“ The Baldwin Project is a comprehensive collection of resources for parents and teachers of children - making literature available for children. „
Okay, so who is Baldwin and just what is this project, you may be wondering. Firstly, it's James Baldwin. Still no light bulb moment for most of us, and indeed, at first I had to look him up. he's the creative genius behind many books for children, including Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Most of his books are still in print and enjoyed by children around the world today, despite the author having penned them a century ago, thanks to their unpretentious and accessible language. In fact, many of the authors featured on this site are mentioned specifically along with Baldwin in a little gem of a book many of us may have seen or be familiar with: William Bennett's ."The Book of Virtues".
William Bennett is a former US Secretary of Education, and he culled many his "stories with purpose" from the writings of Baldwin, Lang, and more. The source materials provided stories that were meant to instruct while entertain, using myths, fables, folklore, and more. While Bennett's book uses some of the tales, there is a wealth of them not placed in his anthology, and while many are still in print or being reissued, may be out of the reach of many who would love to read them. Enter the world wide web and Project Baldwin (www.mainlesson.com). Inspired by ideals, his and several other authors of living books have come to be enshrined at the Baldwin Project, for all to read for free, and if they so desire, to purchase as a paperback copy. These books are in the public domain, so don't worry, reading them online or printing them out is not robbing anyone of their royalties!
Living book? I sense many may be puzzled by that term as well. British educator Charlotte Mason coined the phrase, and what it means is quite simple. They are books that inspire. and in some way, instruct. Things that do not meet the high standards, do raise the curiosity levels natural in children, or challenge them to think are not living books. They should not be dry, either. Texts which don't capture the attention and imagination turn the mind off, and people memorise what they need for a quiz or a test and forget the rest. But hand a child or an adult a living book, and watch the interest spark, so it gets read again, and again, and knowledge is retained. Likewise, they do not contain twaddle. Twaddle is dumbed down information. Living books do not talk down to children, and may often use words they are not immediately familiar with, but which the meaning can be gotten either from context or a quick parental explanation. Pretty well much, to meet the living book standard, it therefore has to meet the basic criteria:
1. It has to be of excellent writing quality, and not over simplified in language
2.It must contain ideas to inspire a child in how to live well, and/or contain knowledge that will widen the child's horizons
3. It must be enjoyable for the child and any adult to happily read or listen to again and again
4. It must be a book that impacts the reader's mind, and gets them thinking, creating, and/or exploring.
We personally find this site useful as we use a home education curriculum that is literature rich, and uses living books. Many of the books on our syllabus are here online to use, and many that are not as well. For example, my son is in his Kindergarten year, and is still learning to read. Soon he will be finished with his "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy lessons" book and is already looking for some good , but simple, stories to read. We do have many good picture books he can read, but for graded readers, quite frankly, he finds the ones at the library quite limiting. The stories are quick and funny as a one off, but he feels unchallenged, and not particularly eager to read them again for pleasure. Not so the readers on this site. Harriette Taylor Treadwell, in the early 1900's, produced classic readers for children, beginning with a primer for beginners, and on up to the third reader which is for the third year students. With classic stories like "The Little Red Hen" , "Chicken Little", "The Bremen Band", and a collection of Christina Rossetti's poems, he has found entertainment while tasting success as a reader. The illustrations for each book on the site is also faithfully reproduced, to the delight of both my children. I have to say I really enjoy looking at the art myself, as it is exceedingly well drawn and of a quality only seen today in colour plated collector's editions. Both children have enjoyed the books so much, that they have taken the spiral bound print out copies to bed as reading matter, which says a lot about the overall quality and endurance of a story!Here I have to admit allowing a bit of taddle though not much, as sometimes a bit of light marshmallow reading hits the spot! But usually, it is one of these living books that is picked up by them.
The site is, as I mentioned before, free to use for parents as well as educators, so that schools may also use the materials as desired without any fees attached. Those making use of Ambleside Online (or any other Charlotte Mason or Classical education curriculum) or a Waldorf Curriculum will find helpful tabs where specific texts that are recommended by those curriculums can be found handily indexed. Likewise, one can browse by category, author, or even individual story titles. There is also a handy articles section, with different articles in place to discuss various types of books for specific purposes, such as Christmas, picking a book about ancient Greece, etc, giving a breakdown on what the book is like and the ages it is most suited for. I have found these to be most helpful, and very accurate. Along with Project Gutenberg, this is a site I come to time and again for reading matter for my children. It simply has it all: fairytales, folklore, legends, biographies, and more. All are well written, engaging, and free. With material suitable for the preschooler on up to the child entering high school, I have a feeling we will continue to visit this site for many years to come.