Hooked on Classics: Introducing Your Children to Literature
Reading with Your Kids
By Tammy McKillip
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"When we think of favorite books from our own childhoods, it all kind of blends into one period of time, and we don't remember how old we were when we read Black Beauty or Ramona," Marino says. "Books like Huckleberry Finn and Little Women are really meant to be read by older children, in the seventh or eighth grades. If a book is given to a child who's too young for it, they'll find it difficult to read, and they won't want to go back to it later. A smart parent or teacher will hold off on a book until a child reaches the right reading level and maturity level for those books."
For parents who want their children to have access to classic literature without feeling overwhelmed by the books' vocabulary or complexity, many publishers, such as Random House and Sterling Publishing, offer series of abridged versions of the more popular children's classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Count of Monte Cristo, Little Women, Treasure Island, and Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
But Sockol-Frye says parents shouldn't turn up their noses at modern children's literature, since works such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and Christopher Paolini's Eragon series appear destined to become the classics of tomorrow and have already wooed a whole new generation of pleasure readers.
Reading with Your Kids
Marino says that it's important for parents to continue reading to their children—even those who read well on their own—because it offers a forum for discussion on a range of topics that a child might not otherwise come to their parents to talk about.
For example, some parents hesitate to let their children read classics containing violent themes or controversial issues, yet it's precisely these types of books that provide an opportunity for educating a child, says Marino.
"A book like Little House on the Prairie, for example, can be troublesome because of its Eurocentric views," she says. "I see that as a teachable moment for the parent to talk about what goes on in the book. It's the same thing for the Mark Twain books. The parent or teacher needs to discuss these issues and the period of history in which the books were written and what prompted the author to write in the way that he or she did. I think classic books can be a valuable tool in dealing with issues from violence to racism."
Cindy Read, senior director for the National Center for Family Literacy, agrees that in addition to choosing good books for your child, reading to your children is healthy. She says this practice develops more than just kids' brains—it creates an emotional bond with the family and sets the foundation for a lifetime of learning.
"Books are a wonderful place to go to build togetherness in your family and to have quiet, nurturing time with your children… it gives you an opportunity to communicate because the children will ask questions," says Read. "Research shows that the conversation you have with your children–the back and forth about interesting subjects using not just directive language, but rich language–is very important in building literacy. Every time you introduce children to new books and information, you're just expanding their world."