Monday, April 29, 2013

A Plea for the Classics

I've ranted blogged about this before, but it so bears repeating! Kids don't need dumbed down classics! Don't feed them baby food when they are capable of digesting big kid food! Take The Count of Monte Cristo - my kids are.  Sometimes it feels like cheating even to call this book a classic.  Yes, it has what today would be considered elevated vocabulary, but it's nothing you can't deal with (the French names and places will do you in long before the vocab will!).  Either figure it out by context or read with a dictionary (assuming you can't just tell your kids what the words mean yourself).  The themes in this book are things that resonate with all of us, but trust me when I say - kids love them! They can't get enough.  There is a reason that this book is billed as the ultimate revenge story.  It is that, but it is so much more.  If you require that everything you or your kids read has a moral to the story (I don't), you'll find many here.  You can talk this one to death if you want to - but you don't have to! If you want to make it about school, situate it in history and talk about Napolean.  You can justify it academically, believe me.  But, again, you don't have to.  My 8 year-olds don't know a whole lot about Napolean (like, nothing), but they beg me for just one more chapter when we are reading this book.  All of my kids beg me for just one more chapter.

Resist the urge for an abridged version.  You can't abridge this story. It's all important.  Is it long? Yes.  My Kindle informs me that it will take me about 38 hours to read to my kids.  So what? That's just about six weeks.  We're going to be reading something - why not this? And guess what? Monte Cristo is a book you can read over and over again.  It doesn't get old.  In fact, there are scenes that I read over and over again.  It's like The Myth of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.  You don't have to read the whole book to pick up it up in the middle and read one part.  (If you have not read that book, stop reading this post and go read that book. Now.) Read The Grand Inquisitor part many times.  I have become very disillusioned with my undergraduate professor who made me fall in love with political theory and inspired/consigned me to a PhD in Political Science (long, sad story), but I will always love him for introducing me to the Russians.

I have gone far afield.  See what wonderful things happen when you make the classics your friends? Introduce your kids to these friends early.  Don't worry that they won't understand every part.  It doesn't matter.  They'll understand something far more important: these books are not intimidating.  They are not out of reach.  They are friends to be revisited many times with new things to be learned from them each time.  If you are worried about a particular word or scene, edit it as you read.  They will never know! Well, okay, your 10 year-old may not be read for Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but there are plenty that she is ready for. Rediscover some old friends for yourself or, better yet, make some new ones with your kids.

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