Children’s Literature: Some Thoughts on the Classics

I love to read. I love everything about reading. I love to go to the library or the bookstore and browse through all the volumes. I love the feel of turning the pages. I love getting to know the characters and where they live. I grieve a little when I get to the last page and those new friends are done.

I didn’t always love to read though. I have no memory of being read to as a child. I’m sure people did read to me, but it was not a large part of my growing up. Then, I married a man who loves books even more than I do. He is rarely without a book or two by his chair. When we had kids, we were determined they would be surrounded by books and reading.

It is a truism that reading to your child regularly is more important that what you read. However, there are many good arguments for reading a variety of literature. The University of California Cooperative Extension has a great list of different types of books with great examples of each. Check out their website – -to get started finding some good books your kids will enjoy.

One of my favorite categories of books is the classics. According to Philip Nel, Director of the Program in Children’s Literature at Kansas State University, children’s classics have a few things in common. They “speak to those basic concerns that define human beings as a species – love, fear, hope, anger, family, power, and the need for acceptance,” To me, a classic is a story that has stood the test of time and has been loved by many generations. Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, Where the Wild Things Are, A Chair for My Mother are just a few examples of classic stories. If you Google “classic children’s stories,” you will get a long list to whet your appetite and inspire a trip to the library.

There are many benefits to exposing your children to classic stories. When you read a classic story to your child, it introduces them to a wide, rich vocabulary that will help expand their minds and introduce new words in the context of the story. It’s not just the exposure to individual words that is important, but the phrasing of words is also significant. In Owl Moon, for instance, you can feel the cold and hear the quiet just by the way the author uses the words to draw the picture. If your child is interested in the story, it is helpful to reread the story, stopping on new words to explain them. Or, you can grow their understanding of words by showing how the words or phrases are illustrated in the picture.

Because classic stories tend to be a little longer and have more developed plots, they often deal with some fairly mature themes. These themes can be the jumping off point for great discussions with your children. For instance, after reading Corduroy, you could talk about needs vs wants, friendship and belonging. Reading Blueberries for Sal can lead to discussions about the relationships between mothers and children, obedience and safety. Reading A Chair for My Mother can elicit conversation about tragedy, family, community. Again, a quick Google search can give you so many ideas for further discussion on many of these classic books.

Classic books can also expose your child to a different period in history. It’s a great opportunity to talk about how things are both the same and different. Many of these stories have references and pictures that reminiscent of another time. For example, Goodnight Moon has a picture of a rotary telephone, and chances are your children don’t know what that is. The drawings tend to be simpler, and illustrations in older books tend to have fewer colors which allow children to focus on the message of the story. Reading a classic story is a great place to slow the pace and escape from the over stimulation of the digital world for a little while.

There is a reason classics have stood the test of time. The stories are compelling. The word pictures are beautiful, and the illustrations are evocative of a different time. Classics can expand your child’s vocabulary, stimulate discussions that teach lessons, and introduce culture and history. So, read the classics, but keep exploring new authors and books too. You may discover a classic story for the next generation.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11

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