Blogger Stacy Dillon

The Classic(s) Question

Creative Commons Search – Jessie Wilcox Smith picture books in winter from A Child’s Garden of Verses 1905

As a mom-slash-librarian, I have worked pretty hard to try to make sure that my daughters are readers.  There are books of all sorts in every room of the house, I read in front of them on our commute, and at home, and I read to them when they let me.  As my oldest daughter reached tweendom, I thought, “This is it! I will finally be able to share all of my favs with her!” Cue sad trombone music.  I had to accept the fact that while she is a reader, she is her own reader.  Some of our tastes overlap, but there are often times when we aren’t interested in each other’s books.  And that’s okay.

Many times other parents see my kiddos reading and ask me how I did it.  Or assume that my job did it for me. And many other times the follow up question is how they can get their own kids to “elevate” their reading, meaning  “the classics”.  At these moments I do my best to avoid all signs of side-eye, give a reassuring smile and ask them why the classics?  Is it because they themselves have fond memories of reading the classics?  Are they looking down at the children’s books their kids are reading as somehow “less than” with regard to the classics?

I remind them that the vocabulary in capital L literature is often difficult and unfamiliar to younger readers, which can lead to frustration.  I then tend to recommend reading the classics together so that the parent can scaffold the unfamiliar bits, define some old fashioned language, and add some context.

Ultimately, the message I always try to get across when presented with the classic(s) question is that all reading is good.  If your child is super excited about a mass marketed series paperback, go with it.  Ask your child about what makes it so great.  Read along with them and earn their trust.  Then when you leave the piles of books around the house they can be made up of best sellers, series and classics.  Over time, readers might just pick one up on their own, which in my opinion is the best way to have it happen!


  1. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I was so glad to come across this post! As an elementary school librarian, I’ve had this very issue crop up countless times. I love your response to parents and will keep that in mind for the future.

    I also find myself defending graphic novels on a weekly basis. Luckily, there are several titles that are versions of classics, and I tell parents (and teachers) that the GN versions can be wonderful springboards for the traditional version–if kids understand the story first, they’re more likely to stick with the original versions of the classics.

  2. Kelly Doolittle

    This is a great post. I get the same requests from anxious parents, and have tried to express similar types of encouragement to these patrons, but I really like the particular way you try to handle this issue and I will remind myself of your advice the next time I get this reader’s advisory! I especially like the advice for the newer/mass marketed stuff: “read along with them and earn their trust,” as it’s easy to criticize something you might not really know. (Hmm, I think I may have done that before myself!) (a looong time ago, of course 🙂 I’ve also occasionally used the leaving-piles-of-books-around-the-house tactical advice, but will definitely use it more often. So often, teens and tweens don’t want to read what their parents have selected for them just on principle! Thank you so much.

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