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Working up to the classics (looking for an old thread)

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It’s been ages since I’ve been on here but I was thinking tonight about a route to work up to the classics. I admittedly don’t personally read very challenging literature (working on that!) and my older kids are in 4th and 6th grades. I remember reading a while back a thread about working up to reading the classics, and several people had sort of creates classifications of books to get there. For example, Winnie the Pooh, Secret Garden, on up to Jane Austen, etc. Does anyone happen to know how to find that thread?

Or can we start a new one? Specifically I’m thinking for read aloud suggestions right now. I’m reading them A Christmas Carol and they’re struggling (though starting to get into it). Many of our read alouds are simply fun and enjoyable (we read at bedtime and don’t like to read things that might lead to bad dreams) but I think it’s time to alternate with things that are going to push us a little. I’d love some thoughts! Thanks!

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I'm not sure if this is the thread you were looking for, but your question made me remember vaguely that I might have started a thread on this years ago. So I went looking through my thread of threads, and found it! So many good posts from so many old timers. Hope this helps.


Edited by lewelma
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Possibly this thread, as well?  --  Which 20 books help prepare for reading the Great Books?

Older titles tend to have the more complex language and sentence structure, so you may want to include a number of older works into your rotation. For ideas, the 1000 Good Books lists loosely group by grade ranges a lot of older children's classics and good books. Check out the grade 4-6 and grade 7-9 lists for read-aloud ideas. (A lot of the book ideas on the 1000 Good Book lists tend to run "advanced", so you will find some good read-alouds in that grade 4-6 section.)

Also, you might find it helpful to get one of the vintage children's anthology sets:
Collier's Junior Classics: The Young Folks' Shelf of Books (10 volumes)
The Children's Hour (16 volumes)
- My Bookhouse (12 volumes) -- 1950s or 1970s edition
Journeys Through Bookland (10 volumes) -- most are also available to read free online through Gutenberg (vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4, vol. 5vol. 6, vol. 7, vol. 8, vol. 10)

My suggestion would be to start with The Children's Hour, as I think it has the most amount of works that would be a gentle transition for the ages of your children. But you might find it helpful to read through several of these past threads to see if it better helps you see if an anthology set would be a good match up for your family, and if so, which anthology:

- "Anthologies: The Children's Hour vs. Young Folks' Library vs. ?"
- "My Bookhouse vs. Journeys Through Bookland -- compare"
- "Which edition of My Bookhouse do you recommend?"
- "Journeys Through Bookland" -- 1st thread
- "Just want to share again how much I love Journeys Through Bookland" -- follow-up thread

BEST of luck in finding how to include the classics into your family reading adventures, and may you all enjoy your journey into great lit.! Warmest regards, Lori D.

As for how to go about "ramping up" the classics...

Since you're wanting to start adding in more challenging lit. and you have upper elementary ages, I'd suggest adding a 20-30 minute "together" reading time to your daily school schedule, where you and the student together read out loud, "buddy reading" style ("you read a page, I read a page"), and from a book you've chosen that is just above the student's comfortable reading level, so it helps stretch just a bit. And choose titles that will be of high interest, which helps with the hurdle of "harder reading level". (The aloud together buddy reading also helps make the stretch not so hard.)

For your read-alouds, vary the difficulty and length of the works. So, since you are doing a work with a lot of difficult, Victorian language and sentence structure right now (A Christmas Carol), consider making the next work a bit easier in language. For example, if sticking with your Christmas reading theme, easier-to-read good books could include some of these 1-sitting reads:
A Child's Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas) -- written mid-20th century, but turn-of-the-century setting and culture
- Christmas Every Day (William Dean Howells) -- late Victorian times, so a bit of the old-fashioned language, but very manageable, and very humorous
- The Greatest Gift (Phillip Van Doren Stern) -- the short story that was turned into the film It's A Wonderful Life
- Father Christmas Letters (JRR Tolkien) -- (longer than 1 sitting) -- be sure to get an unabridged version like the CDs I linked, or this hardback book version; this is a great book to read before tackling Tolkien's The Hobbit -- a lot of similar elements, and "feel" of the world of the Hobbit

And then back to a more complex-ly written work, like the short story Gift of the Magi (O. Henry) -- also with a Christmas setting. Or something like George MacDonald's The Light Princess, which has more complex language and sentence structure, but has humor and a very easy-to-follow fairytale plot

Also, you might try out a weekly or every-other-week "poetry and tea" time -- take 20 minutes out to have a special snack, and  read aloud classic poems. In older works of poetry, there is a lot of elevated language, but there is also typically a rhyme scheme which helps pull you along through the poem.

Some ideas of 19th century good books that will expose you to the the more complex sentence structure and vocabulary, or expose you to "British" style writing, but are fun for that age:

- Five Children and It; The Phoenix and the Carpet (E. Nesbit) -- and then follow up with the magic books written in the 1950s by Edward Eager, who references the Nesbit books (Half Magic; Magic By the Lake; Knight's Castle; The Time Garden; Seven-Day Magic)
- The Princess and the Goblins (George MacDonald)
- The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
- books by Howard Pyle
- consider doing "book groupings" -- such as Knight's Castle (Eager) + The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Pyle) + Ivanhoe (Scott) -- Knight's Castle references the characters in Robin Hood and Ivanhoe -- a way fun to intro those books

More ideas for how to ramp up:

Start off now with a quality abridged retellings of classics as read-alouds, and then tackle the full works in a few years; for example:
- children's retellings of Shakespeare
   Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare
Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield
   Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit
 - Geraldine McCaughrean version of The Epic of Gilgamesh or The Odyssey, or Rosemary Sutcliff's versions of The Iliad (Black Ships Before Troy) and The Odyssey (The Wanderings of Odysseus).

Also, some good children's historical fiction has more elevated or complex language, and rich thematic content:
- The Golden Goblet (Macgraw)
- The Bronze Bow (George)
- Adam of the Road (Gray)
- Carry On Mr. Bowditch (Latham)
- Across Five Aprils (Hunt) -- I'd wait and do this as a read aloud for older middle school years

And make use of good audiobook. More difficult works read by great readers can really make more the works easier to "get" and enjoy.

Edited by Lori D.
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