Classics for kids?

Our library had one of those book sales, you know, the awesome 3 day kind where you can find really good stuff for under $2.00. I LOVE these kind of book sales, and spent over 20 bucks and felt happy about the 15 books I got with the money. Ahh, more books to pack, yipee! One of the books we got for a quarter was an Illustrated Classic Edition of _The Three Musketeers_. My BIL has read these kinds of books to his young children, and he recommended them. We read the Illustrated Classic version of_The Call of the Wild_ to Jacob, and he loved it. Nature, ice and snow, a little bit of animal violence--what's not to love? He seemed equally excited when he saw the Disneyesque picture of 3 dashing soldiers on the front of this cover of Dumas' Classic. I felt like a virtuous parent for buying it for him, and even more virtuous when the kid sat through the first 30 pages of it, no wiggling at all. Woohoo, we have an attention span, people! Note: I have never actually read _The Three Musketeers_. I saw it performed on stage when I was in high school, and faked a good enough book report from the play to pass it in for freshman English. Needless to say, I don't remember much. And that was my big mistake. Anyway, I figured it would have some violence-Musketeers are, after all, soldiers, but I hoped it wouldn't be too bad, and thought we could handle it. I was unprepared, however, for the adultery. Yeah, adultery. Queens falling in love with Dukes and giving him the King's diamonds, D'Artagnan having something going on the side with a married woman, who he drops like a soiled dishrag the minute Milady DeWinter gives him a little nudge nudge and a wink wink, yaknowwhatImean? Jacob started asking questions like, "Why does that woman hate her husband?", and it was then I knew we had to stash that Illustrated Classic away for another time, perhaps. But this is Alexandre Dumas. I was supposed to read this as a 14 year old. It's supposed to be a classic. Why, then, did I feel like I was reading a trashy romance novel, sans the explicit sex? And I'm sure that the version without the Japination-like picture on every page was definitely a little more, shall we say, um, steamy? So, I'm a little perplexed. Aren't we supposed to encourage our children to read more advanced things? Aren't classics supposed to be good literature? I have to say, after this experience, we might be sticking with Clifford the Big Red Dog for quite a while. Any thoughts on if classical literature is actually inappropriate? And please, no sermons on how Dumas was probably the wrong guy to go with at this age. I have definitely learned my lesson. Unrelated side note: Jacob has just informed me that the Lindt Truffles that DH got me for Mother's Day look just like the Death Star. And, upon further inspection, I discover he is absolutely right. Screw Dumas, I'm sticking with George Lucas.


Anonymous Matt Jacobsen said...

I'm sure the right kinds of classics are great for kids. I don't think it's bad to talk or read about situations in life that are not good -- like not all husbands love their wives or vice versa. Is D'Artagnan's love life more devastating than Anakin Skywalker's turn to the dark side?

It is nice to know ahead of time what you're going to read, though. That way you can prepare the proper discussion or re-word certain sections (especially useful for kids who can't read yet).

I don't think literature classics are that much worse than our own scriptures. My 2-year-old boys sum up King David's family life with, "Don't sleep with Bathsheeba" and, "Absalom got stuck in a tree." The Old Testament has raised more chastity questions than anything else I've read or seen with my older girls.

5/15/2006 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger a. nonny spouse said...

(I'm a former high school English teacher. There. That's my disclaimer.)

Ahhh, the classics. Timeless, moralless, amazing. And while it's true that holy writ contains the same kinds of sin and problems that other literature does (and here is the part where I apologize for the ensuing blasphemy), authors of "classics" often have the upper hand by being, well, engaging writers.

I am also concerned about what to read to my baby as he gets older so as to lull him into an insatiable love of reading. The problem lies in the pronoun: he's a boy. He's not going to want to read Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables.

So here's what I'm thinking. There're the dog books (Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Jack London in general); Ender's Game, as we all know, is fabulous (too violent? I can't remember) and is pretty much on its way to classic status for the YA market; Chris Lynch is a fantastic young adult author--probably around the same difficulty as the illustrated classics; Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are clean and definitely considered classics; The Great Brain books are hardly classics, but they're pretty fun; and after that I'm about stumped.

I'm thinking. I'm thinking hard. If I come up with anything else, I'll be back.

5/15/2006 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Dog books are good. Ender is good too, but it does have some violent parts that are disturbing, not so much because of what happens, but because why Ender does what he does. I love that book, though, so I would hope Jacob would, too.

5/15/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

And Matt, thanks for your comment. Certainly the scriptures portray some pretty yucky stuff. But the difference between D'Artagnan and Darth Vadar are pretty clear--Darth Vadar is undeniably evil, the bad guy, the master of darkness. Dark is evil and light is good. But D'Artagnan is actually supposed to be the good guy--and yet he's having an affair with two women? Do good guys do that? It's the ambiguity and the subtlety about the situation that, while not lost on Jacob, put me at a loss to explain them appropriately to him at his age.

