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What to read--classic or contemporary fiction?

by Miriam Downey 7. November 2014 16:55




As I was growing up, I read just about anything that was put into my hands or that I got from the library. Mostly I loved to read the stuff that all kids love--humor, mysteries, and as a middle grader, teenage romances. Generally, I skipped the classics, although I did read a lot of illustrated classics comic books. My all time favorite book, however, is a classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain for school, and I read all of Shakespeare's plays at some time or another for classes I took. But in general, I was and I remain, a best seller reader.

Which brings me to the topic of whether children should read classic or popular literature. Which is better? If your child is choosing between Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, of course it would be better that they read Charlotte's Web. But if your child is choosing between Captain Underpants and the PlayStation, Captain Underpants would be the better choice.

The argument over classic or popular literature for children was the theme of a recent article in The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead. She quoted the famous children's author Neil Gaimon, who said that he didn't think that there was such a thing as a bad book for children. "Fiction is a 'gateway drug' to reading. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories."

Mead uses the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan as her example. These are a series of novels written for middle grade students about a boy who is half Greek God and half mortal. Children not only read a great story line, but they also learn about Greek Mythology. She acknowledges that these are extremely popular books, but she hesitates to call them classic books. She uses as an example the Greek Mythology book that Riordan has put together about Greek Gods and contrasts it with D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. The D'Aulaires' book could be classified as classic literature for children, while the Riordan book is full of 21st century conversation and slang.

So--what to read? Here is a list of 100 of the best children's books, and I would suggest that you start here. Perhaps for every book your child picks out at the library, you pick one out from this list. Some of these books have been around for a very long time, and some are relatively new. All of them could be classified as classic children's books.

New York Public Library list of 100 Great Children's Books.

The article by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker


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