Inspiring Kids to Read the Classics!

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British Selections

Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson

A classic but unusual adventure tale for children, Treasure Island is as much a commentary on morality as it is a thrilling story for young readers. In it, we encounter buccaneers, buried treasures, and a wonderful coming-of-age story. Much of popular contemporary pirate lore can be traced back to Stevenson's tale.

Peter and Wendy (1911) by J.M. Barrie

First written as a play, Peter Pan; or; the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904), and known most famously as simply "Peter Pan," Barrie’s whimsical adventure story about pirates, fairies, Indians and friendship is a classic constantly adapted for modern times. Neverland, Peter’s home, is a place where children never grow up, and the story shows, in fantastical fashion, the good and bad about childhood and adulthood, eventually admitting that all children do eventually grow up.  

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (1937) by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel, written for children, whose popularity has been unwavering since its publication in 1937. It is set in an unspecified past and tells the tale of a simple hobbit man called Bilbo Baggins who is unwittingly, and begrudgingly, drawn into an important adventure. This episodic quest narrative eventually becomes the introductory tale to the world-renowned Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding

Golding's dystopian tale of deserted schoolchildren-gone-wild has become a favorite for young readers, despite its having been a relative flop at the time of its publication. In the novel, a group of British boys become stuck on an island when their airplane malfunctions and must make an emergency landing.

At the start of the story, the boys seem capable of cooperating; they try to self-govern and establish rules. It is not long, however, before rival groups form and all-out war is declared, with disastrous results.

 (1950) by C.S. Lewis

Chronicles is a series of seven "high fantasy" novels written between 1949 and 1954. In most of the stories, the main characters are human children who visit the magical world of Narnia, where they are honored as nobility. The books are largely inspired by Christian, Greek, and Roman mythologies, and also from Irish and English fairy tales. Like Stevenson's tale, Lewis's are unusual for children’s' works in that they explore, sometimes controversially, themes of gender, race, war, and religion.

American Selections

Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott

Originally published in two volumes, this novel tells the story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The book is loosely based on Alcott's own life, and it details the girls' passage from childhood to womanhood. It is sometimes considered a romance or a quest novel, but it is also a family drama whose purpose is to demonstrate the higher value of virtue above wealth or possessions.

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1886)

Many are familiar with Hodgson's later work, especially (1911), but her first children's novel is equally deserving of attention. The story is about young Cedric Errol, whose father dies at the beginning of the novel, leaving Cedric and his mother ("Dearest") to live in poverty. Serendipitously, Cedric comes into an inheritance and a noble title, but his claim does not go uncontested.

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger

Although Salinger and his publisher originally marketed this book toward adults, it has become a staple of high school-aged readers for the past few decades. Its themes of rebellion, angst and alimentation have a certain appeal for young reader. Critics disagree on a variety of issues pertaining to this classic novel, its ending in particular—some see it as hopeful, while others believe it to be despairing.

Each reader has the opportunity to determine for herself what the story means, and what Holden Caulfield’s ultimate fate might be.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel remained Harper Lee's only published book for more than 50 years. It is loosely based on Lee's own life, including observations of her family, friends, and events that occurred in her town when she was a child. We can describe the novel as both a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, and also a type of Southern Gothic. Its primary themes are racial injustice, social inequality, and the loss of innocence. 

European Selections

The Diary of a Young Girl (1947) by Anne Frank

Not all classic literature is fiction, and Anne Frank’s diary proves to be a perfect example of how literary nonfiction can achieve classic status. The diary was written between June 1942 and August 1944, when Anne Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis. In 1944, the family was apprehended and taken to a concentration camp, where Anne would die of typhus. Despite the terror and the horrifying conditions she was forced to endure, Anne’s compassion and wisdom continue to speak to us through the pages of her diary.