Fostering a Love of Classic Literature in Children

Many children will have their first introduction to classic literature in high school — with Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Dickens, etc. But there is no reason to delay the reading of classic books until high school! When children are acquainted with the story lines and themes of these great books early, it makes tackling the original much less intimidating.

Why Classic Literature?

Classic books are classics not only because they have stood the test of time, but because these books — their themes, their style, their expression, and their beauty — are imprinted with our cultural past and wrestle with the great ideas. Classic books are not simply read for entertainment value, but for the increased value they bring to our lives as they change and stretch our minds as we read them. Here are some of the benefits of reading the classic literature:

  • Boosts vocabulary
  • Enhances writing
  • Improves speech
  • Introduces “great ideas” (unresolved and unanswerable themes)
  • Increases exposure to history and culture
  • Connects us with past wisdom
  • Puts “first world problems” into perspective


The idea of reading a classic book can be very daunting — whether for adults or children. One of the easiest and best ways to introduce a classic book without reading the original is to read shortened versions near your child’s reading level — either at your child’s reading level, slightly above, or slightly below, like Easy Reader Classics or Classic Starts from Sterling Publishing.

Abridgments tend to lack the depth and breadth of language and literary devices (alliteration, metaphors, personification, etc.) that may define a classic, but those that are well done will maintain the same conflict, story-line, theme, and most of the characters (sometimes for brevity, minor characters and scenes may be eliminated). After your child is acquainted with these basic attributes of a story, reading the original will have a familiar feeling instead of a frightening one.

Have you ever been introduced to a classic through a movie? For instance, was it the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice that first nudged you to read and appreciate the original Jane Austen work? Movies are visual abridgments, and although some movies may be appropriate ways to introduce children to classic literature, many are too long or too different from the original.

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Another way to give your child a gentle introduction to classic literature is through illustrated books. Some picture books have very simplified stories, while some are more like abridgments with illustrations on each page.

Heavily illustrated abridgments or picture books are perfect to read with your children. Whether you read them classic-books-turned picture books before they can even read, or whether it becomes your at-home read-aloud for bedtime or another time of day, your child will learn to appreciate these classic stories even more when they are narrated by your voice.

Maybe you’d like to read aloud classics that are written for children, like Peter Pan and Wendy or Wind in the Willows. Or maybe you have more than one child — each at varying ages and stages — that you’d like to engage in the classics. In these cases, you might reach for an unabridged, illustrated classic, like Sterling Illustrated Classics. These full-text versions of the books have absolutely beautiful, full-color illustrations every few pages to frequently re-engage young readers or listeners.

If you aren’t used to reading aloud to your older child, jump in and get started! Some books are easier to read aloud than others (those that better match your natural speech pattern are easier), but the more you read aloud to your child, the more comfortable it will become. And don’t be afraid to read original books that may go over one or more of your children’s heads. Many children will pick up parts of the story with its original language as you narrate it for them. It’s never too early to cultivate a love of classic literature in your children!

Learn more about helping your child love to read with 8 Ways to Inspire a Love of Reading.

Photo Credits: Stefani

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Stefani was raised in California; with her husband hailing from South Carolina, they've settled in the middle and are now raising three Texans. She loves classical homeschooling, great books, period dramas, modifying recipes, simple living, deep thinking, and cuddling up with her family to watch silly YouTube videos.

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