Laying Down Rails with Living Books

As I look back on a lifetime of homeschooling with my oldest (now 17) it is striking just how much books played a part in her education. 

The hours and hours spent with living books were not wasted. She is a good writer. She expresses herself well. She is empathetic and has a wide knowledge of many time periods, places, and types of people. 

I have NO DOUBT this is because of her exposure to beautiful literature.

A book isn’t just a book. It’s a pathway of sorts to other places, people, and things. The power of what we read and the digestion of what’s read is an awesome thing. In short, story itself is very powerful.

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Continuing our series about laying down the rails in our children's education, let's address the topic of using living books.


Using Books to Shape Character

Social media has harnessed the power of the quote. This is a glimpse into the power of story.

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” —Winnie-the-Pooh

Tell me, when you read that did you have an emotional reaction? Maybe even just an “awww” moment? That’s the point. 

We’re drawn into the story and made to feel all sorts of things. This power can be used for good in shaping the character of our children.

(One of my fondest memories of homeschooling is my then 4-year-old son waking early each morning so we could snuggle on the couch and read Winnie the Pooh stories together. I cherish that memory - I'm so glad I just let my kids be little!)

We can use the words of another—an author—to help us reach inside our children to challenge them, love them, and help them grow empathy.

Laying Down Rails With Living Books

If you want to effect change in another person through a living book, you have to know your books.

Living books often do the job of laying down many rails—kindness, empathy, respect for parents, and love of family.

I love the concept of healing stories as embraced by  Thomas Jefferson Education homeschoolers. The ability to identify the degree of wholeness in your living book can help you know when to apply its story. And when I say apply, I’m visualizing applying as in a balm.

We want to be mindful to apply the right type of balm to match the development of the child and foster good character.

The Seven Loves of Literature

For our family, we chose to follow the Seven Loves of Literature, as taught by Rosalie Slater. These guidelines helped me to choose books that would work with me in laying down the rails that matched those loves, which are:

  • love for God
  • love for God’s written word
  • love for home and family
  • love for individual Christian character
  • love for the Gospel as it’s planted throughout the world
  • love of country
  • love of learning


Applying Loves of Literature as Rails for Character

Everything begins with God. Fostering a love for God in our children includes our choices in reading. Does the reading choice honor our Christian conviction regarding God?

Rail: Love for God

God’s Word, the Bible, is our standard. It contains all types of literature and makes an ideal living book by which to shape character. It even makes this claim for itself! “The Word of God is living and active…” (Hebrews 4:12).

Rail: Love for God’s Word

The home and family is more than a launch pad. It’s more than what we come home to. It’s a domestic church and the first republic.

The stories we choose to enlighten our children’s minds and form their disposition should honor the home and family. This is especially true as our children get older and their stories may become more “bent” (referring to the Thomas Jefferson Education model).

Since we know how powerful a story truly is, we’d be wise to embrace stories that honor home and hearth.

Rail: Love of Home and Family

Like snowflakes and thumbprints, every person is unique. Their rightful expression of their person is a gift from the Lord. Learning to honor that gift and use it to serve God’s purpose for oneself is a key to happiness.

Choosing stories that demonstrate how God uses men and nations, and their Christian individuality, to further His Gospel purpose is powerful. They have the power to convert, to convict, and to encourage.

As far as character, reading about brave missionaries, leaders who stood for truth, and ordinary men and women who lived through adversity while trusting in God create the rails of empathy, persistence, and trust in the Lord.

Rail: Love for Christian Individuality

Love of the Gospel of God and its purpose in the world, along with a love of country, can work together to create the rails of understanding. So often we think of missions as the other side of the world. But in fact, we’re called to be on mission right where we are. Jesus himself reminded us that our neighbor is the one we have mercy towards (Luke 10:37).

Our neighborhood is huge!

Choosing living books that focus on heroes of the Christian faith can have a powerful impact when laying down rails.

Rail: Love for the Gospel and Country

It’s popular in children’s books today to “hate school” and despise learning. Rather than plant that seed, choose books that show characters who love to learn and make sacrifices to do so. Stories such as  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and The Door in the Wall are perfect examples.

Rail:  Love of Learning

Using the power of story and the loves of literature can be a tool to create rails. These rails will not only bless your family during their reading but also for life.


I can't stress enough to you the importance of making beautiful living books the cornerstone of your homeschool - and really of your children's lives. 

One could even argue that as adults we also need these same rails laid down on an ongoing basis, yes? 

Beautiful, living books are a GOOD THING. 

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