Utilizing good, living books is such an essential part of Charlotte Mason's whole philosophy. So much so, that if left out of the main backbone section of one's home education-one would not truly be a CM homeschool. This is the easiest part of the CM method to start with (if new to her ways) and the easiest to keep. It opens doorways that the mainstream school systems slam shut as soon as the child walks into their first grade class (maybe earlier). Dry, short and poorly written paragraphs about a person's life, or some object of study are far from engaging and mind tingling. In fact, it is the very reason many folks "hated history" in school, or "loathed science" and what not. There are a multitude of excellent curriculum guides, and material out there that utilize this very concept. Teaching your students should be done using books that were written by someone who not only knew the subject, but held a great fascination for it. Their love of the matter exudes from their written words regarding it. It grabs the reader and draws them in-even if it something they would not particularly care to even study.
I usually suggest folks start with their history curriculum, to get their feet wet, when starting to implement CM's idea of using living books. With the multitude of books written, all which exemplify the knowledge and care for the subject matter, are usually pretty easy to find for history based studies. Then branching out to science, and other courses is quite natural thereafter. Another area, of course, which goes without much explanation is the literature selections. Yes, sometimes-whether due to time constraints or inability to find "just what you need" for a certain topic, one can do a minimal amount of living books to get the lesson across to one's students. Avoiding those mind-numbing, poorly written and nonsense books in this exceedingly important area is a must. Should all books be living books? Well, that depends on you dear reader. I actually have a host of books, some meant just for dipping our toes into as fanciful and lighthearted selections, whilst others are more meaty and perfectly strike upon the "must haves" for a living book. I still enjoy a good read of the Berenstain Bears stories, just because they are charming. Would Charlotte consider them "living book" worthy? Probably not-but that is OK. I think this decision is one that the parent needs to consider, and decide for themselves. But keeping the main diet rich in living books, with a sprinkling of "just for fun" ones, has best suited my children's tastes.
I would much rather my children read the whole Anne of Green Gables book, instead of just a few selected paragraphs, but may only require reading only a section of the poem Hiawatha by Longfellow-to save my students from the seemingly never-ending tale. If it captures their attention, then I would be foolish to stop them. It is up to the instructor to "read" the child to see at what point their mind grows "stupid over their lessons" (hey, Charlotte said that-not me) to end the study for the time being; or when to encourage them to continue on. If you have never really used living books in your studies, wean those into your general curriculum until it becomes the majority. You will see your children paying closer attention, asking for you to continue on, and how they are remembering the stories much more than you would/did when they had a steady stream of snippet learning.
I have lots of history posts, just check the category section on this blog
History post part 2
Paddle to the Sea post
Ambleside Online is a great place to start. Also, see what Living Books Curriculum has to offer-I get many ideas just by scrolling through various company sites and seeing what other hsers are using.