5/15/2006 07:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Tiffany said...

I remember reading Tess of the D'Ubervilles as a sophomore in high school. Has anyone else read that of their own choice? Classic, well written, etc. However, it left me with such a pervasive feeling of melancholy that I had to ask for a dealine extension for the paper. Every time I would start to analyze Tess's guilt for everything that was done to her and SO not her fault, I would break down into heaving fits of tears. I knew way too many friends that had, tradgecly, experienced similar guilt for similar crimes commited in their families. But for all its grit and grime, I am such a better person for taking the time to try to understand the characters.

I think it's all about the time and place and maturity for what books to encourage. I loved Jules Verne as a fifth grader, but I think that is pretty early for a lot of kids. But hey, they're all great for boys! "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" is a great starter. Hardy Boys were my brother's favorite, and seem decently tame.

5/15/2006 09:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt Jacobsen said...

Heather - Just explain to Jacob that even though most of D'Artagnan's actions seem to be good, he is really a bad guy at heart. His arrogance and womanizing lead him to the dark side, when he eventually becomes The Man in the Iron Mask.


5/15/2006 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous dangermom said...

I finally got around to reading "The three musketeers" at around 25, and came to the conclusion that I should have read it at 15. They annoyed me so much! All the stupid spoiled-toddler antics drove me crazy.

Let's see, some good books/classics to read to young boys...how about these?
Moomintroll books, Tove Jansson
Mortimer books, Joan Aiken
The mouse and the motorcycle, Beverly Cleary
Green Knowe books, L. M. Boston
North to freedom (aka I am David), Anne Holm (maybe 8 and up)

Ask your friendly neighborhood children's librarian; they're great at this stuff.

5/16/2006 12:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Wanderingrose said...

I read so many of classics, in the Readers Digest Best Loved Books for Young People Versions, as a child, , and have been reading them to my children.

But I flipped through the unabridged version of a Tree Grows in Brooklyn recently and was appalled, I could never read this to my kids! I do not even want to read it myself.

My son read the Giver in school, and was heart broken, he cried all evening over it.

He is in 8th grade but incredably tenderhearted and somewhat imature. After we talked about it, I talked to the school and they said he could opt out, but he finished it anyway. It is one of those books that makes a point if you see it through and I am glad he did.

5/16/2006 01:04:00 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

I'm a fan of "the classics" and good children's books in general, but I've never understood the appeal of The Three Musketeers. I think it's meant for an older audience than a preschooler, though.

A. Nonny Mouse, I had the same questions about "boy books." I posted a bleg for ideas at Kulturblog and my personal blog last summer, and got some really good responses. I hope you don't mind if I link the post from here, with all the really great suggestions, of course, in the comments:


Also, as a disclaimer, I'm not Bill, and Bill had nothing to do with that post. The archives got a little messy during a blog overhaul.

5/16/2006 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

...also, after reading all those suggestions, my husband remembered how much he loved The Phantom Tollbooth, featuring a great boy protagonist. He read it to our daughters as a bedtime book, and they both loved it too. Really good stuff, and the then-barely-five year old understood more than we thought she would.

5/16/2006 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Tigersue said...

I love the Three Musketeers, I read it when I was 14 or 15. That being said it is not a story for a young child. I think Dumas was showing what life could be like in that time period. That isn't excusing adultery, but I think it was fairly common. It is about the fellowship of men and what they are willing to do for each other, and also for the love of their country and there King and Queen. Probably the best adaptation of it would be the movies done in the 70's with Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, Oliver Reed, and Rachel Welch. They are slightly different from the book but the two movies are well done, The Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers. Again not for little children.

As for books for young boys, I love anything by Beverly Cleary, she makes me laugh with joy. My son also liked some books called Deltora Quest. Any kind of action and adventure they seem to enjoy alot.

5/16/2006 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5/16/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Thoroughly Mormon Millie said...

My 5th grade teacher read "My Brother Sam Is Dead" and "Across Five Aprils," books about boys growing up in wartime (Revolutionary and Civil). They were both excellent - "Sam" was a bit graphic. They were memorable enough that I checked them out just a few years ago, and read and enjoyed them again. "Aprils" was particularly powerful.

Have you checked into the LDS genre of boys' books? Hubby enjoyed "There's an Enemy Sub in Potter's Pond."

There's no getting away from the facts of life in good literature. My kids' favorite BOM story is about Ammon cutting off the arms of the robbers trying to steal King Lamoni's sheep. Go figure!

5/16/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous lizer said...

A couple of series that I think are clean and good for both boys and girls: My Father's Dragon and Encyclopedia Brown. Loved those and so did my brothers. The Borrowers are also a fun series, and anything by Beverly Cleary is good, whether they're about/for girls or boys--my husband loved the Ramona Quimby books as a kid.

