Mark Twain satirically defined “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” However, Oscar Wilde suggested that “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” While Twain may have recognized a too-common reality of human nature, Wilde revealed a beautiful reality of fine literature.
Stories that stand the test of time—and impart new ideas and meanings with each re-reading—usually share important characteristics. In “Introduction to Children’s Literature Classics”, it says, “Stories teach children how to cope with life’s challenges. They provide a trial run of life’s possibilities. They also transmit the accumulated wisdom and values of our culture. Children learn through models and heroes.”
Both younger children and pre-teens benefit in big ways from the rich lessons and vocabulary of classics. In a post to About Parenting by Rebecca Fraser Thill, titled, “Developmental Benefits of Reading Literature: Reading Literature Benefits ‘Tweens’ Development in a Variety of Ways,” she writes: “Studies show that most tweens struggle with reading comprehension. In addition, they are still becoming familiar with common word patterns and meanings of words. Since reading skills are vitally important for excelling in all other subjects - from history to science to math - tweens need to continue to be exposed to high-quality literature in order to develop their reading abilities.”
The benefits and importance of literature continue into adulthood. In 2012 Michigan State University’s MSU Today, in “Reading the Classics: It’s More Than Just Fun,” reported on the research of Natalie Phillips, an MSU assistant professor of English. She and her team “placed [adult] study participants in an MRI machine and monitored their brain flow while reading the works of Jane Austen.” They found that “blood flow was increased in areas of the brain far beyond those responsible for what cognitive scientists call ‘executive function,’ regions normally associated with tasks that require close attention, such as studying, doing complex math problems or reading intensely.” Phillips observed that “It’s not only the books we read, but also the act of thinking rigorously about them that’s of value, exercising the brain in critical ways.”
Melissa Thibault, writing for Learn NC (from the U of North Carolina School of Education), in “Children’s Literature Promotes Understanding” and expounding on the value of literature from a different angle, addressed teachers, but her suggestions should resonate for parents. She noted that “Using children’s literature, teachers can help their class through difficult situations, enable individual students to transcend their own challenges, and teach students to consider all viewpoints, respect differences, and become more self-aware.” She added: “Two approaches will help you get the most out of children’s literature: bibliotherapy, which uses books to help children deal with specific situations; and building critical literacy, the ability to consider various points of view.” She further suggested that sharing and discussing lit with kids can also spark important discussions about tough issues.
Clearly, helping kids of every age read and embrace stories of depth has far-reaching benefits. Choose from a wide variety of classics for kids and tweens, ranging from Start-to-Read! storybooks such as Jog, Frog, Jog, A Different Tune, and Peter’s Dream, to beloved traditional stories such as Swiss Family Robinson, The Last of the Mohicans, and David Copperfield. Encourage reading classics. Then re-reading them.
As Wilde suggested, a book worth reading, is worth reading again and again.