While many people are able to name their favorite books or reference a generally accepted list of "classics" when asked, it is worth considering what makes a book worthy of the description. Of course, there are those classics that endure the test of time, the Bible, The Iliad
, Pride and Prejudice
. And there are those books that are marketed as "modern classics" like The Five People You Meet in Heaven
. I'm not sure what makes a "modern classic" as I do believe that the test of time is a worthy one, but what about the books that are our personal classics? In choosing these books, I think that Italian writer, Italo Calvino
presents key criteria in his book Why Read the Classics
. He has 14 points by which he thinks the classics should be evaluated. Many of these are subjective and would allow a reader to choose his or her "own" classics based on these points. You can read all 14 points here
but I would like to share my favorites:
- The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: 'I'm rereading...', never 'I'm reading...'
- The classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.
- The classics are books which exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual's or the collective unconscious.
- A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
- A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.
- A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.
- Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.
- 'Your' classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.
- A classic is a work that comes before other classics; but those who have read other classics first immediately recognize its place in the genealogy of classic works.
- A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to the background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without.
I am interested in what you think of these criteria in relationship to children's books. For my family and our many hours of reading together, I think there were a few "classics" that really stand out in my memory; books that showed us what "classic" meant when applied to stories. We all loved The Little House in the Big Woods
and Ralph Moody's Little Britches
is a definite classic.
For those of you who want to build a library of children's classics, it is worth looking for Newbery and Caldecott award winners. Since 1921 the Newbery has been awarded each year to recognize "the most distinguished American children's book published in the previous year." It is generally a very reliable indicator of quality content–especially for those books published between 1945-1970. Here are a few of our favorites:
Justin Morgan Had A Horse by Marguerite Henry, 1946 Newbery Honor Title
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, 1948 Newbery Honor Title
by Holling Clancy Holling, 1949 Newbery Honor Title
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, 1950 Newbery Medal Winner
Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates, 1951 Newbery Medal Winner
Minn of the Mississippi by Holling Clancy Holling, 1952 Newbery Honor Title
The House of Sixty Fathers by Miendert Dejong, 1957 Newbery Honor Title
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, 1962 Newbery Medal Winner
When considering Calvino's criteria for classics, what books come to your mind? What children's books? In this list of Newbery's there is a missing title that should absolutely be on it and that is To Kill a Mockingbird
. What books do you think are missing? Do you disagree with the inclusion of any on this list? Later this week, I will provide a list of our favorite Caldecott Medal winners.