Many parents want to read what they consider to be “Classic Children’s Books.” In doing so, they turn to books from the nineteenth century. I’ve created a list of 10 books from that period which go beyond the more well-known names like Alice, Jo March or Tom Sawyer and Huck.
It’s possible that some children (and parents, too) will find the syntax and vocabulary of older books a little more challenging than their contemporary counterparts. If you find that to be the case here are a few tips to get you started:
- Start with an adventure book. You might notice that my list is heavy on adventure and fairy tales: Verne, Stevenson, Kipling, for example. That is because I think these books are especially suited to appeal to today’s children. The language, vocabulary and sentence structure may be unfamiliar to children used to contemporary children’s literature, but an exciting, suspenseful plot can help to overcome that hurdle.
- Don’t be afraid to start out with an abridged edition. Normally I am not pro-abridged books, but I also think abridged versions can whet the appetite of younger children, who will then be eager to pick up the full length book when they are older.
- Read aloud. All of these books are wonderful to read aloud together. Several of the books have chapters which can function as discreet stories so you can “test” the book out to see if it is age appropriate. Most of these should be fine as read alouds for ages 7 and up.
- Watch the movie. Many of these books have movie versions. I am not a person who thinks the book is always better than the movie, they’re just different forms, that’s all. I do think that it’s better to read the book first, but if your child has already seen the movie and liked it, it’s a great segue into the book!
- Address problematic ethnic representations head on. The sad truth is that many books we consider “Classics” contain racist elements. Several of the books I’ve listed have this problem. I recommend using the book as a springboard for discussion. A great article that addresses this is How to Really Read Racist Books to Your Kid.
The great news is that all these books have long outlived their copyrights and are available for free online; or you can find many inexpensive paperback copies for purchase. I have included a link to each book at Project Gutenberg, where you can find the book in various digital formats.
Have you read any of these books with your children? What are your favorites from the 19th century?
…and stay tuned because next week I’m traveling through the 20th century, but this time by decade. I hope you join us!
Visit my other posts in this series:
Classic Children’s Books: 19th Century
Classic Children’s Books: 1900s
Classic Children’s Books: 1910s
Classic Children’s Books: 1920s
Classic Children’s Books: 1930s
Classic Children’s Books: 1940s
Classic Children’s Books: 1950s
Classic Children’s Books: 1960s
Classic Children’s Books: 1970s
Classic Children’s Books: 1980s
Classic Children’s Books: 1990s