Reading Teaches Composition

All lessons in which the child uses good, well-written books are teaching him form, style and polish in composition and also such books teach him to think—what we ponder over, we remember.

This is also the reason for the short lessons and slow readings through the books. You want to quit while he is still hungry for more.  The more eager he is to continue reading, the better it is for him if you don’t read more that day.  What happens is that the words, the story, that book, everything about it, apologies for the unlovely metaphore, but it itches at him like a bad rash.  He can’t forget it.  He keeps thinking about it, wondering what happened next, remembering little incidents that already happened and fitting them into the large picture.  This, too, builds composition skills.

As he reads, first unconsciously and later consciously, he absorbs the style, and gradually, he will begin to notice narrative links, and the unique methods authors use for unfolding a story.

“I believe the unique difference in this method of learning over all others is that Literature weaves a Golden Thread through all the subjects taught. Enthusiasm for Good Books is the Main Theme…. Miss Mason… has discovered again for us the great truth which Christ taught in his Gospel, that we must not offenddespise or hinder little children. Parents and teachers are constantly doing this when they give children the wrong mental food.

We show our respect for the child’s mind when we give him the best in Literature and Art and assist his mental growth by putting him into communication with the Great Masters. We have only to read the lives of great men to learn that their knowledge and insight was derived by coming into contact, while young, with living and dead masters through their books and works.

Bunyan chiefly learnt his style and insight into character from studying the Bible. Michael Angelo spent his most impressionable years in the Medici household, meeting the great scholars and painters of his day and studying the antique marbles in the Medici Gardens.”

Those who mock and dismiss the great works of the past as dead white guys are despising their own history, whatever their colour, and despising and hindering the children.  This contributes to half the 3rd graders in Michigan being unable to read, to schools in Baltimore which don’t have a single student who meets basic proficiency in math or reading, to graduates who don’t have basic literacy.

You cannot teach writing well if you  don’t have students reading well.  And if you do have students reading well, most of your work is done when it comes to teaching writing.


A baker’s dozen of books to be read to or by every child 12 and under whose parents appreciate the best that western civilization has to offer:

Mother Goose

Aesop’s Fables

Beatrix Potter- at least five of them.  Peter Rabbit, Flopsy Bunnies, Jemima Puddleduck, Jeremy Fisher, Benjamin Rabbit, and Tom Kitten are special favourites.  If you don’t lke them, all I can say is you have my sincerest sympathies for this debilitating and mysterious condition, but please don’t let it interfere with your children’s heritage and birthright of English LIterature.

Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales, and other fairy tales

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, and other myths.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, this is not, btw, a story about the American pilgrims. It’s an allegory about how a Christian goes through life and the perils, temptations, and helps he might meet along the way.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

Robin Hood

The Odyssey, and other retellings by Alfred Church and the stronger translations if possible.

Pinnochio, the movie is fun, but it’s not this book.  Do not skip this book. Do not imagine that it’s just about naughty children.  It’s for all human beings who screw up, make mistakes, and don’t know how to fix them.

Wind in the Willows, read this book.

Chronicles of Narnia

Little House on the Prairie books

These are the basics.  They are not the only books to be read in the grade school years, but they are important.  They will form the basis of taste, a wide vocabulary, they will shape and strengthen the ability to grabble with complex sentences and ideas.   You’ll want to watch a couple of Shakespeare plays, spend time outside exploring nature, let the kids get bored and have time and space for the ideas and stories to work through their systems. You’ll want to teach them some basic skills to give them a sense of competence and strength- making their own beds, washing dishes, making things worth making, whether that’s bread, a picture frame, a crocheted wash cloth or wooden spoons.
You need to sing, to look at art, to create things of beauty and appreciate things of beauty.  Learn to identy the things in the world around you, the insects that show up on your produce, the spiders, ants, moths, and butterflies, the weeds.

Teach them to copy sentences they like, to read aloud beautifully, to be interested in the world around them outside and beyond a screen.

This is a lifestyle that produces kids who can think and have words to describe and communicate their thoughts.  These are kids who can write.  Do this and you don’t need formal writing programs, at least not before highschool, no vocabulary lists to memorize.


The Bible and its stories are, of course, a given.  I think it’s a great idea to learn a few of the basic stories and retell them yourself as faithfully as you can, and to read those stories right out of the King James Bible.  But you might also enjoy Tomie Depaola’s Parables of Jesus,


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