Kids and the Classics

I’ve decided to take the week off from reading anything “blogworthy”. I just finished a long book (“Playing to the Edge”) and I’m getting ready to tackle an even longer one (Stephen King’s “11.22.63”), so I’m resting my brain.

Instead, I’m hoping to have some dialogue about something that’s been on my mind for several months now: classic books that today’s generation of kids will enjoy.

First, a little background. I have twins who were in seventh grade last year. I typically try to read one or two books that they or their class read during the school year, just to have an extra source of connection with them. For example, we read “The Book Thief” together (made me cry), and also “The Westing Game” (a clever, age appropriate mystery).

Last year, they were given the assignment to select and read a “classic”. What constitutes a “classic” is probably open to all kinds of debate, but I settled on a definition of kind of old and kind of famous. Based on that, I provided my daughters with a list of about ten suggestions. I had read about half the books on the list and the other half were an educated guess. The list contained standards like “Little Women” and “Swiss Family Robinson”. I also included an Agatha Christie and a Sherlock Holmes novel on the list because I remember enjoying them when I was that age.

One of my girls chose “A Wrinkle in Time” and the other picked the Agatha Christie novel, “And Then There Were None”. I decided to513hgSybYgL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_ also read / reread them.

As for “A Wrinkle in Time”, I really wanted to like it. Book reviewers on Amazon reminisce lovingly about how much that book meant to them when they were kids. So I had high hopes. But I didn’t really like it and I thought maybe it was because I’m not the target audience. However, my daughter was lukewarm about it, too. She explained that she just doesn’t like classics.

“And Then There Were None” didn’t quite hold the same magic for me as it did when I was a kid. The plot is still a clever mystery, but the writing now seems too quaint to me. I know it’s just a reflection of a different time, but I’m also sure that’s why many people have a difficult time getting into classics. At some point, my daughter just jumped to the end of the book to find out whodunit.

So now that I’ve trashed two popular classics… I’m curious what other people have experienced with getting their kids to read the classics. What have they liked? What did YOU like when you were a kid?

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18 thoughts on “Kids and the Classics

  1. Hi Michelle,
    My bookish co- worker, Gayla, and I have been brain storming and so far we’ve thought of Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind (Gayla’s suggestion – I never read it). Also Of Mice and Men, Tuck Everlasting, Jane Eyre, any Jane Austen. Of course Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

    Let me know if any sound tempting to the girls.
    Happy reading!

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    • Thanks, Maria. Those are all great suggestions. One of the girls tried to read To Kill a Mockingbird last year but I don’t think she finished it. I think I need to read / reread some of these so I’m in a better position to make recommendations to my girls.

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  2. I have always loved the classics and still do. I teach many of them and work very hard to expose my students to them. I re-read the Hobbit every year with my students. I find my Seniors love love love 1984. If they don’t read any other book they get sucked into that one. My daughter says the language is evolved for her. She says she really has to have a good history lesson about the time period and country to really enjoy the classics. I have also found that reading a contemporary book that mirrors the classic I am about to teach will often help spark an interest. That being said, I love love Catch 22, Huck Finn, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Jungle. Those along with the ones I teach I can read over and over.

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    • Great comments, Cherrie. Excellent point about needing a history lesson to appreciate the context of the classic. I remember liking Catch 22 and The Chronicles of Narnia but it’s been so long since I’ve read them that I don’t remember much about the stories. Haven’t read The Jungle yet or, believe it or not, The Hobbit. Maybe I need to add those to my list!

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  3. I, too, loved The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit. I also loved the Anne of Green Gables and Grey King series. I’ve heard the The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is a favorite of many middle-schoolers. In the last few years I’ve reread The Phantom Tollbooth and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankenweiler — and enjoyed them once again!
    I didn’t begin reading the “heavy” classics until high school.
    A rite of passage book, which your daughters may be past, is Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret.
    My book group is reading Watership Down for September. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    Also, I have fond memories of devouring Danielle Steele novels. Not classics, I know, but I felt quite grown up reading them!

