Twaddle vs. Classics

    By J. Marvin

The box was dusty and heavy with mysterious contents. I realized it was one that had been packed years ago and gone through three moves without ever being unpacked; now, in my new apartment-my new start- I was ready to unfold the flaps and discover its treasure.

Box o' BooksIt was full of musty-smelling books, and as soon as I lifted one out and blew off the little dust-bunnies along the spine, I recognized one entire shelf of my mother’s library, packed up and brought from Florida after her sudden death 15 years ago. These were books she had bought when I was little, books that had lined her shelves in the house where we lived from the time I was 6 until I was 17. These were books whose titles I had scanned in childhood looking for likely reading material; the few remaining from a fire decades later in West Palm Beach.

For the most part, these are not famous books. Not the sort that highschoolers are required to read, and certainly not classics. A few are well-known enough to have inspired movies – The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, You Shall Know Them – but even those have not been discussed in any literature classes I’ve ever taken, and even in my print-voracious childhood I didn’t read most of these. Those I did read went clear over my head, like Topper, which I read when I was about ten. I thought it was hilarious, but I had no schema, no background knowledge, in which to fit all the double-entendres and drunken shenanigans it depicted.

This got me to wondering about what kinds of books other people read when they’re ten years old. Reading is, after all, the cornerstone of Charlotte Mason’s approach to education; literature is the door to every other discipline for her, and “twaddle” her scathing condemnation of “reading-made-easy” — ” the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died… second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.”

treasureislandcover[1]Hence, I conducted an anecdotal, entirely unscientific survey among friends and family, and discovered that a fair number of people actually chose classics to read at that age. Ten years old seems to be about the age at which most of the people with whom I spoke began to read for pleasure and choose their own books. Some sought books from school and public libraries, but nearly everybody read what was on their parent’s and sibling’s shelves at home. There are exceptions, of course; several people, including one young mother who was homeschooled decades ago, remembers nothing they ever chose to read. Others recall obscure books in full sensory detail. One girl now in her twenties recalled that her mother would only allow her to check out six books at a time from the public library, so she would pick six long ones. Her favorites were the entire Dragonriders of Pern series. Men in their 40’s and 50’s remember reading Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, and Sherlock Holmes. Many books from classical homeschooling book lists, but these are not homeschooled guys.

drew9[1]Then there are the twaddle readers…although, on Simply Charlotte Mason’s discussion forum ( one parent observes that “there is good twaddle and bad twaddle.” A lot depends on the definition for the word, of course; and what might be “reading made easy” for a highschooler can be an acceptable choice for a nine or ten-year-old. Thus, many readers of Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames mysteries (plucked from an older sibling’s shelves), Judy Blume, Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club. Some of these same readers chose Madeleine L’Engle and Little House on the Prairie at the same time that they were reading Judy Blume in the classroom. It’s a 7-year-old girl, surprisingly (since teachers-in-training are cautioned that “boys prefer nonfiction”) who chooses books about nature –“frogs, horses, mountains, bugs” — and I had a passion for The Earth for Sam, published in 1930 – “the story of mountains, rivers, dinosaurs, and men.”

What are your homeschooled learners choosing to read? Where do they find them? Is your home library a source of meaty classics, truth, and beauty?


    With a degree in Modern Languages and Bilingual Education, Jennifer has taught Spanish, Russian, Latin, and Bible, coordinated weekly chapel, and tutored Hebrew at The Garden School. She homeschooled her son before sending him to Sarasota Christian School, and is an avid advocate of home cooking, home remedies, home birth, and home death as well.


3 comments on “Twaddle vs. Classics

  1. Lizzie says:

    Thanks so much for this thought-provoking post, Mrs. Marvin!

    For myself, my mom read some of the classics to me such as “Little House on the Prairie,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Little Women,” etc., which I loved! Then, when I was old enough to read some things on my own, I read some of those things in what may be defined as the “Twaddle” group: “Nancy Drew,” “The Babysitters Club,” etc., mainly because they were what I could grasp and understand. I think the beauty of the classics would have been lost on me at that age, and that they still served a purpose, which was to get me to love reading and feel confident enough to read on my own. Then as a teenager I revisited the classics through The Garden School.

    So I wonder if maybe “Twaddle” books could be good to encourage a love of reading and polish reading skills, and then classics introduced either through having them be read to you or reading them in your teens when you’re old enough to understand what’s going on?

    I’d love to hear other opinions on this and how one defines “Twaddle”! It makes for a very interesting discussion.

  2. Mhcapelli says:

    Twaddle is as twaddle does. One person’s twaddle is another person’s treasure. (I just couldnt resist saying that!)

    Do I have preferences? Of course. Did I direct my children towards the classics. Why yes! Do I think it’s helpful for Charlitte Mason to encourage the enjoyment of stimulating literature with clearly defined models of good and evil, emptiness and morality? Yes again.

    But most importantly, parents, know your child. Know what stimulates creative thought, big questions, and a strong moral compass. Provide direction and variety so they can find their own “classics.” The Classics are great. So are comics!

    My young men loved G. A. Henty books, and big adventures like “Moby Dick.” My daughter devoured Beatrix Potter, Louisa May Alcott, and “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.” They all enjoyed “Narnia” and Tolkien, and some of Anderson, MacDonald, and Grimm. .

    Along with all that good literature, they devoured “The Encyclopedia of Mammals,” “Sounder,” Lemony Snicket books, “The Seven Sleepers” series (which is really GOOD twaddle!), and lots of science/nature and sport magazines.

    Literary variety, for my young homeschoolers, was and still is the spice of life!

    • Lizzie says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Monica! I’ve wondered about this for a while now, so it’s good to hear other people’s thoughts on it.

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