Fostering a Love of the Classics
One evening last week, my husband and I sat down to read our 3-year-old one of the stories she had picked out at the library. She had been drawn to the Disney princesses pictured on the cover and I let her check it out so she could take ownership over the books we would be reading. After tucking her into bed, my husband and I started discussing how disappointing the princess story had been. Not only did the story lack substance, but the main character was snobby and self-centered. And worst of all, by the end of the story, the main character got her way without any sort of sacrifice or lesson learned. It felt like the story had been thrown together without even the slightest thought of what a child would get out of it. Before heading off to bed, I remembered to tuck the book away and moved a handful of the classics I had picked out to the front of her bookshelf.
The quality of the literature we place on our bookshelves absolutely matters. There is a reason the classics have stood the test of time. They contain themes and characters who are relatable and who can inspire our children to contemplate truth, beauty, and goodness. For example, even my three-year-old can listen to the story of Henny Penny and identify that Henny Penny and Cocky Locky were foolish to place their trust in a fox! There is a clear lesson, a fun way of teaching it, and endless conversations that we can have about what the story can teach us in real life. In the same way, Aesop’s fables provide short but memorable reads that can be discussed with children of all ages.
As important as quality literature is, it is also important that our children take ownership over the books they are selecting. Of course for little ones, it is as simple as putting out great books for them to choose from. But it gets a little trickier as they get older and want to select their own books. If our goal is for our children to be self-motivated, life-long readers, then it is our job as their educators to teach them how to evaluate quality literature. As they learn to identify books that lack strong themes and unrealistic characters, the more they will grow to appreciate the quality stories that speak life into our being and inspire us to live virtuous lives.
An easy way to begin teaching an older child to notice and note the aspects of quality literature is to compare picture books. Throw in a few examples of books that are “cute,” ones that lack substance, a valuable lesson, figurative language, or dynamic characters. Read these non-examples alongside a few classics (Sign-up for our recommended reading list for an extensive list of classics!) and compare the differences you notice between the books. Ask the child to “notice and note” the differences between the books. Talk about the characters, the plot, the sentence structure, and most importantly, the lessons learned from the various stories. While your child might not prefer one or two of the classics you’ve selected, it is important to point out that regardless of personal preference, the quality of the text is the reason it has become a classic.
For older students (middle school to high school age), ask them to to identify how well the book meets the following expectations:
● Does the story express artistic quality?
○ Is the sentence structure varied?
○ Does the author use figurative language?
○ Does the author paint a clear image in the mind of the reader?
● Will the story stand the test of time?
○ Is this a story you would read again?
○ Could you learn or perceive a new insight from this story if you were to read it again?
○ Does this story explore themes that were timely when it was written?
○ Does this story cause strong emotions and keep readers thinking?
● Does this story have universal appeal?
○ Could people from various backgrounds enjoy and appreciate this story?
○ Can the lesson relate to a wide-range of people?
● Does this story help you make connections?
○ Does this story inspire you to learn more about history, the sciences, or the arts?
○ Does this story help you make connections to important people, events, or places?
○ Does this story help you relate to others in new ways? Does it help you gain perspective or consider the views of another?
● Does this story reflect and present Truth?
○ Does this story tackle real conflicts?
○ Does this story capture how humans cause, respond, and are shaped by conflict?
○ Does this story inspire you to seek or appreciate goodness, truth, or beauty?
Learning to evaluate quality literature is an important step in forming life-long readers. Try to remember every so often to discuss one or two things you “notice & note” about the books you are reading. And most importantly, let your children “catch you” reading great quality literature. Share your favorites with them, whether they be modern classics or tried and true classics. Spend time reading aloud the ones that are age appropriate so you can enjoy them together!
Join us here monthly for our “Nurturing Lifelong Readers” series as we unpack strategies for nurturing these traits in our children so they become lifelong readers!
Read the next article in the series here!