Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Great Literature Part I

My shelves are stacked with Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street Library, Childcraft Encyclopedias, ScoobyDoo and Spongebob, easy readers, chapter books, and many many other books for children. I love them all. Lately, though, I have been trying to focus on great literature for kids. I know that anything that gets a kid to read is great (hence my ScoobyDoo books). Pablo's first love of reading came by way of Garfield and Calvin and Hobbs (which I personally consider great comic book literature. If you don't believe me just go read some and check out the vocabulary that Calvin has). However, after the love of reading is established I think the next step is developing a love of great literature. Many people disagree on what makes great literature, and that is fine, so please do not think that the way I think is the way you should think.

~ To me, great literature uses words for their sound and beauty rather than for their ease of understanding. This teaches vocabulary, and in a roundabout way teaches root words or use of Latin in our language, which in turn makes language, and foreign languages, as a whole more interesting and accessible to the mind. Every word needs not be defined when reading to a child. If they ask then you can explain the word, but most children will learn by context much as they do spoken language, simply by hearing the word used often over time.
~ To me, great literature poses real life choices that are difficult to make. Great literature will show real life consequences, good or bad, for the decisions made. Great literature also portrays real life values of forgiveness, justice, mercy, love, faith, hope, integrity, friendship, joy, humor, etc.
~To me, great literature will take you out of your small sphere of experience without taking you out of real life. It should be an adventure but an adventure that is possible for the reader as well.

Now, lest any of you should frown on my all too restrictive requirements, let me state that great literature is not the only kind or literature I feel is worth reading. I believe that myths and legends are important for teaching about ancient culture, ancient religion, and for opening the imagination. Fantasy,mystery, romance, and thrillers are fun for escaping from reality, though I firmly believe they should be used in moderation. Plays are important reading for building up the visualization abilities of a reader. Poetry should be read for literary rhythm and memorization.

I love any and all forms of the written word, but I worry about the lack of great literature being used in these modern times. Long ago the Odyssey was read as a great adventure story. Now it causes most people's brains to hurt (including mine) to try and read it because our brains are not used to archaic words and wording. Shakespeare is rarely enjoyed to it's fullest because people are not practiced in the art of nuance and wordplay. And many consider great literature to be boring when no one is kissing, being blown up, or falling into a magical realm because we have lost our taste for subtlety. Others dislike any story with real life situations because they are too sad, which can only make me wonder if the distaste for reality has any correlation to the increase in depression we find in our society these days. We often look for semblance between the books we most love and our real life. Is it any wonder that people are dissatisfied to find that there husband isn't a prince, that no vampire will whisk them away from dirty diapers and kitchen, that no wizard will come and save you from your wretched family life, and that your new job is not going to lead you to overthrow a major government conspiracy?

This is why I feel it necessary to raise my children with a love of great literature. But how? With movies, computers, comic books, and Harry Potter to compete with, how do I dare hope to get my children to love great literature? And how can I accomplish it with my lack of energy, my kids being in public school and "done with learning" by the time they get home, and without feeling like I am forcing them or fighting them (heaven's knows I need my fighting energy for other things), and all while still having time to eat ice cream and watch my old movies?

Thus begins my great experiment. Stay tuned for part deux.


Sea Star said...

I certainly didn't read a lot of great Children's Literature as a child. I know most books that I was forced to read in School were good but they were required so not a pleasure read. I am enjoying a lot of good stuff now with my kids but love to see what others are reading. I can't wait until part II

BTW. Mint Chocolate Cookie sounds SOOOOO GOOD! I may have to join you with that one!

An Ordinary Mom said...

I think it is so important to teach our children to learn to love to read. Life isn't all about being entertained by video games, TV, and the computer. Most of the time great entertainment can come from an excellent book as the words you read vividly come to life in your mind. I love the adventures and lessons I learn from my books, both from my "great" reads and my escape books.

just jamie said...

I'm so happy to know that there are people like you out there raising thoughtful children.

Clearly you have put a lot of thought into what great literature is for you. Perfect. What can be better?

While getting my credential in elementary education I learned (and read) so much about Children's Literature. What a treat to have such wonderful choices and authors.

Jen said...

I look at writing as an art form. Meaning a beautiful book should have beautiful wording. But a book portraying a harsher element of reality may have harsher wording-not necessarily profanity-but a choppier more dissonant flow to contribute to the message of the story. I love books that change my thinking, or allow me to see life from another standpoint. Some books I consider contemporary "great literature" aren't exactly filled with beautiful wording, but they have taught me a lot about life, healing, hope, and flat out how fortunate and blessed I am.

Cheri said...

What well-rounded and thoughtful selections you've mentioned!

Cocoa said...

I was able to get my children hooked on great children's literature through our family read-alouds. Listening to books on tape is another of their favorite ways to "read" while going to sleep at night.

sariqd said...

Calvin & Hobbes is my all-time favorite comic. I even have the leather-bound books!

On a more serious note, I truly believe I was blessed with having a great love for reading because of my mom. She introduced me to so many different forms of literature that I ended up studying different forms in college. She would read to us every night until we got to the age of reading by ourselves.

I'm looking forward to part deux! I have to wait though, I'm leaving in 6 hours for a week!!!

Becks said...

Oooooo...I just re-read Jane Eyre and could NOT put it down. I hadn't read it for about 20 years or so. It makes a lot more sense as a grown-up. I saw the movie once, but I was sorely disappointed by its deviation from the book. Same with Anne-with-an-E. The movies annoy me. Right now I'm reading another favorite, The Hidden Hand by J. Sidlow Baxter. It's not well-known. I atually heard the author speak at a conference once. This re-read makes it apparent why the book is little-known. It starts very slowly and spends a lot of time on erroneous, superfluous description. Jeff says I should re-write it and re-publish it. I'm thinking about it. Anyway, three cheers for great literature!

Childlife said...

I think your experiment is going to be a smashing success :) So many people talk down to kids. Hooray for you for not believing in that nonsense! I talk to my kids like I do to anyone else. If they don't understand a word, they ask and I tell them what it means. Two hours later they are using it in context in a well structured sentence.

How do you instill a love of great literature in your children? Read to them often and with enthusiasm, and let them see you reading things worth reading. Looks like you're doing both very well!

(Oh, and don't stop with Jane Eyre - all of the Bronte books are well worth the read!)

Misty said...

To answer your question:

I was born in Okinawa, Japan - a military base.

Same with Alaska, lived there due to the military.

Before I was adopted, my father was in the Navy, if I remember correctly.

Happy face said...

On the comic-strip side, have you read any of the Asterix and Obelix books? I think those were the first books my boys read because my husband had them.

I'm working on the Great Literature end too . . . looking into Thomas Jefferson Education to help me with that. I like how you clarified stated your definition on what makes great literature and how you choose what is and isn't. I wonder if that is also what makes literature great---the ability to disagree about which one is and isn't and knowing why.