Every parent I know is intimately familiar with the barrage of questions we receive from our children. This past summer our family spent a week at a beautiful lake in the mountains of North Carolina. My wife, a high school literature teacher, and I, a religious studies teacher, planned to use our peaceful vacation as an opportunity to read and prepare for the school year ahead. We have three beautiful children, a nine, seven, and five-year-old.
A common theme I encounter in conversations with other home educators each spring, and often into the summer months, concerns preparation for the upcoming year. I’ve been classically homeschooling for over twenty-five years, and the liturgy of this assessing and planning season is an integral part of my own life, too—as fundamental to it as preparing for both daily needs and important yearly celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
In George MacDonald’s fairytale-fable The Wise Woman, a little girl is put to a test in which she must complete a list of chores in the magical cottage of the Wise Woman. This little girl never stoops to do chores in her own home, but at the Wise Woman’s, she condescends to spend a day sweeping and tidying and tending the fire. Yet these acts of obedience do not make her more virtuous; on the contrary, they stir her “to think herself Somebody”—to become more vain, more haughty, more selfish. For, as MacDonald sagely observes,
One of the hardest things about getting older is the decreasing time ahead of you to catch up on reading. Even reading one hundred books a year for the next twenty years is not going to do it. I feel about my To-Be-Read pile as my husband does about the salaries of major league baseball players. He would have to work for one hundred and fifty years or more to make what some of those guys make in one year. It is not a hopeful thought.
In a post on my old blog (the now defunct ordo-amoris.com) I wrote about how we are failing to give our boys a reason to learn, how boys are motivated by honor and how our society has left them without hope, and how one antidote to the problem may be using great literature to motivate our sons to pursue honor.
But what books should they read?