Classic Literature Inspires Children

Posted by Mom on September 23, 2016

Good books inspire a person to higher living and deserves a place of honour within a home. While many of these edifying books were penned over a century ago and are referred to as Classical Literature, their value in moulding a person’s character remains steadfast.

Boy Reading Adventure Story,
Norman Rockwell, 1923

Sadly, I missed out on many classics during my formative early years. It was only while working to amass a growing collection of literature for my children that I came to realize what I had missed. Through my own ignorance, and that of the education system in which I was placed, I was missing out on some of the best elements of western culture. If I wanted my children to read and enjoy the literary classics, I needed to crack open some of these tomes and make up for lost time.

My first memory of exposure to classic literature was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was a gift from my aunt that I remember starting but never finishing because I did not find the story interesting enough to continue reading. If you are familiar with the story, I think I stopped a few chapters in, somewhere through the explanation of Sara’s life as a student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary.

Looking back, I probably stopped because I was not used to reading or listening to children’s literature. If my parents read classic literature to me, I would have had an appetite for the stories – my mind would have been awakened by the ideas of courage, perseverance and adventure that so many of these stories contain. I would have known how inspiring Living Books truly were and would have acquired a taste for finer literature. Don’t misunderstand, my parent’s did read to me – my mom read a lot! But being the eldest of four, I soon outgrew the storybooks that appealed to my younger siblings. A love of listening to stories had kindled my desire to read for myself, and inspired my adolescent self to find my own reading material. At that point in time, my taste for literature was already on its way to refinement; I did not choose to read sensational books, but rather historical fiction, and specifically, christian historical fiction.

Now that I am reading children’s literature with my daughters, I am finally discovering stories and characters I had only a vague awareness of, if at all. And taking the advice of other Charlotte Mason educators, I am reading the original, unabridged stories. Yes, the stories are longer and full of big words and some out-of-date language, but by reading the books as they were intended to be read, the nuances of the characters tell much fuller and richer stories than you would find in the simplified, abridged versions

The classics are full or moral lessons and case studies of human nature. By spending the time with a book’s characters; by following along with them as they struggle with moral issues within themselves; by observing these characters’ interaction with others; and by seeing the whole of the story and the consequences of these same characters’ choices, we have models to either emulate or abhor. Such material is invaluable for teaching children.

I am holding to Miss Mason’s claim that by giving children an atmosphere filled with the best in artwork, music, and literature, the children will develop a taste for quality and an appreciation for the beauty of true artistic, musical, or literary genius. To this end, we are working to fill our home library with literary classics. I plan to enjoy most of these books myself before I pass them onto my children. Here is list of some of the titles I have recently had the joy of discovering:

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
Emma (Jane Austen)
Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Little Men (Louisa May Alcott)
Lorna Doone (R.D. Blackmore)
Hard Times (Charles Dickens)
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

… and some of the titles I enjoyed reading with my daughters include:

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
Robin Hood (Howard Pyle)
The Princess and the Goblins (George MacDonald)
Little Duke (Charlotte Mary Yonge)
Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher)
Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
The Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)
Pinocchio (Carlo Collodi)
Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)

To the home educator classic literature is a priceless resource to impart lessons that are best learnt through (another’s) experience. To me, the reading of classics is an advancement in cultural refinement and personal wisdom. The classics really are that – classic! They deserve to be treasured possessions in our home.