How To Change Your Children’s Mind About the Classics

I LOVE to read. Like, “This book is too good to put down and I don’t care if I have to stay up all night to finish it”, love to read.

My Grandparents used to own a used bookstore. When they shuttered its doors, they brought a lot of the books to their home. I remember visiting their home as a young child and almost every wall in their home was covered in books. A bibliophile’s wonderland.

When they would come to visit they would bring boxes of books for my siblings and I. (But really I viewed them as MY books!) It was my Grandmother who introduced me to the world of Nancy Drew, from Nancy Drew I went to Agatha Christie and once I found those books I was a voracious reader ever after in many different genres. I still enjoy a good mystery though. At the age of 12, I was reading classics- Like most of the works of Charles Dickens. I lived in the worlds created for me by amazing and talented authors.

I firmly believe this quote attributed to Emilie Buchwald, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.” Many were the nights my parents would read books to us as we crowded around listening eagerly. To this day, in order to go to sleep at night, I put an audiobook on my phone, put in my earbuds and listen to a story as I fall asleep. This brings back so many fond memories of books I shared with my parents as they read to our family. Most of us left home as bibliophiles.

As I matured, I saved all those favorite books to one day share with my future children I hoped to one day have. (When I got married, I moved in with 11 boxes of books…) Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little House on the Prairie and SO many more sat on my shelves for many years waiting to share them with those hoped for children. Every few years I’d pull them down and get lost in the adventures spilling out of their pages again.

Fast forward many years and I have two beautiful children.  Both of them have had issues with learning to read. They are finally reading and reading well after many difficult years and lots of tears as we went through the long adventure of learning to read with both of them.

I have never been a great fan of poetry, but I wanted to expose my kids to it and let them make their own decisions. When they were tiny, I purchased children’s poetry books and read the poems to them. They couldn’t get enough. They kept asking for more. A.A. Milne became a favorite and my own regard for poetry started to grow.

But… any book I recommend now that they can read on their own, they are adamant, cannot be any good. Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants wins hands down every time over my classic literature. They refuse any of the books on my bookcases, that my husband lovingly made for me. The books I had so carefully curated, and passionately held on to.

I was devastated. How could MY children not like these books?

Remember what your Librarian used to say. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

I was not about to be outwitted, however. For every book, they refused and said looked awful, I would wait a month or two and then find it on an audiobook. Then as we drive around we listen to my treasured memories. We have gone through many adventures in this way.

Both, with the “Sarah Plain and Tall” series by Patricia McLaughlin and the “My Side of the Mountain” series by Gene Craighead George, my daughter gobbled them up. When we finished the first book, she looked up the sequels and read them. After finishing My Side of The Mountain, she adamantly declared, “No! It can’t end there!”

This year my son connected with The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson. There were some silent moments after those stories ended and then deep conversations as we discussed the very visceral developments in the books.

Especially in the case of my son, the public library has now become one of his all-time favorite places. Every week we go there and find new adventures to go on. When he was 3, there was a trip to the library that will forever go down in infamy. He didn’t want to leave his favorite place and he was going to do everything he could to stay. And I mean everything. It took the librarian, the security guard, and myself to catch his energetic body. The library is his kingdom. His second home.

“Knowledge about and love of literacy can develop only through experience. Children should own books, should have access to books in their preschool and primary classrooms, should read often, and should see others reading and writing.”

-Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success

My children still steadfastly refuse to read anything from my bookcases. You would think they would have learned by now after loving the books I pick on audiobooks, that Mom knows best… But I’m getting the upper hand by sharing my favorite books with them through audiobooks and because- I get to enjoy them all over again.

The National Research Council states, “If we as a society are to prevent reading difficulties among the current generation of children in America, we must provide them with opportunities to:

  • explore the many uses and functions of written language and develop mastery of them,
  • understand, learn, and use the relationships between the spelling of words and the sounds of speech to recognize and spell written words,
  • practice and enhance vocabulary, language and comprehension skills,
  • have adults read to them and discuss and react to literature,
  • experience enthusiasm, joy, and success in learning to read and write,
  • use reading and writing as tools for learning,
  • receive effective intervention programs as early as possible if they are at risk for potential reading difficulties, and
  • receive effective intervention and remediation programs, well integrated with their everyday classroom activities, as soon as they have difficulty.”

-Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success

There are all kinds of ways to expose our children to literature. There isn’t really a wrong way. Just do it. Don’t forget the importance of writing either. Writing is an important part of the process as well as children learn the creative process of forming the letter, and then the letters into words, and then the words into thoughts. That is a true gift, to be able to express oneself in the written word for all to read and comprehend.

I’m going to give them a couple more years before I introduce them to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. And I can’t wait to introduce them to my favorite- Gene Stratton-Porter. I think they are finally old enough for one of my favorite books of hers, I just need to find it on audiobook so they will actually listen to it.

Take a minute and remember what books you loved as a child. Which ones made your imagination soar? The ones you couldn’t put down? These are the ones you will want to target first. Out of that list, and knowing your child’s personality, which ones do you think they would enjoy best? Make a plan to either get a hard copy or audio copy and spend time with your child re-exploring the magic of the chosen book.

Make sure your children have ready access to all kind of books. Yes, even those you despise because developing a love of reading is more important in the early years. When they are little, read those books over and over that they request. This helps with word acquisition, recognition, and comprehension.

Spend time together discussing the books that you have read together, or their favorite or most recent read. This teaches them that reading is important and valuable. You are giving them your whole attention which makes them feel loved which in turn makes them feel that reading is something they should do more often and is enjoyable.

Find books you love to read and let your children see you reading. Your example speaks volumes to them. Share age appropriate insights with them, this peaks their interest to learn more about the books you like, and the world in general.

My children will keep resisting, but good books will win out. So I’ll keep reading to them, playing audiobooks, and offering the best that literature can offer until one day they pick up a book off my bookshelves and say, “What’s this book about Mom?”

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