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1857 McGuffey Readers

Teach your children with the readers your grandparents used! Now with an introduction describing how to use them with Charlotte Mason methods.

Want an easy way to teach language arts using stories, poems, essays, and speeches that reinforce virtues such as courage, honor, diligence, stewardship, independence, frugality, perseverance, and kindness?

You'll find it all in the 1857 edition of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers for Home and School!

This six-book series offers:

  • Complete original text from McGuffey's 1857 edition
  • Phonics-based reading instruction
  • Vocabulary and spelling taught and reinforced in context
  • Age-appropriate instructions on elocution (art of speaking)
  • Increasingly challenging literature selections for grades K-12

In addition:

  • A new 18-page introduction shows how to use Charlotte Mason's copywork, narration, recitation, and dictation methods with the Readers
  • Original teacher notes provide additional guidance
  • Teachers learn along with students
  • Original text presented as a facsimile edition (exact reproduction) with original diacritical markings in place
  • Interior text printed on high quality cream paper for exceptional readability
  • Each volume centers on the original text from McGuffey's expanded 1857 edition, the last edition with which McGuffey was personally involved and the first edition with six volumes and more extensive teacher helps.
An entirely new introduction by Janice Campbell, author of the Excellence in Literature curriculum, offers brief guidance for using Charlotte Mason's language arts learning sequence with each of the Readers. Whether used as a primary text or a supplement, this new edition will help you include the time-tested language arts instruction of Mason and McGuffey into your education program.

First ReaderSecond Reader • Third Reader

Fourth Reader • Fifth Reader • Sixth Reader

Literacy, Virtue. and Values

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

~C.S. Lewis

If your grandparents or great-grandparents ever talked about their education, chances are you have heard of the McGuffey readers. These classic little volumes were the primary educational tool in the one-room schoolhouses of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Stories from the readers entered family lore and were passed from generation to generation.

Accomplished Americans such as President Theodore Roosevelt and inventor Henry Ford were educated with the McGuffey readers and influenced by "stories of strength, character, goodness and truth" that "emphasized work and an independent spirit; encouraged an allegiance to country, and an understanding of the importance of religious values" (National Park Service). Henry Ford and his wife felt that these readers were so valuable that he had the 1857 edition reprinted at his own expense and distributed to schools across the nation in order to pass along the fundamental values he had learned.

A few years ago, I was speaking on homeschooling at a self-reliance conference and was approached by a gentleman who was probably in his seventies or older. He spoke with nostalgia of the stories his grandfather had told him from the McGuffey readers and told me he had always wanted to own a set so he could read them for himself. I tracked down a complete set for him and enjoyed reading the stories in each edition as I did so.

In reading the different editions, I was struck by the excellence of McGuffey's instruction in elocution (the art of appropriate and effective expression) and articulation (clear, distinct pronunciation) in this 1857 edition, and I realized this was something that most modern language arts curricula ignore.

I have long believed that many spelling and reading difficulties can be attributed to incorrect or unclear pronunciation, and McGuffey has devoted much of the instructions in the readers to these two areas of language arts. You can read more about why this edition is excellent at this page: McGuffey Improvements to the 1857 Edition of the Readers. There are many ways to use the 1857 Readers. Here's one:

Down memory lane

In the 1857 edition, I also found some very special stories. When I was young, my grandfather used to tell me bedtime stories. Many of them were stories about when he was young — stories about his family following the cotton harvest, traveling in a wagon (he was born in 1912), and spending hours in the fields from the time he was a tiny child.

He told stories about wrestling and playing cowboy with his brothers and cousins; stories about being taken out of school after sixth grade to work full-time in the fields; and stories about hopping a freight train to a new life in California when he was 14.

He had other stories he would tell, too. He personalized them, but they were clearly stories from a book. I loved his stories. And as I read through the stories in the various editions of the McGuffey Readers, I found several of them.

During the six years of formal schooling he'd had as child, he'd apparently been taught from these readers. Most amazing of all, he remembered the stories decades later. I wish I had found this edition before he passed away — I know he would have enjoyed reading them once again. Just finding some of the stories he'd told was like a hug from the past, and I'm happy to pass that on.

I hope you enjoy these books too. Those are just a few of the reasons why, nearly 100 years after Ford brought these readers to my mother's generation, I wanted to publish a beautifully crafted, affordable facsimile edition for my grandchildren's generation.

Whether you use the Readers simply as reading practice or coupled with Charlotte Mason's teaching methods, these readers, along with copious reading (both silently and aloud) of good and great books, provide a solid grounding in language arts and an interesting glimpse of the lives and values of our ancestors.

NOTE: We chose to reprint these as facsimile editions, despite some of the challenges that represented, because creating exact page replicas ensured that all the very important grammatical and diacritical markings appear in the right place.

Bring history to life

These readers reflect the values, experiences, and ideas of the nineteenth century, so there will be opportunities for fruitful discussion of differences. Stories show life as it happened then — there were simple pleasures and much time spent outdoors, but there were also real consequences for poor choices.

Practical wisdom, values, and morals are very clearly taught from a Christian perspective throughout each volume. One area in the earliest readers which I would suggest requires special discernment is the occasional instance in which it is suggested that being good or kind is a prerequisite for being loved. This is not something I recommend teaching. Children need to know that although negative behavior has consequences, they are always loved. Despite this quibble, I believe these readers are an extremely useful addition to your homeschool library.

Review by Cathy Duffy.

Janice Campbell, author of Transcripts Made Easy, Get a Jump Start on College!, and the Excellence in Literature curriculum for grades 8-12 homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, and has been writing and speaking on homeschooling, entrepreneurship, and the learning lifestyle since the early 1990s. Be sure to sign up for Everyday Education's monthly e-newsletter for articles, tips, and resources.
1857 McGuffey Readers with Instructions for Use with Charlotte Mason's Language Arts Methods: Six volumes for grades K-12.