Posted by: littlebitofparadise | September 16, 2014

Twaddle

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Those of you who are teachers, home educators, or just avid readers are probably very familiar with the term “Twaddle.”

Until this summer, I had absolutely no idea what “Twaddle” meant.

It was while reading Tsh Oxenreider’s book Notes from a Blue Bike that I was introduced to this term that Charlotte Mason coined about a century ago as she sought to distinguish between children’s books that were “dumbed down,” belittling a child’s mind, and what she called “living books” (basically the antithesis of dry, boring textbooks).

For a brief introduction to Twaddle, I found this post from SimplyCharlotteMason.com helpful, as well as Catherine Levison’s brief how-to manuals on the Charlotte Mason method. The Simply CM website lists these points as defining of “Twaddle” children’s books:

  • Talking down to a child
  • Diluted
  • Undervaluing the intelligence of the child
  • Reading-made-easy
  • Second rate, stale, predictable
  • Goody-goody story books or highly spiced adventures of poor quality, titillating
  • Scrappy, weak, light reading
  • Silly
  • Idle
  • Insignificant
  • Worthless
  • Trivial
  • Feeble
  • Tedious

We have a lot of really wonderful children’s books and great works of literature in our home, so as I thought about the concept of “Twaddle”, I figured my children’s bookshelves were probably mostly free of the stuff.

Gee whiz was I in for a shocker. We had TONS of Twaddle in our house. I’m not even sure where half the stuff came from, but between thrift stores and garage sales and hand-me-downs and birthday gifts we had collected a mountain of Twaddle.

I started observing my children more closely during bedtime stories and our daily reading routines and realized that when my boys pulled a book off the shelf and brought it to a parent to read, they usually pulled a book that would qualify as “Twaddle” from the shelves.

…I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying that if it wasn’t a Thomas the Train book, they brought Bob the Builder or something with Lightning McQueen on the cover. Flashy. Easy entertainment. Just about every single time.

And so with my husband’s permission, I spent the summer clearing out Twaddle from our home. I’ve taken three loads of Twaddle to the local Salvation Army this summer, and I think we probably need another one or two trips to be rid of Twaddle completely (it’s an emotional process for me – some couples collect stuff, we fall in love with books, so it’s a hard thing for us to part with).

I’m sharing this with y’all because I have noticed a huge – HUGE – difference in my children since getting rid of Twaddle. Without the bright, flashy, dumb stuff to grab from the bookshelf, my boys are reading rich, stimulating, amazing children’s stories. We had the good stuff before this summer, but with the Twaddle within our grasp, we always seemed to get sidetracked by the worthless stuff.

Over the summer my boys have memorized almost all the Mother Goose rhymes, a handful of Robert Louis Stevenson poems, and read dozens of timeless stories, fables, and poems. And they’ve loved it.

Since getting rid of Twaddle, my 2-year-old has been known to march through Target shouting ‘Be he alive or be he dead I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!” And my 4-year-old makes comments such as “Mommy, Ogres aren’t scary, I really like Ogres.”

I think Charlotte Mason was really on to something with her scathing review of dumbed-down children’s books. A counting book featuring Lightning McQueen doesn’t hold a candle to counting ducks in McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. The Disney version of Winnie the Pooh stories doesn’t begin to compare to the richness of A.A. Milne’s original children’s classics. But until the Twaddle was out of our house, we didn’t have eyes to see how damaging the dumb flashy stuff was to our sons’ imaginations.

It has been absolutely exhilarating for me, as their mother and primary educator, to watch their imaginations come alive with really good books that we already had in our house but weren’t reading as often because we were buried in Twaddle.

I can’t recommend the Twaddle-removal-surgery highly enough. For our family, it’s been such a gift.

twaddle1

“How colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the little child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don’t stop there. We don’t respect the children’s thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! We ply them with endless questions, the ones we’ve thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child’s questions bubble up with interest. We remove interesting books and squander time on ‘reading skill testing,’ using idiotic isolated paragraphs which no one would dream of taking home to read.”

– Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay, For the Children’s Sake 

 

Books that have helped me learn more about Twaddle, good books, and Charlotte Mason this summer:

  • Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh Oxenreider
  • For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay
  • Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt
  • A Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison
  • More Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison
  • Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, Elizabeth Foss
  • A Landscape with Dragons, Michael O’Brien
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Responses

  1. The only unfortunate part of all this is it completely makes you a book snob! 🙂 Josiah is VERY strict about this, so we’ve done this from day one and it’s amazing how little tolerance I have for all those flashy books out there. LOL

    • Emily do you have a book list? I want to learn from you! Also with being that strict are there any negatives? Fights at the library because kids want flashy or they go hog wild for it at friends, etc? I was thinking a bit of twaddle might be good to keep their curiosity for it at bay….if that makes sense.

