- “The Usborne Science Encyclopedia” by various authors
Charlotte Mason Geography Books
- “Paddle-to-the-Sea” by Holling C. Holling
- “Tree in the Trail” by Holling C. Holling
- “Seabird” by Holling C. Holling
- “Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne
- “The Land I Lost” by Huynh Quang Nhuong
Tips for Creating Your Own Charlotte Mason Book List
Timeless classics are timeless for a reason, and exposure to well-known stories that serve as cultural reference points can be relevant throughout life. That being said, time marches forward and we don’t want to discount new texts and authors who share meaningful, relatable works for today’s readers.
One of the best ways to incorporate more contemporary works into your Charlotte Mason book list is to create your own collection using a few basic principles and tools.
When evaluating a text, try reading a few passages out loud. The language should be harmonious, charming, and enjoyable to listen to. Read reviews and blurbs to determine whether the themes and characters resonate with you and your family. Utilize sites like The Story Graph, which labels texts by mood, pace, and other useful criteria.
You might also try one of my favorite sites, What Should I Read Next? This site allows you to search for books that are similar to a text that you already know and love. For example, you could search for books that someone who loved Charlotte’s Web, Treasure Island, or another Mason-approved classic might enjoy.
What Should I Read Next will list suggestions, including information about exactly what the books have in common with one another.
Here are a few books that come to mind for me when I think of living books that my own child would both enjoy and benefit from:
- My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: a favorite for PreK readers — sweet, adventurous, and the first in a series;
- The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall: atmospheric, incredibly sweet and charming, gently adventurous, and pulls you in;
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and The Marvels all by Brian Selznick: these are rich in ideas and information, visually engaging, highly sensory, well-written, and meaningful;
- The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford: historical, creative, smart, with compelling characters.
As far as living books go, wordless picture books take the concept to the next level. A great wordless picture book contains the essence of a story, which can be told and retold in the reader’s own voice as they age and shift focus.
Wrapping Up Charlotte Mason Book Lists
Most curricula in the U.S. today, whether at home or in a school setting, include books. There’s no doubt that literacy skills are critical to our learners, and some would argue that all reading is beneficial to that end. But if you are committed to a Charlotte Mason education, you’ll want to select the most poignant living books you can find.
You can read with your child for the sake of reading, or you can read to nourish their hearts, minds, and souls.
If you’re seeking activity books for children that combine education and fun, we invite you to explore our curated collection of reviews.