It's interesting to see what books some parents consider appropriate and others inappropriate. It also depends on what the kid can handle. I loved the Boxcar Children books, for example, and read them from a very young age. My SIL is appalled by the story's concept, however, and her kids don't read them. Same SIL bought all the old Nancy Drews for her 9-year-old daughter, and after 2 books the daughter was scared to death and refused to continue.

Related story--My parents named my sister Phoebe after Holden Caulfield's sister in The Catcher in the Rye. When I was about 10 I decided it was time for me to read this family classic. My mom found me reading it and explained I wasn't old enough for it. I finally read it in high school 4 years later and even then (and even now) was a little stunned by the language and some of Holden's antics.

5/16/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous lizer said...

Almost forgot, Roald Dahl is also a great author for both girls and boys.

5/16/2006 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Ahh, yes. Those Illustrated Classics are great. Sullivan got King Arthur. Can't be anything wrong with that, right? Knights and swords and stuff? Like the Disney cartoon?

The book starts out with how Arthur is conceived when his father uses Merlin's magic to seduce a married noblewoman and knock her up. Who knew that our boy Arthur had such a colorful history? None of this stuff was in the Disney version!

(Arthur himself goes on to, among other things, sleep with his own aunt - who's married to another king - and get her pregnant. And that's _before_ the whole Guinever incident. Yep, gotta love the classics!)

5/16/2006 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I think the younger children are, the more black and white the characters need to be. Good people are good, and if they make a mistake they are sorry and repent.
The context of violence is important. Violence should be linked to good vs. evil.
Gray areas of life can be explored as a child gets older.
I don't think you should necessarily encourage reading material that is "older" in content. Vocabulary, yes, great. But themes? No.
I just had this conversation with a friend. Her 7th grader was reading books with 5th & 6th grade characters. I pointed out she was reading for fun, right? It was enjoyable, right? And maybe she identified more with a 6th grader than with "junior high" types of characters who were into boys and more "adult" themes.
Reading isn't just to make you think. It is also for enjoyment, or escape. It is a fantasy world where things turn out ok in the end, no matter what the problem was.
My eight year old daughter has suddenly become interested in TV shows that I think are too old for her. She doesn't need to see shows with junior high kids as main characters! I don't want her to grow up that fast. I shudder to think what she might pick up.
We changed our TV rules so that she understands her appropriate choices.
Choose books not just because the pictures tell you that it is age appropriate, but also if the language sounds beautiful, or if it increases vocabulary, or if the subject is something that interests your child.

5/16/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Lizer, Roald Dahl is a great choice. Some of his books are fairly dark, though, since he based most of the adult characters on his horrible abusive relatives (he was an orphan, IIRC, and got passed around alot throughout a miserable childhood). As such, I think Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, etc, would be better understood by slightly older kids, with plenty of discussion.

Re: Catcher in the Rye
Funny, my daughter is named Phoebe. My husband has loved that name ever since reading that book in high school. Our other daughter is Elizabeth (is that what Lizer is short for?). I don't know if anyone could read that book and decide Holden is a great name for a sweet baby boy.

5/16/2006 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger EmilyCC said...

These suggestions make me excited for the day when I can move beyond Moo, Baa, La, La, La and my son's truck book.

Heather, your story reminded me of an Enrichment night I did on children's literature a while ago. I couldn't find anyone to teach it, so I did it as the default (having no experience other than my own as a child). I put together a couple of reading lists from the internet and found out during Enrichment that one of the books on the teenage list had a sex scene and a masturbation scene in it. Boy, was my face red!

5/17/2006 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Those "Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites" series are good for young girls and boys.

Beverly Cleary is great, too.

When I read "Catcher in the Rye" at age 17, I was floored. I had never read such foul language in my life. Well, Jurassic Park was close. But the language ruined the entire book for me.

Classics, though, are hard to sift through because most of them are for older kids and young adults. I remember reading "A Tale of Two Cities" in the 9th grade. Maybe I was sheltered, or maybe I was naive, but I was so unprepared for the death. But I was grateful to learn at such a young age that death is inevetible. So maybe reading such classics could be good for young kids...who knows...

5/17/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous lizer said...

Allison: Eliza, actually, but close.

I agree re: the name Holden--poor misunderstood depressed crass Holden--although I guess as he got older you might forget the association. I had a friend in high school named Rhett Butler, however, and pretty much never could let go of the obvious association there.

Good point about Roald Dahl. I haven't read those in ages, I just remember loving them. I was probably at least 9 or 10 when I read them.

It's interesting how much of the "bad stuff" is left in classics for younger readers. I was going to mention I loved biographies for younger readers when I was a kid--although with those, too, I'd probably want to read them first before giving them to my kids.

One classic that I think I was too young for--or immature or whatever--when I read it for I think 8th or 9th grade English, was Lord of the Flies. I was pretty sheltered though. At any rate it gave me nightmares.

5/18/2006 02:23:00 PM  

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