Living books are a wonderful way to engage reading in homeschool or as an enrichment outside of school. But what are they and why would you want to use them?

When it comes to textbooks and resources, it can sometimes be hard to find ones that grab our children. I mean, who likes to sit and read textbooks for fun? (Ok, so I *might* but that also has something to do with me loving to learn. I still want them to be interesting and engaging.) Have you heard of Living Books? These are books that Charlotte Mason recommended, and are still used in homeschooling and schools based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy.

Who was Charlotte Mason? Charlotte Mason was an educator from England at the turn of the 20th century. She firmly believed that a child is a person and we must educate the whole person, not just the mind. Today the Charlotte Mason philosophy is more widely adopted in homeschool settings, though there are Charlotte Mason schools throughout the world and they are growing in number in the US, both as private schools and public charter schools. 

If you would like to know more about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, check out this video I did.

I love this quote by Charlotte Mason:

“Why in the world should we not give children, while they are at school, the sort of books they can live upon; books alive with thought and feeling, and delight in knowledge, instead of the miserable cram-books on which they are starved?”

little girl is reading a book in her bedroom


Charlotte Mason defines living books as “whole books, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and those having the ‘human touch.’ Living books are books that are engaging, often conversational, and inspiring for  imagination. They are “alive” or “living” in the sense that children are engaged by them and want to keep reading or know what is going to happen. 

It is always best not to read living books quickly. They should provide opportunities to think about what has been read and look at any pictures before moving on. Discussion is encouraged. 


  • Often written in a narrative style (as in tell a story), even for non-fiction
  • Written by someone who is passionate about the topic
  • Language is rich and not “dumbed down” 
  • Characters in story books are dynamic
  • They should present ideas and not just facts
  • Are great for read alouds 
  • They are engaging and should transport you into the narrative 
  • Your children should WANT to read them

Children reading a book on the floor



  • Paddington Bear 
  • If you give a mouse a cookie
  • Curious George
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon

For elementary:

  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Just So Stories
  • A Little Princess
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall

For history: ** this will depend on what era you are studying

You can ABSOLUTELY use novels for studying history. Really, you should.

  • The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
  • The Civil War: A Living History by Ray Raphael
  • The American Civil Rights Movement: A Living History by David J. Garrow

For science: **This will depend on what aspect of science you are studying

Again, you should be using fiction alongside non-fiction when learning science.

  • Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing the Trees
  • Rocks in his head
  • Germs make me sick

girl reading in front of bookcase


  • They are not textbooks or workbooks
  • They are not just storybooks

You are not going to be reading living books to learn a bunch of facts and information. When engaging in living books you are not concerned about testing your children. The goal is engagement and interaction.


I personally feel that, if you are homeschooling, or even if you want to enrich your child’s learning at home, you want to use living books. It is from here that your children will be engaged and hopefully love to learn. I don’t know about you, but when I have finished reading a book that I have truly engaged with, I end up with what I call “Book World Hangover”. I find myself sad that the book is done. When I feel that way I know that it has been a great read. 

I want this for my girls – whether reading fiction or non-fiction – to engage in the book and draw out interesting information for them. 


No, I am not. I know that there is a place for them and they contain great information. It ultimately comes down to your goals and aims for your child’s education.  

Michayla Best

For over 30 years I have worked with children in a variety of capacities, whether as a teacher or tutor, a babysitter, a camp leader, or family advocate. I have always found a way to connect with children, to help them understand themselves and the world around.

I am Mummy to trinational twincesses who keep me on my toes with their questions, their commentaries, their shenanigans and acts of spontenudity.

Wife, world traveler, musician, crafting queen and self-proclaimed nerd; I love to take what I see, glean, know and help families to find their groove and be successful.

View all posts

1 comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Notified

I would like to know when new posts come out.

Get in touch

I would love to hear from you. Let's get a conversation started!

Learning Life – Youtube

If you like what you see and read you might like to check out my Youtube channel.

YouTube video

Amazon Associates Disclosure

Learning This Life is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Click the play button to watch the video.