Get your kids hooked on classic books this summer

ClassicReadsWBy Kristy MacKaben

Named after writers Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, it's no wonder Jane and Emily Godfrey, 11-year-old twins from Sudlersville, are avid readers.

While the allure of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson is irresistible, the homeschooled sisters say they also enjoy the classics.

 "Usually I read the Harry Potter kind of books ... but the classics, if I find a good one, I like it a lot better," Jane says.

Emily loves classics because they have great stories with interesting characters. "Little Women" (the abridged version) is a favorite because she relates strongly to the main character, Jo, she says.

Classics are those books that reach across generations and stand the test of time, says Brian Oberle, area librarian for North County Area Library in Glen Burnie. They are books like "Black Beauty" or "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" where the plot, themes and characters appeal to readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Parents should introduce kids to classics because they are great stories, says Natalie Lane, children and youth services librarian for the Kent County Library System. They bring forth thought-provoking ideas and are written in a way that makes them timeless, she says.

"Once you get used to reading the easy stuff, it's harder to read the classics because the plots are often more complex or the writing is more advanced," says Lisa Godfrey, mom to Jane and Emily. "I tried to explain to them the rewards are a little better when you read a classic. They'll remember it more and get more out of it."

Travis and Jaydin Garnett of Pasadena are also enthralled by the classics. When he was 4 years old, Travis, now 11, listened to his grandmother read aloud "Treasure Island." When he was able to read, his mother, Kim, bought illustrated versions of the classics.

Travis enjoyed the adventure stories, such as "Robin Hood" and "Peter Pan." His 8-year-old sister, Jaydin, enjoys fantasy tales like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Mary Poppins."

The Godfrey and Garnett children's attitude toward reading is ideal, Lane says. It's how librarians hope all kids feel about great books.

"Classics have been helping and inspiring generations of kids and teens to talk about and work through some really tough questions," Lane says. "They cover themes like loyalty, friendship and being true to who you are, to believing in something, being compassionate and standing up for someone else."

Because classics may be a little difficult for young readers to understand, parents should consider reading aloud to their children — regardless of their age, says Shelley Davenport, programming and outreach coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Library.

"It is important to remember that reading aloud should not end once children learn to read," Davenport says. "It is a wonderful way to engage with your children and also allows your child to read books that he or she may not have been able to understand without guidance."

Wondering which classics to choose to engage your kids? Here are some suggestions from local librarians.

Great classic books to get your kids hooked

Kindergarten to 2nd Grade

"Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey
This is more than just a tale of a family of ducklings trying to cross the street. They need a helping hand and someone to protect them as they find their home in the center of Boston. "It's a beautifully simple story that stands the test of time," Lane says.

"Millions of Cats" by Wanda G'ag
Written in 1928, this book takes hyperbole to a new level, Lane says. But it's a sweet story about finding the perfect pet, even though that pet might not be exactly how you pictured. An elderly man searches far and wide for a beautiful cat to keep his wife company. He finds millions of cats and can't decide which one to keep. Children might be surprised at which cat becomes their own. Kids also will enjoy the repetition and rhythm of this book.

Third to Fifth Grade

"Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White
The story about Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider is one children and adults enjoy. It's a tale of an unlikely friendship and what true friendship means. "It's full of heart and farmyard fun," Lane says. "It is absolutely terrific."

"Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Babbitt
What would it be like to live forever? This book delves into the topic of immortality through a young girl, a young boy and his family. "This book gives kids a brief glimpse into what it might be like to live forever, what that really means and how life defines us as people," Lane says. "To this day it's still my favorite classic because it poses an important question and introduces a very sophisticated idea into the minds of children."

Middle School

"The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis
This fantasy series is appealing to middle school-aged kids, not only because it was made into a movie. The stories are filled with mythical creatures, magic and plenty of adventure. Children are transported to Narnia to protect the fantasyland from evil.

"It is still one of the original and most beloved fantasy stories of all time," Lane says. The stories also ask important questions, such as, "What happens when you do something wrong out of jealousy? What happens if what you did hurts someone you care about?" she says.

"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
Much like "Hunger Games," "Lord of the Flies" is a story of survival. A group of boys are stuck on a deserted island and they try to work together to find food and control chaos. "It's a classic cautionary tale of what happens when kids are bent on survival," Lane says.

High School

"A Separate Peace" by John Knowles
This young adult novel covers deep, thought-provoking topics such as envy and jealousy. Though the novel, which involves the friendship of two boys in boarding school, can be depressing, the story ends on a positive note. "We are taken into the lives of two boys coming of age and the friendship that bonds them together, all with a backdrop of a looming war," Lane says.

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
Through this political satire, Orwell uses animals to relate the historical events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Joseph Stalin. Though teens might not catch the historical inferences, "Animal Farm" is still a good read, Lane says.
"This is another classic read that has so much more to offer now because of the many popular dystopian-style novels that have come out for young adults in recent years," she says. "The animals in 'Animal Farm' are meant to represent people, and what starts off as a simple experiment in barnyard politics goes terribly wrong."