There are many new books being published each day for children and some of them will become classics, so why dig up the dusty book in the corner of grandma’s bookshelves? Why guide your child toward a book with a worn spine and faded cover that has few pictures and more than a few big words? Isn’t the goal to get them to want to read?
Yes, we hope our children will want to read, but we don’t want that to happen at the expense of their values. Books help children reason out what is correct behavior. They help a child resolve issues in a fantasy world before they are confronted with them in reality. If they are reading about children who break rules, use crude language, or think their parents are only for convenience then your child can become confused, and think that perhaps that behavior is acceptable.
Some characters in Classic Literature do make poor choices, but as I discussed in Truth in Literature the story is clear about the true outcomes of those choices.
True classics transcend time. Most classics have, at their heart, a lesson, but sometimes, they’re just plain great fun without compromising virtues such as honesty, kindness, and obedience. You may not be able to get your child to read only classics, but try to rotate in A Wind in The Willows, The Jungle Book, Heidi, Treasure Island, Five Little Peppers and How they Grew or Little House in the Big Woods.
If you read aloud to your children, you can read a level or two above what they read on their own. While my children were young I would sit in the hall each night between their open bedroom doors and read to them. We read Swiss Family Robinson, Freckles, and The Lord of the Rings that way. If there are words your children don’t understand, save them for a short, captivating vocabulary lesson at another time—such as during breakfast.
Take time then to also discuss the choices of the characters. Why did Hans Brinker give up his chance to skate in the race? Why did the grandfather change when Heidi came to live with him? (Frances Hodgson Burnett’s stories have children whose kindness and love lead others to a change of heart: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy.) In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, what did Edmund learn from his time spent with the White Witch?
Classic literature is a wonderful way to help your child discover internal values that will help them navigate external challenges.
I have updated (and will continue to update) my list of Children’s Classic Literature. Is it missing one of your favorites?