Why Read the Classics?

I love to see what’s new in the world of children’s literature, and I’m so excited about the new ebook revolution with its possibilities and opportunities for new authors.  But I am and always will be a great proponent of the classics.  These are stories that have stood the test of time.  They became classics because they had something fresh or valuable to say, something worthy of remembering and passing on.  Because they’ve been told over and over – some to generations of children – they have entwined themselves with the definition of our culture.   Becoming familiar with such works is part of becoming educated in one’s own heritage.

Drawing on several sources, I’ve created a list of classic children’s stories.  I cut off my list at 1977, but we must remember, children will define their own classics.  Stories that are being written now will long hold a place in their hearts.  They will be passed down from our children to our grandchildren with fond memories.  This list could be added to every year.

Earlier than 1900 – These are what experts tend to agree on as the most noteworthy in history, those we should be familiar with on an academic basis. They are included on high school and college reading lists. They have become stories for adults more than for children, due to the challenges of passing time and changing language. Yet they are still a valuable source of adventure and imagination and history. I’d recommend them as read-alouds, so parent and children might enjoy them together.

  • Arabian Nights
  • Aesop’s Fables
  • Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe – 1719
  • Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift – 1726
  • Tales of Mother Goose – Charles Perrault – 1729 (English)
  • The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann Rudolf Wyss – 1812-3
  • The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – E. T. A. Hoffman – 1816
  • Ivanhoe – Walter Scott – 1819
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Washington Irving – 1819  Review
  • Rip Van Winkle – Washington Irving – 1820
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – 1823 (English)
  • The Night Before Christmas – Clement Clarke Moore – 1823
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo – 1831
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens – 1843
  • The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas, père – 1844
  • Fairy Tales – Hans Christian Andersen – 1846 (English)
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne – 1864
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll – 1865
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott – 1868
  • Lorna Doone – R. D. Blackmore – 1869
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne – 1870  Review
  • At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald – 1871
  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald – 1871
  • Through the Looking-Glass – Lewis Carroll – 1871
  • Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne – 1873  Review
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain – 1876
  • Black Beauty – Anna Sewell – 1877
  • The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Howard Pyle – 1883
  • Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson – 1883
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain – 1884
  • Heidi – Johanna Spyri – 1884 (English)
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi – 1891 (English)
  • The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling – 1894

After 1900 – These are stories more dear to a modern reader’s heart. They are the tales today’s adults grew up reading, which haven’t passed quite so far into memory. These also make wonderful read-alouds, but they are much easier for a child to pick up and read alone. And for a child, they are still historical.

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum – 1900
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter – 1902
  • The Call of the Wild – Jack London – 1903  Review
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Kate Douglas Wiggin – 1903
  • Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie – 1904
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett – 1905
  • White Fang – Jack London – 1906
  • Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery – 1908
  • The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame – 1908
  • The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – 1909/1911
  • The Lost World – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – 1912
  • Pollyanna – Eleanor H. Porter – 1913
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle – Hugh Lofting – 1920
  • The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  • Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne – 1926
  • Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder – 1935
  • The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien – 1937
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Richard and Florence Atwater – 1938
  • Curious George – H. A. Rey – 1941
  • The Black Stallion – Walter Farley – 1941
  • The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – 1943
  • Homer Price – McCloskey, Robert – 1943
  • Johnny Tremain – By Esther Forbes – 1943
  • Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren – 1945
  • Big Red – Jim Kjelgaard – 1945
  • The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge – 1946
  • Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown – 1947
  • Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry – 1947
  • King of the Wind – Henry, Marguerite – 1948
  • The Door in the Wall – de Angeli, Marguerite – 1949
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis – 1950
  • Pippi Longstocking – Lindgren, Astrid – 1950
  • Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White – 1952
  • The Borrowers – By Mary Norton – 1953
  • Old Yeller – Fred Gipson – 1956
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Speare, Elizabeth George – 1958
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell, Scott – 1960
  • The Cricket in Times Square – Selden, George – 1960
  • Where the Red Fern Grows – Rawls, Wilson – 1961
  • James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl – 1961
  • A Wrinkle in Time – L’Engle, Madeleine – 1962
  • The Book of Three – By Lloyd Alexander Holt – 1964
  • Harriet the Spy – Fitzhugh, Louise – 1964
  • The Black Cauldron – Alexander, Lloyd – 1965
  • Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl – Frank, Anne – 1967
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – Konigsburg, E. L. – 1967
  • Ramona the Pest – Cleary, Beverly – 1968
  • Sounder – Armstrong, William – 1969  Review
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – By Robert C. O’Brien – 1971
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Robinson, Barbara – 1972
  • Caddie Woodlawn – Brink, Carol Ryrie – 1973
  • Tuck Everlasting – By Natalie Babbitt. Farrar – 1975
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Taylor, Mildred – 1976
  • The Incredible Journey – Burnford, Sheila – 1977
  • Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson – 1977  Review

10 thoughts on “Why Read the Classics?

  1. My mom started to give me classic books (-like the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood or Around the World in 80 Days) because those books were more challenging to read for me and they usually have a really good story with no curse words or a lot of violence. They are more challenging because the words in them are not like we speak, my mom calls it more formal. I think that is another good reason to have kids read classics. I try to have one classic book that I am reading with one or two younger books. Roght now I am reading 20000 leagues under the sea.

  2. No kidding! Jules Verne? I’m reading Around the World in 80 Days at the moment. I’m very impressed! And I agree with all of your above statements. It’s why I read some of the classics with my kids. I think I would like your mom. 🙂

  3. I really liked Around the world in 80 days. I reviewed it on my blog. The classic books take a lot longer for me to read. They are a lot harder. That’s why I like getting them on my kindle. It has a built in dictionary so it makes it easy to look up words I don’t know. My mom said her favorite Jules Verne book is Journey to the center of the Earth. What book is your favorite from your list?

    1. I’d have to say Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I thrilled with the abridged version I heard as a child, and as an adult, I just love Irving’s picturesque writing style. I find the comedy in it now, where I only appreciated the shivers as a kid.

      But Jack London’s “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild” are two even greater favorites that I can’t believe I overlooked! I’m going to have to add them. I read them each at least 6 times growing up.

      I love my Kindle, too. As soon as I finish “Around the World” (on my Kindle :)) and review it for myself, I’m going to read yours. I’m almost done.

  4. Here’s a link for a free Sleepy Hollow Kindle download I found. http://www.amazon.com/Legend-Sleepy-Hollow-ebook/dp/B000JQUJHO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1308159745&sr=1-1

    Erik, would you be interested in reviewing my book “Broken Ladders” on your blog for me? It’s Civil War historical fiction ages 10+. It’s book two in a series, so I haven’t been able to get many reviewers. But it’s a stand alone book totally separate from the first one. They’re only linked by their Civil War theme. I’ll send you a free MOBI download to sideload to your Kindle. Again, no time limit. I’ve just been so impressed with your blog and your intelligent conversation. I talked you up and posted a link to your blog on my facebook page, so you might be getting a few extra hits.

  5. Sure that would be cool! I really like historical fiction. Do you need my address or email? Thanks for the link to sleepy hollow. I am reading the book now that I wanted to do the guest review for your site -Jack Blank Imagine Nation AKA The Accidental Hero. You haven’t reviewed that one on your blog have you?

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