Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beloved Books for Lovely Readers

Why should my child read the classics? More importantly, how do I encourage them to do so? The main reason for reading the classics that I hear is that they are high quality literature, which of course they are, but what does that mean to our little readers? I would argue that the 5 main reasons to read the classics are as follows:
  1. Improve  Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking Skills: It is almost common sense that more reading will lead to improved reading skills. It's just like exercise, the more you practice, the better you'll be. If you ask most authors, they will tell you that they improved their writing by reading more books. In fact many books mention other books that may have been important to the author. For example, Twilight's main character Bella mentions that Wuthering Heights is one of her favorite books. No doubt this was mentioned because the author of the book enjoyed Wuthering Heights. The biggest difference between any old book and a classic is the challenge the book presents and the big world questions they explore. These aspects in particular will truly stretch reading and writing skills while they also stretch critical thinking.
  2. Relate to Older Generations: Classics have been loved by many many generations. This is how they have come to be known as classic literature. When children read the classics, they will be able to better understand the culture of the times they are reading about, but also be able to talk about these books with older members of their family. Parents and grandparents can share with their children the memories of reading these books and the feelings they gave them leading to wonderful relationships.
  3. Increase Vocabulary: When having kids find "just right books" we tell them to choose a book in which they know most of the words. Why not all? Because we want the kids to learn more words. Classic literature often uses more challenging language, so it naturally leads to an increase in vocabulary as students use context clues or even the good old dictionary to come to an understanding of these new words.
  4. Improve Intelligence and Earning Potential: In the words of Dr. Suess, "The more you read, the more you will know. The more that you know, the more places you'll go!" When students read more books they are increasing their knowledge. When students read classic literature they are gaining more knowledge from a quality source. People with a higher intelligence often make more money. So it can be gathered that the more you read, the higher your earning potential. Why not start building intelligence while still in school?
  5. Understand Literary References: Lastly, we often hear or read literary references, like "Don't be a Scrooge" or "Well, it's kind of a catch-22.", without realizing that these actually are literary references. When we read classics we become more aware of the things we hear, read, and say and where they came from. This makes it easier to understand the books we are reading and the people we are talking to.
Ok, great, so we have reasons to read the classics, but how do we get our kids interested in reading them? Here are some suggestions:
  1. Read to Your Child: I've previously mentioned this in my blog post on helping your child to improve their reading skills, and it's worth saying again, reading to your child is something you should do as long as they will allow you. A bed time story helps children and adults to wind down and relax. Reading to your child models fluency in reading and allows for discussions of what was read. I remember my mother reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie to my sister and I when we were young. Those memories are treasures.
  2. Read with Your Child: Just like reading to your child, reading with your child can help to improve reading skills and encourage a love of reading. Both of these are great ways for you to share your favorite books with your children. Why not take turns reading maybe you can take every other paragraph, page, or chapter? You could start with a simple book like AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books or any of Roald Dahl's fantasy wonders.
  3. Start with Illustrated Abridged Versions: I remember when I was younger getting a copy of the Great Illustrated Classics version of Great Expectations. I absolutely loved the book and reread it many times. As I got older, my love for the book led me to read the original version which I loved just as much. This series of illustrated classics is still available on Amazon. Usborne books also recently published a set of illustrated abridged classics for kids that are amazing in quality.
  4. Try Graphic Novel Versions: Graphic Novels are some of the most popular books in our school library. The comic book format easily draws in reluctant readers which explains why so many novels are having companion graphic novels made out of them. The graphic novel format is also helpful when trying to follow along and understand the story. 
  5. Connect the Classic to a Modern Book: As I said before, authors often mention books within their stories. One way to connect a classic to a modern book would be making note of these mentions while reading a modern book and reading the classics mentioned after. Often you can make connections between the story line of the two books. Another way to make connections would be to pair modern remakes of a book with the original. For example, A Tale Dark and Grimm or The Sisters Grimm could be paired with the original Grimm's Fairy Tales,  or for teens, you could pair Pride & Prejudice with Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies.
  6. Watch the Movie as a Reward for Finishing the Books: When the weather is icky like it has been lately, what would be better than a movie night? Many of the classic novels we love have been turned into movies or TV miniseries. Why not use the movie as an incentive for reading the book. When you finish the book you can curl up with a blanket and some popcorn and watch a movie. A great example would be to read A Jungle Book  and then watch either the old animated Disney version or the beautifully done updated version of the movie. After watching the movie you can compare it to the book, which in turn improves critical thinking.

Further Reading:
Buchanan, J. (2013). How—and why—to encourage your kids to read classic literature. Retrieved from

Carlyle, R. (2015, March 17). Hooked on classics: Top tips to get your children to read quality books. Express. Retrieved from

Chen, G. (2015). Why read the classics? Retrieved from

Kersten, K. (2009, September 19). Katherine Kersten: Why students should read the classics. Star Tribune. Retrieved from

Leigh, J. (2016). 10 reasons you should be reading the classics. Retrieved from

Richardson, H. (2015, September 26), Do children still need to read the classics of English literature? BBC. Retrieved from