Reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone!

Teaching Tip:

Reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone!

My tip this week comes from more than 29 consecutive years as a teacher (which definitely shows my age). The reason I mention my years of teaching experience is because this tip is born out of years “in the trenches.” My tip is that reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone. Deciding the “right time” to read various pieces of classic literature takes some thinking. The right time is not the same for everyone for every piece of literature.

How do you decide the “right time” to read various classics?
  1. Prior to reading (longer) unabridged classics, your child must have a reading level that allows him to comprehend the literature.
  2. He must either have a strong vocabulary or have had quite a bit of exposure to understanding higher level vocabulary. Having a strong vocabulary helps ensure the reading has meaning for your child.
  3. Your child should have some understanding of the historical time period of the literature in order to understand the context. Previous or concurrent study of the various historical time periods helps provide context.
  4. Stair-stepping your child up through gradually more difficult books leading to the reading of harder, classic literature is helpful. Otherwise, it may feel as if your child has suddenly been dumped into the literary deep end.
  5. It is wise to be sure your child is old enough to weigh mature elements and themes within a piece of literature. Otherwise, you may find your child has come to some disturbing conclusions. Literature is a powerful tool in shaping your child’s worldview. Discernment in reading often comes with maturity and a strong Biblical foundation.
What about reading abridgments of classic literature at an early age?

If a child reads abridgments at an early age, often the parents are given the impression the child is ready for more difficult, unabridged versions. It is true that after reading an abridgment a child can often get through the unabridged version. However, this doesn’t mean the child was truly ready for the unabridged version. It also doesn’t mean the unabridged version is appropriate in content or level! Instead, it means the abridgment provided the summary of the story that allowed the child to make sense of the unabridged version.

Charlotte Mason was not a fan of abridgments.

I’ll share that in true Charlotte Mason fashion I am not a huge fan of abridgments. I believe that waiting to read the story in unabridged form often provides a much richer experience. Plus, being able to read and enjoy literature in unabridged form first is a good indicator it is the “right time” for that piece of literature.

Even if your child can read classic literature early, should he?

Even if your child is an amazing reader who can read unabridged classic literature at a young age, should he? It is good to weigh whether the experience would be richer if your child waited until he was older. I know with my oldest son this was the case, even though he read the unabridged Robinson Crusoe when he was 8. Would it have been richer and better if he read this work in late middle school or high school? I believe so, and I believe this is true in many cases. I share these thoughts not to be controversial but instead to get you thinking. When is the “right time” for my child to read various pieces of classic literature? Just because a child “can” read something doesn’t mean it “is” the right time to read it. Truly, some books are best savored later!

Much thought goes into the place each literature selection holds in your HOD guide.

Today’s teaching tip is designed to show the thought and care that goes into each literature selection and its place in your HOD guide. If your child is well-placed within his HOD guide skill-wise, then the literature placement will be right too. Struggling through classic literature at the “wrong time,” without the steps I’ve mentioned above, can steal your child’s love of literature. Help your child love literature today! Correct placement in our guides is key to help you cultivate a love for literature as your child develops.


No educational work can rise above the thought and purpose behind it

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“The future of education both in England and overseas is vague and depressing. We hear various urgent pleas––science should be the focus of education, we need to reform the way we teach foreign language or math, we should incorporate more crafts and nature study to train the eye and hand, students need to learn how to write English and must therefore be familiar with history and literature. And on the other hand, we’re being pressured to make education more vocational and utilitarian. But there’s no coherent principle, no real aim. There’s no philosophy of education. A stream can’t rise any higher than the lake it flows from. In the same way, no educational work can rise above the thought and purpose behind it. Maybe this is the reason for all the failures and disappointments of our educational system.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Vol. 3; Preface to the ‘Home Education’ Series)

Gunner’s Run: Bringing World War II history to life

History with Heart of Dakota

Pilot to gunners. Keep your eyes open. We’re almost to target. By now every German fighter in the area knows where to find us.”