  2. This is great information and I definitely want to read some of your suggestions. But, I was wondering about “silly” being on the list. My kids have all been HUGE fans of Sandra Boynton books as toddlers. My 16 month old will sit with me for what seems like hours (in toddler time 😉 ) giggling as I read him the silly books. I have treasured this time with all of my kids and now love to watch my two oldest, who can both read, sit with the baby and read him the silly stories. Would it be reccommended that these books for toddlers be removed because they qualify as twaddle?

    • Sarah I tend to think Boynton, Seuss, etc are NOT Twaddle. But I am certainly the newbie here so some might disagree with me. In my experience Seuss and Boynton are children’s literature geniuses in all they teach using silliness. However that’s Steph’s take,..not sure Charlotte Mason would agree 🙂

  3. This reminds me of Emily and Josiah and their decision to only give their kids beautiful things. They reada book by John Senior which was indirectly related to a child’s imagination. Your book suggestions sound more specific to schooling.

    • Oh! Now I just read the comments and noticed Emily already weighed in. Oops!

  4. I know this is off-topic (and I loved the post itself!), but if you ever have time, Steph, I wish you’d do a post about the whole husband headship thing. It’s something that I have a particularly hard time dealing with, to such an extent that I literally winced when I read that you asked your husband’s permission to sort through children’s books and donate the “twaddle” to the Salvation Army. Really?!

    I know that many Catholics have strong opinions on this facet of Church teaching, and I’d be interested in reading yours.

    • Michelle that so interesting I wouldn’t have even noticed my own comment. Haha. Yes I will give it more thought for a future post.

  5. This is the approach my mother took raising my sister and me. Reading quality children’s books truly does develop a child’s taste and imagination–practically effortlessly–to the point where stuff of little value is not even going to be interesting to him or her. A side benefit to directing a child well even at such a young age is that when children are old enough for books that might be harmful (toward middle school and older), they are less likely to be drawn to trash. When you’ve grown up on children’s classics, the insipid, leaning-towards-morally-problematic YA stuff just won’t hold a candle to real literature. I don’t think we ever seriously discussed why we didn’t read low-quality YA fiction in my house because we simply had no interest in it. We wanted to read authors like Jack London and Elizabeth George Speare–and then we moved on to the Brontes, etc. 🙂

    • (Well, one sentence there was a bit misleading. We did discuss why we didn’t read certain books at our house, but it was an intellectual discussion, rather than a “rule-making” discussion, because we kids weren’t interested in reading them. Mom just explained why some books are better than others, and by then we were able to understand and agree.)

      • Thanks for sharing Kathryn I love hearing this feedback! Makes me more determined to weed out Twaddle 😉

  6. this is so great Steph…and it got my thinking, if I *hate* the book they’re brining me and literally shrink away from it in disgust…it’s probably not one worth keeping around the house, huh?

    Probably also a sign of twaddle if you’re making up alternate story lines/substituting words to make the story less insipid (or flat out morally problematic.) So much good stuff here.

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Twaddle is not a term that was coined by Charlotte Mason. It has been in the English language for centuries. If you look up the word in the dictionary, it is there and it is not attributed to Charlotte Mason. I think that CM is often given a lot more credit than she is due. G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary of Mason’s, talking about his boyhood, once stated, ““If there was no murdered man under the sofa in the first chapter, I dismissed the story as tea-table twaddle, which it often really was.”

  8. […] never imagined my post about Twaddle would create such a stir – thank you so much for all the emails and messages and comments […]

  9. Haha, yes! The twaddle! I didn’t know there was a word for it but now I do! We get so many random and strange kids books from family. It would be hard to get rid of them because (especially my parents) are big about signing little notes in the books for the boys. We recently started reading from The Blue Fairy book and are looking forward on getting the rest of the nursery level books from the Great Book Academy classic reading list. They have all the wonderful classics listed by grade level starting at nursery. It’s an exciting list. 🙂

  10. […] Charlotte Mason writes strongly against dumbed-down children’s books that do nothing for their development or love of learning. Last year we did a full overhaul and got rid of tons of books and are still working to rid our home of Twaddle. (I wrote about that journey here). […]

  11. […] them to the library every week or so, which has alleviated the guilt of donating unwanted/worn out/twaddly books. Yes, I know, I know … smart, well-adjusted future Nobel laureates all have one thing […]


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