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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Are Time Worn Children's Classics Still the Best?


I’m one of those people who cringes when I find out a book a kid has to read in school is the same book I had to read when I was in school 40 years ago. My first response in today’s lingo is, “Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me?”

So, really, seriously, are you kidding me that we can’t find something more contemporary than A Separate Peace (John Knowles), Huckleberry Finn, (Mark Twain), or even the beloved Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)?

Now before you get angry and stop reading my blog, hear me out. Those books are great and I’m not truly knocking them. But here we are as a nation trying to get our kids to read. So why are they consistently restricted to books from that long ago? Is The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) worse than Lord of the Flies (William Golding)? Are school boards lazy in approving new things? Or scared? Or both? Maybe they don’t read themselves and using a time worn list is easier and perhaps safer.

So, I’ve said all this to recommend, oddly enough, a book that’s truly ancient by today’s standards. It’s The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. A 1968 Newberry Award winner by E.L. Konigsburg, the plot is one you’ll recognize from your own childhood that continues forward today. It’s simple. Claudia decides to run away from home just long enough to teach her parents a lesson. She brings along her little brother, Jamie, because he’s a penny pincher and has money. The twist? Their destination and plan is to live inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which Claudia has cased better than any art thief.

I read the book in 2012 as an adult and was captivated. It has gone on the list of my all-time favorite children’s books. But my point is this. If a book isn’t relevant to today’s kids, they aren’t going to read it regardless of publication date. As parents, we’re more like bookies playing the odds, so we have to know what’s in the books. A book can be any genre and any age. But the odds of our children reading and enjoying books improve if they can see themselves in the shoes of the main character.

What’s your favorite kid’s book? Please leave a comment and let me know.

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