These are the opening sentences in one of my favorite living books ever: Gunner’s Run. Gunner’s Run tells the story of Jim Yoder, a fictional waist gunner for an American B-24 Liberator bomber during the Second World War. One day, during a fateful raid on the German shipyard at Kiel, Jim’s plane is struck by flak and he is forced to parachute out.

Upon landing, he is captured by the Germans, but soon manages to escape captivity. Following his successful escape, he quickly realizes that he is alone…and hundreds of miles deep into enemy territory. Undaunted, he sets out on a journey across Western Europe in an effort to reach England. Along the way, he comes into contact with members of the French resistance and learns how to evade detection in occupied Europe. Will he make it out? Will he be recaptured or – even worse – shot as a spy? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Why I love this book

First and foremost, Gunner’s Run is a Charlotte Mason-style living book. Better than most textbooks, it makes the history come to life and stays with you long after you turn the last page. It’s one thing to know the facts regarding the air war and the underground resistance during World War II. It’s entirely another thing (and much more memorable) to vicariously experience it for yourself!

Second, Gunner’s Run is historically-accurate. As both a history major in college and a lifelong World War 2 history buff, one of my pet peeves is to read books where the historical backdrop is portrayed incorrectly. Maybe it’s just me, but reading books that do this is like hearing the proverbial nails on the chalkboard. I have a really hard time enjoying those books! At the same time, I’ve also read countless books where the history is correct, but the books have no life in them. Reading those books is comparable to eating sawdust…something to be “gotten through” rather than enjoyed. Gunner’s Run falls into neither of these pitfalls. It is a book that accurately reflects the time period yet still is insanely-immersive to read.

Content notes

Content-wise, Gunner’s Run is very tasteful. For instance, while swearing and profanity were common enough in World War II bomber crews, the author makes reference to it but tactfully leaves it out of his characters’ dialogue.

With regard to violence, in my opinion the book takes an appropriate balance. Given that it is a story set during one of the most widespread wars in mankind’s history, combat violence is inescapable. Nonetheless, the main character does not relish in it. As a defensive gunner in a bomber aircraft, despite his elation at shooting down a German fighter bent on blasting them from the sky, he is relieved to see the pilot bail out successfully.

Also, while the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning war violence (such as the “bloodstained bodies” that were unloaded from bullet-torn bombers following each mission) he does not glorify the violence by describing it in minute, gory detail. Because of this, even young teenage readers can truly empathize with the hazards the main character faces without danger of becoming unduly traumatized.

Literary quality

Author Rick Barry isn’t afraid to use the correct names for things (Focke-Wulf 190, anyone?) but his penmanship carries readers through – even if they don’t necessarily know all of the period-correct lingo. This is no easy feat, but he pulls it off with flair. His style of writing naturally flows, making it easy to read without sounding choppy or “dumbed-down.” His main character, Jim Yoder, is relatable and genuinely likable. As the story progresses, Jim also grows in maturity. During his time behind enemy lines, Jim is not only portrayed as an Air Force gunner trying to survive his way through World War II, but also as a young man trying to make sense of where God is in all this.

Where in HOD can you find this book?

You can find Gunner’s Run in the Extension Package for Missions to Modern Marvels and the Living Library Packages for US History II.


Barry, Rick. Gunner’s Run. (Bob Jones University Press, 2007).

PS: Want to learn a little more about the B-24 Liberator bomber (and its connection to actor Jimmy Stewart)? Check out this short 3 minute video!

Doing school tasks well in the assigned time

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“But, if the schoolgirl is to get two or three hours intact [for play], she will owe it to her mother’s firmness as much as to her good management. In the first place, that the school tasks be done, and done well, in the assigned time, should be a most fixed law. The young people will maintain that it is impossible, but let the mother insist; she will thereby cultivate the habit of attention, the very key to success in every pursuit, as well as secure for her children’s enjoyment.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Vol. 5, p. 195)

It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“By the saying, EDUCATION IS AN ATMOSPHERE, it is not meant that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment,’ especially adapted and prepared; but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Vol. 5, preface pp. 5-6)