See the little girl on the left with the dark braids and big smile? Yup, that’s nine-year-old me with my best friend dressed for our debut performance as Laura and Mary Ingalls. We’re standing on the steps of our one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of western Maine, where my mother taught kindergarten and first grade in one room and my adopted “Grammy Phyl” taught second grade through high school in the other room. It was the closest you could come to homeschooling without actually being home.
Grammy Phyl taught us the fear of the Lord and the beauty of the King James Bible. She taught us to knit and quilt and draw. There may have been a yodeling lesson or two. But what I remember best was the books. After long recesses playing under the pines, we would gather around with our drawing and handicrafts while she read aloud: Charlotte’s Web, The Wind in the Willows, Johnny Tremain. I remember the day she handed By the Shores of Silver Lake to an older student because she couldn’t read about Jack the brindled bulldog without crying. I remember her giving me special books to read on my own: Mother West Wind’s Why Stories, Henner’s Lydia, Anne of Green Gables.
My mother called me her own “Little-House-on-the-Prairie girl.” Our life surely had some uncanny resemblances to the Ingalls’. While my father built a cabin on our three-acre wilderness, we lived in a trailer whose lack of plumbing we speak of even today in hushed tones. Family time consisted of chopping trees, carrying water from the spring, and finding the nails my father dropped. Coyotes, moose and bear strolled through our back yard. Dad never had to shovel snow off our beds, but we did wake some winter mornings to find icicles hanging from the sink faucet. We knew Christmases where we received only one present.
In my teenage years, I felt the restless longing of the mountain-born to see the world beyond those sheltering ridges. I learned to make it on my own in a big city while becoming an English professor and freelance writer. But in the early soul-searing days of motherhood I found myself continually pondering my roots. When I encountered Charlotte Mason’s writings, I gasped over how much my early schooling embodied Miss Mason’s philosophy. I suddenly realized all I had been given at that wonderfully strange little school. As my own Pioneer Girl and Half Pint grew closer to school age, I had no choice but to toss aside my staunch belief in the lunacy of homeschooling.
Of course, the fun part of a Charlotte Mason education is the excuse it gives you to accumulate a stunning number of books. I began buying “living books” with an avidity that dazzled my longsuffering husband. One day after hefting an armload of book-shaped packages dumped by a bemused mail carrier on our front step, I sensed God asking me if I wasn’t being just a wee bit selfish, hoarding all these gems for me and mine. Suddenly, I saw myself as a child arranging all my books on little shelves, painstakingly cutting out and labeling cards for each of them, and stamping them so my dolls could check them out of the library. All at once, I found myself dusting off that old childhood dream.
The Little Library in the Big Woods is my lending library for friends old and new in my local homeschooling community. The books I write about in my blog posts are all available for Little Library members to borrow. I hope reading about our adventures with books will inspire you and breathe joy into your own reading journeys. To find out more about the Little Library or to become a member, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to browse the shelves and enjoy a cup of tea!