Whether you identify as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler or not, chances are that if you’ve been part of the homeschool community for a while, you’ve at least heard of the term twaddle. As it appears in Charlotte Mason literature, it refers to reading material that is silly, trivial, predictable, and lacking in literary value.
Well, silly, trivial, predictable, and lacking in literary value doesn’t exactly sound GOOD, does it?
But I want you to allow room in your homeschool for twaddle. Yes, I’m serious.
Twaddle serves three important purposes in the development of readers.
3 Reasons Twaddle Is Good for Kids
- Twaddle trains kids to spot foreshadowing and to make predictions.You weren’t born knowing that the first suspect in a mystery is almost never the culprit. You learned it by reading or watching stories in which that convention unfolded over and over again. You learned what to expect.Twaddle is by nature predictable and formulaic, and while predictable might not hold the attention of grown-ups as well, predictable stories help kids to learn to make predictions and to pick up on foreshadowing.
- Twaddle helps kids to develop their confidence as readers.Daniel Willingham, the author of Raising Kids Who Read, said, “I would encourage parents to bear in mind that what their kids are getting from Captain Underpants is probably not a great sense of narrative in the western tradition. But what they are getting is a great sense of themselves as readers.”I’d bet that almost all adults who still read for pleasure were once readers of at least one twaddle-y series. For me, it was The Babysitters’ Club, Sweet Valley High, and V.C. Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic series. The series we got hooked on in our early reading years helped us to see ourselves as competent, enthusiastic readers. We asked for the books for our birthdays, we begged to go back to the library to get the next few books in the series, and we traded them with our friends. We knew that we were READERS who weren’t just reading what the adults in our lives directed us to read.
- Twaddle can be fun. As of this writing, my daughter’s favorite one-on-one activity with me is “bookstore camping” (our term for an extended bookstore visit). Without fail, every time we go bookstore camping, she fills her basket for perusal with My Little Pony, Barbie, and other character-centered books.I’m TOTALLY fine with this.Even if she isn’t reading *great literature*, she’s still developing positive connections to books. In a sea of books, she sees the characters she knows, and she gravitates to them. That’s cool. She’s happy, and happiness surrounding books is something I want to encourage all day, every day.
As for worries that twaddle is a slippery slope and that allowing kids to read twaddle will lead to kids reading only twaddle, here are two EASY ways to prevent your kids from getting stuck forever and ever in twaddle land.
- Read-Alouds – Even if my daughter is spending all of her independent reading time reading her beloved My Little Pony and Barbie books for a while, I’m still the ultimate authority when it comes to our family read-aloud selection. The kids get to choose from a limited number of selections pre-chosen by me, and every single choice is decidedly un-twaddle-y.
- Book Talks and Book Teasers – Use a book talk to “sell” a book to your kids. Of course, this will go over better if you’ve cultivated a reading relationship that is respectful and supportive. I book talked Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series to my kids by saying, “I read all of the Ramona books when I was a kid, and I loved them so much that I read them over and over. Ramona is really smart and creative like you, and she does stuff that made me laugh and laugh when I was a kid. I remember when she squeezed all of the toothpaste out of a tube, and it seemed so satisfying that I wanted to do the same thing. I started to do it, but then I cleaned it up because I knew that Nana would be so mad at me.” To pull off a book talk, just think of how you might try to convince your best friend to read a book that you have enjoyed.
To do a book teaser, read just the first few pages or the first chapter from an enticing book during read-aloud time. It’s up to the listener to read the rest of the story. In my classroom, when I read a book teaser, the book was always snatched up from my classroom library by somebody, and more often than not, I had to create a waiting list.Above all, we have to respect our children’s reading lives. While we might be open to suggestions and recommendations from sources we respect and trust, we adult readers would balk at being told that certain books are off-limits to us because they aren’t literary enough. Our kids deserve the same respect as readers, and if we want to be their respected and trusted sources for great book recommendations, we need to honor that.