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Savvy Journey welcomes again our amazing contributing blogger, Melanie Tillman, as she shares with us the importance of reading classics to your children at all ages. Check out more information about Melanie by looking under the “About” tab or by clicking HERE.
Pretty much everyone knows the benefits of reading out loud to children who are pre-readers. From birth to the moment our kids enter kindergarten, parents are told that reading to their children is vital for success in school. But did you know that reading out loud to older children has great benefits as well? Educator Jim Trelease wrote an entire book called The Read-Aloud Handbook giving countless evidence from research about the importance of reading out loud all the way up through high school. So there’s obviously much I could say on the subject, but I’ll boil it down to two important things: 1. It is a wonderful way for parents to bond with their children and slow down in this fast-paced culture we live in. 2. A child’s comprehension level far exceeds his or her reading level. It’s why, for example, we know a three year old can enjoy a book like Corduroy even though he can’t read it himself. This continues to hold true as the child grows older. So it’s the perfect opportunity to delve into the classics with your child!
However, many parents are hesitant when it comes to the classics. They assume they will be too difficult for their children to understand or enjoy, even classics published originally for children. After all, why else would the library and bookstores hold an entire shelf full of abridged, illustrated classics for kids? So, sadly, many parents opt for these poorly written substitutes and miss out on the magic that can only be found in the original.
Having said that, there are times an abridged version is a better option. I recommend them for stories like the tales of Robin Hood, the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, books by Jules Verne, or books by Robert Louis Stevenson. That’s because those stories weren’t written for kids, but are exciting adventures that appeal to children. Since the originals are too long and challenging, an abridged version is perfectly acceptable. I also recommend an abridged version for fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, Pinocchio, and The Jungle Book. While written for children, these are all extremely dark and even disturbing in their original form.
However, there are several children’s classics that you shouldn’t be afraid to read out loud to your kids. When I say “classics,” I’m referring to books written prior to World War I. Therefore, I’m not including modern children’s classics like the Little House series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, books by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, etc), or books by E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, etc.). These are all written on a fairly low reading level, and few parents are intimidated by them since they grew up reading them themselves.
In this list I have included the age my children were when I read these to them. However, keep in mind that every child is different. Also, when you find these books at the library, be sure you are getting the original. The covers of some books are misleading, printing the original author’s name in large print while it says “retold by” at the bottom in smaller print. When in doubt, ask the librarian.
#1 Tales by Beatrix Potter
I read these to my children when they were five and six years old. Some parents I know have read them to their kids as young as three. The most famous, of course, is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but my kids also loved The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, and the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. She has longer stories too, and these are hit or miss. We gave up on The Tale of Pigling Bland, but The Tailor of Gloucestor is a really sweet Christmas story about mice who help a sick tailor with his sewing on Christmas Eve.
#2 Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
When I first read these to my son when he was five, I wondered if he understood a word I was reading. Then he started giggling. My daughter was the same way when I read them to her at age five. They would both beg me to read more. I also highly recommend his books of children’s poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six. You’ll not only find through these poems that childhood has remained largely the same, but you’ll also see the earliest version of our favorite chubby bear. For all of these, I recommend finding a copy with the original illustrations by E. H. Shephard.
#3 The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
Not to be confused with The Boxcar Children, which is a more modern series. This is a sweet story with a rather serious topic. Three children must move to the country with their mother and learn to live frugally after their father is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. (Don’t worry, it’s of the business fraud variety.) I compare it to Anne of Green Gables for that reason and also because it’s set in the Victorian era. The most famous scene in this book is when the children stop a train accident by waving a red petticoat. I read this to my son when he was seven.
#4 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
No movie version, Disney treatment, or stage version can compare to the actual novel by Barrie himself. It isn’t a difficult read at all, and is surprisingly short. My son was seven when I read it to him, and he absolutely loved it. As an adult, you will be surprised how dark Neverland actually is and how selfish and slightly sadistic Peter can be. But for your kids, it will just be an adventure! Don’t be surprised if they beg you to keep reading.
#5 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I have spoken to adults who say they avoid this one because it’s weird. Didn’t Carroll write it under the influence of opium? Wasn’t he strangely obsessed with a little girl? Maybe. But all your kids are going to know is that Alice goes on an amazing adventure in a crazy fantasy land. I remember wishing as a child that I could fall through a hole like Alice and find myself in Wonderland. Despite being bizarre, it isn’t difficult to read or understand. (The poem of the Jabberwocky is in the sequel – Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass – although I think the poem is incredibly fun to read with all it’s made up, funny sounding words.) My son was eight when I read it to him. Not only did he laugh, but he also kept saying “She’s dreaming, isn’t she?” We read the sequel, too. This is also one of those books that you MUST read in an illustrated version; there are many great ones out there.
#6 The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
This is another one that is surprisingly easy to read. Frankly, when I see abridged versions of this I shake my head because it’s completely unnecessary. My son was seven when we read this one, and he was very verbal in his reactions. He especially got frustrated with the Cowardly Lion. “Why does he think he’s a coward? He keeps saving them!”
#7 d’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths
Okay, technically this one is a children’s version, and it was published in 1962, but I have a reason for including it. Many parents are hesitant to read Greek myths to their kids (I could write a whole post on why every kid should know Greek mythology). This volume, however, was written with kids in mind. Therefore, Zeus has many “wives” and the more violent parts of certain stories are either skipped over or only briefly mentioned. My son was eight when I read these to him, and we both enjoyed it tremendously. The book also includes some obscure myths even I, a former English teacher, had never heard before. Like Dionysus attacking a pirate ship and turning the pirates into dolphins. (One of my son’s favorites!)
So there you have it! Curl up with your child and give one of these seven classics a try. And remember, the point is to bond and have fun over these wonderful stories.
Do you have favorite classics you have read to your children? What books and at what age? Share in the comments section below!
Did you love this post by Melanie Tillman? Check out her post on the Top 5 Biggest Regrets from a First Time Visit to Disney with Kids!
Do you love classic literature? Check out my Favorite Classic Period Romance Adaptions!