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    • Hi, Dana! I’m not familiar with The Giver or The Phantom Tollbooth. I’ll definitely take a look. I think it makes a lot of sense to re-read classics we read in school, now that we have a little living under our belts. Looking forward to hearing your opinion of Watership Down. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Michelle,

    My kids’ school assigns summer reading and they assigned two books for the incoming 8th graders: Great Expectations and The Last of the Mohicans. Then there is always The Hobbit or maybe Frankenstein. Hugs!!

    Jeanne

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  5. I’m with the twins and their beliefs. Let them read what they want to read! There are so many good young adult fiction books today that are so much better than the books that I used to teach. I remember teaching Steinbeck’s The Pearl:
    “I am a man, ” Kino proudly said. Then he picked up a rock and hit his wife in the head. Can’t beat the classics! For eighth graders I recommend they read The Scorpio Races! A beautiful love story about flesh-eating seahorses that live in the ocean. I kid you not.
    How about Wonder? or Out of My Mind for characters who overcome obstacles? Speaking of overcoming obstacles, I love your blog! Enough rambling. Here’s a website with some recommended current YA fiction: https://www.writingconference.com/heartlan_finalist.htm Loved “Revolution” and “Positive.”
    Blah, classics.
    Peace to you, Michelle.

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  6. Michelle,

    I love your blog! I always struggle with “requiring” classics in my class because, oftentimes, reluctant readers will be even MORE reluctant to read if they have to slough through a classic they don’t like. That being said, they will read To Kill a Mockingbird this year, and it remains one of my all time favorites (I first read it in 9th grade). Some of my favorite novels are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Persuasion by Jane Austen, both classics in their own right, but I know that I enjoyed them partly because I read them later in life, so I don’t often recommend them to my students. I am a big proponent of reading what you love and what makes you happy, and that may or may not include classics!

    Kristen (Kaufmann) Blackton

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    • Thanks for your comments, Kristen. I love your philosophy about reading what you love and hope you can help the twins with some recommendations. I’ll also look forward to reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” with my girls this year. I read it in high school but that so very long ago!

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  7. Buck! Late to the party, as usual, but thought I’d throw out “My Side of the Mountain,” which is a standout from my childhood. I’ve saved my copy for Truman, and we’ve tried to read it together a couple of times, but either it’s too soon or it may not be for him. (Sigh) I’m thinking Syd might like it if she hasn’t tried it already. By the girls’ age I was reading Judy Blume’s “Are You There God…?” and sneaking Blume’s “Forever,” which you probably don’t want them reading yet! 🙂 Your comments about “And Then There Were None” make me want to revisit it!

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    • Buck! Thanks for the suggestions. I think reading Judy Blume was a rite of passage for most women in our age group! I remember feeling very grown up when I read “Are You there God… ” When I was writing this post I kept having flashbacks to our Russian literature class. I don’t think I’ll be recommending any Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky to my daughters, although I do still have most of the books we read and probably a lot of the Cliff Notes, too.

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  8. I’m late too but was also a big fan of ” Are You There, God…?” and others by Judy Blume. Also liked “Catcher in the Rye'” though couldn’t tell you now what it was about. I am interested to see what the required reading is these days. One that stuck with me from Senior AP english is “The Scarlet Letter” – I’d be surprised if they are still reading that one.

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  9. I need to re-read some of these too. But I loved Wrinkle in Time so much I’m almost afraid to read it with my adult brain. It started my life long love of science fiction and was the first book to ever bring me to tears. I loved Megs quirky family, I wanted to be Murry! The story is just so unique and original, it stands alone in my mind. Great idea to bring out some classic books to revisit!

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  10. Thought of another classic for when your girls are in high school: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk (The Caine Mutiny.) When I read it in high school, I was caught up in the romanticism of it and the hope of having my own “morningstar” years. When I re-read it a few years ago with my book group, I enjoyed it all over again but from a completely different perspective — appreciating having had my “morningstar” years and very content with my quiet, family-centered life now.

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