Classic Literature: There’s No Substitute

classic literature, novel

By now, in 2022, there are a few things about reading that we all know to be true:

1. Reading to our babies is important for brain development.
2. Reading aloud to toddlers fosters language development.
3. Reading every day builds vocabulary in children.
4. Good readers make better writers.

By now we’ve also heard the mantra that it doesn’t matter what they read as long as they are reading.

I agree…but only to a certain extent. While I believe that there is value to fan fiction and comic books for story arcs and imagination building, I also know that there is no replacement for classic literature in our children’s personal libraries.

Classic literature is, after all, well…classic! It has been judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality. Generations of people haven’t read these books and told their offspring not to waste their time. Professors haven’t taught them once and found them of little value to their pupils. On the contrary! The classics are the epitome of literature greatness with lasting artistic merit passed down from grandparents and educators.

Now, that is not something you get from Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

So, sure, let them read for pleasure and breeze through the Dork Diaries or The Fault in Our Stars for fun. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that classic literature is too difficult or that because it might take them longer to read – or require more concentration – that it’s not worth the trouble. When children finish a classic novel, they have been changed. Their vocabulary will change. Their world view will grow and their empathic voice will develop.

Still not convinced? Here are my top 10 reasons that every child should be reading the classics:

1. It’s a challenge

To move forward in any endeavor, we must challenge ourselves. To become better at tennis, we seek a tougher opponent. To become a better speller, we seek out harder, foreign words. Reading is no different. To improve your reading, you must also challenge yourself.

2. It will improve syntax and grammar. 

When we read words formatted in correct sequence and in proper diction, it becomes embedded in our brains. In today’s world of accepted “common usage”, words being added to the dictionary because they are so frequently used, or even grammar rules reflecting common errors that are now acceptable, classic literature is the one last foothold on proper syntax and grammar. It will never give in to our common usage accommodations.

3. It will improve concentration.

Yes, it’s true. Classic literature is not always easy. You can’t always fly through a book in a week or read it in a crowded airport with lots of background noise. In the beginning, you may need to focus and find yourself re-reading passages of detail and description. But the more you read good literature, the more your brain will concentrate willingly. Someone once told me the greatest analogy: Reading a classic novel is like eating a plateful of vegetables for your brain.

4. It will improve vocabulary.

No doubt about it.

5. It will showcase literary devices and creative language techniques.

Classic literature is replete with metaphor, irony, parallelism, dialect, exposition, and symbolism…it is chock full of opportunities for analysis and deconstruction. And it’s also just plain entertaining!

6. It teaches universal lessons.

The morals, themes, and lessons of classic literature are timeless. The human traits personified in classic literature are the same from the dawn of time.  And these lessons are unapologetically laid out for the eager reader without the contrivance of what’s cool or timely – they just are.

7. It improves comprehension skills.

And no, I don’t mean those horrid questions my English teacher used to ask like what color dress a character was wearing in chapter 9. Classic literature will improve the depth of comprehension a child can achieve to the extent that they can take what they know about a character or place and make inferences and draw logical and meaningful conclusions. This is why the classics can be read over and over many times and each time a new depth of comprehension is reached.

8. It provides historical context.

Classic literature often provides the backdrop of a different time in history whether it was the Renaissance or the Civil Rights Movement. It puts a story into the history to help us better understand and experience the period.

9. It will enhance enjoyment of other forms of art (and improve conversation!)

Many literary allusions and references exist in movies, television shows, and in general conversation. These references are going right over the heads of non-classic readers. In other words, you will become an overall more educated human.

10. It will allow you to reflect on your own experiences.

Classic literature has the unique ability to bring us face to face with our own humanity – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can help us put our own priorities in order and recognize the depth of our own suffering or privilege.

There are great classic novels for every age group and it’s never too early to expose your child to the gift of great literature!

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