Friday, March 23, 2007

Invitation to the Classics

Invitation to the Classics:
A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read
by Louise Cowan (Editor), Os Guinness (Editor)

Intimidated! That’s how I felt when I considered using Ambleside’s House of Education- a free curriculum based upon Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education for older students.(gds 7-12) The booklist looked wonderful. It provided a rich, classical education using primary sources and living books and the schedules were FREE. On top of that, many of the books were available online. The plan looked much better than something I could have come up with on my own. It was incredibly tempting. However, I felt unsure of my abilities to guide my children using so many books and documents that I had never read before. I wanted to be able to have some intelligent, thoughtful discussions with my children, approaching all these ideas from a biblical worldview. How could I do this if I didn’t even know why Beowulf is considered such an important work? I’d heard that there are deeper meanings behind Gulliver’s Travels but I didn’t know exactly what they are. And what about Shakespeare? What exactly do some of his plays mean, anyway? Then I discovered this book, Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read.

This beautiful 365 page hardback provides just enough background and commentary necessary for the busy mother who has a myriad of other responsibilities on top of homeschooling. You can actually hand this book to a high school-aged student to read on his own. It shouldn’t be read in one sitting. It is more like a reference guide to pull out when you are beginning a particular book or play. Over 80 famous classical works are included from Homer to contemporary writers. Here is a small sampling of authors and works mentioned: Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Thomas More, Don Quixote, El Cid, Shakespeare, John Donne, Milton, Pilgrim’s Progress, Swift, Pride and Prejudice, Goethe, Keats, Wordsworth, Hawthorne, Melville’s Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Flannery O’Connor.

Recently, when my daughter read Beowulf for the first time, I spent fifteen minutes reading up on the background and themes in this classic poem. This prepared me to help her think more deeply about the meaning of this poem. This book has been a great help to me and I consider it essential to our home library. I use this book along with the Truthquest Guides for older students and as my ‘prep’ sources for the upper level children’s books. Truthquest provides a nice commentary for my children. They read this on their own and write a summary narration of the events as they are mentioned. I use Sparknotes for the books that are not covered in An Invitation to the Classics. For example, my daughter is reading the first volume of The Once and Future King. This silly Arthurian story actually has deeper meanings concerning the marks of a good leader/govt. Watership Down is another example. These books begged to be discussed with the student so that they will think more deeply about the themes presented in story form. I would not have discovered many of these important ideas simply for lack of time had I not looked these books up at Sparknotes and read the brief commentary.

I am no longer intimidated by the booklist that lies before us. I have the necessary tools now and feel that I can do this. We’ve been having a great time this year reading, learning and discussing classic works together. My grade for Invitation to the Classics is:
Grading Scale
A = You MUST have this book in your library!
B= This is a very good book. Would be a nice addition to your library.
C= A straw in the haystack, but certainly NOT the needle.
D= Good fire starter.


  1. Betty23.3.07

    Thank you! Thank you! Linda! This sounds like what I've been needing! What a great resource!

    I have directed many people to your blog lately. With all the CM resources out there, there is still something so helpful and special about your blog. The Lord has used it so really encourage me on this path!

    Love and Blessings,

  2. I will definitely want that book!
    My children are not that age yet.
    Do you think it could be used with a nine and seven year old?
    I SO much enjoy your blog.

  3. Lindafay,

    This has been on my wishlist for some time, maybe it needs to move closer to the top. :) Thanks for the review.

    I also wanted to let you know that I answered you on my blog with a very long comment about oil pastels. Please hop over and check it out.


  4. Hi Linda,
    I put that one on my amazon wishlist for the future. I'm am grateful for those kind of "helps".
    Hope you are having a lovely week.

  5. Hi Ladies. I love your enthusiasm!

    I've used this book for several years. I don't read it to the children, but it has helped me understand several books that I read for myself or for them (Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress)

  6. I bought this when I was preparing our Freshman studies and I found it to be worth every penny. (We study three books a "semester" that I've picked out, for instance this is our second "semester" of my son's Junior year and we are doing three Russian books for a Russian Lit class."

    I enjoy just sitting down and reading through it. It is lovely, isn't it?

  7. Maureen26.3.07


    This is a book I looked at years ago when the kids were younger, but forgot about until I read your entry. Thanks for the review. This is a book I can use NOW!

  8. Anonymous9.4.07

    Your review was so good that I had to buy this book. Don't review anymore books because I might have to buy them. I hope you are recovering well. I have prayed for you and your family.


  9. Thank you, Christy. I am doing better, not 100% yet (physically) but getting there.

  10. I went looking for this post when I started recently panicking about HEO. I didn't fully absorb what you had written when I first wrote it, but I knew it was here.

    Thank you so much for this recommendation! This is what I need for peace of mind.