Getting your kids to read books is important. Getting your kids reading the right books is even more important. Yet, selecting appropriate reading material for children has become increasingly difficult in our modern society. With the introduction of ideologically driven literature in schools and other public institutions, one can be at a loss for which books to select for their kids. One safe bet is to retreat to the classics, since their content has been vetted by millions of parents over decades, even hundreds of years. As opposed to many books written and published today, classic works usually contain valuable lessons in virtue and ethics that aid a child in developing a strong moral foundation. In classic tales children encounter the adventures and dangers of the world in a safe way and learn right from wrong, good from evil. In this article we take a look at some collections of classic works that generations of children and parents have enjoyed. These collections are both entertaining and instructive, and can be invaluable to a child’s education and development.
Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales
Published between 1889 and 1913, Lang’s Fairy Books is a collection of 798 stories and 153 poems compiled by Scottish poet and novelist Andrew Lang and his wife Nora. The most popular books in this series are known as the “Colored” Fairy Books. These books are named for the differently colored jackets e.g.. The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc. The stories are compiled from a wide variety of sources, from The Arabian Nights to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and offer the reader a comprehensive selection of classic fairy tales. Many of the works are accompanied by beautiful illustrations by the prolific late 19th-century artist Henry J. Ford.
Lang compiled these stories because he found old fairy tales far superior to the new tales that his contemporaries wrote. He claimed:
“But the three hundred and sixty-five authors who try to write new fairy tales are very tiresome. They always begin with a little boy or girl who goes out and meets the fairies of polyanthuses and gardenias and apple blossoms: “Flowers and fruits, and other winged things”. These fairies try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed. Real fairies never preach or talk slang. At the end, the little boy or girl wakes up and finds that he has been dreaming. Such are the new fairy stories. May we be preserved from all the sort of them!”Andrew Lang
Lang’s Fairy Books work great as a broad introduction to classic fairy tales from various sources for young and old alike.
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Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Grimms’ Fairy Tales is a collection of unique fairy tales released by brothers Jacob and Wilhem Grimm in 1812. Though advertised as “Children’s Tales,” many claimed the works were not suitable for children due to their often dark subject matter. In later versions, content was changed to make the works more appropriate (by modern standards) for younger audiences. Grimms’ Fairy Tales contains stories that are still hugely popular today such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel. The Grimm brothers’ works have influenced various artists, authors, and composers since the time of their first publishing. These works are a great way to introduce children to those fairy tales that have stood the test of time and teach valuable lessons.
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Hans Christian Anderson Works
Perhaps no other figure, save Dr. Seuss and the Brothers Grimm, can claim to have contributed as much as Hans Christian Anderson did to children’s literature. His 156 unique tales have reached the ears or eyes of almost every child in the West for over a century, instilling virtues like self-sacrifice and resilience in their readers. Many of the stories are recognizable as classic animated films like The Little Mermaid or have remained staples as picture books like The Ugly Duckling. His tales often include an ethical lesson embedded in a richly told story that children love. His works are a great way to introduce children to moral dilemmas or difficult circumstances, and teach readers how to respond to them effectively.
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Aesop’s Fables are a collection of short tales attributed to Aesop, a Greek slave who lived around 600 BC. The works were originally part of an oral tradition but were collected and written down several centuries after Aesop’s death. Although the tales were initially addressed to adult audiences, during the Renaissance the works were used specifically for the education of children. The tales are typically very short stories that help to illustrate an ethical point. They have been described as “fictions that point to the truth” due to their universality and applicability.
Apollonius of Tyana, an ancient Greek philosopher, states this about Aesop and his fables:
“…like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events.”Apollonius of Tyana
Aesop’s fables contain many famous tales that enjoy popularity today like The Tortoise and the Hare, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Dog and Its Reflection, and The Miser and his Gold. These short works are an excellent way to instill basic moral values into children at an early age.
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Collier Junior Classics: The Young Folks Shelf of Books Series
Another classic compilation great for children is the Collier Junior Classics. This collection, assembled by Margaret Martignoni, contains ten volumes which progress in difficulty with each successive book. The first book, A,B,C: Go! is most suitable for small children learning to read or for parents looking to read aloud to their children. This book contains common nursery rhymes, folk tales, and poems. Titles two through five are suited for slightly older children that can read by themselves, and contain works like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Pinnochio, and Winnie the Pooh. The last half of the series explores myths and legends from antiquity, historical biographies of influential people, and the development of American tradition and culture, geared toward teens and young adults.
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Childcraft was first published in 1934 as an encyclopedia for young children, aiming to make learning enjoyable and engaging for its audience. The series covers a broad range of topics, from poetry and fairy tales to mathematics and science, giving young readers a variety of topics to choose from. Examples of some of the titles included are: How Things Work, Our Universe, Once Upon a Time, and Art Around Us. The set contains anywhere from 7 to 15 volumes depending on the edition, as books were added with successive editions. The set, like Collier’s Junior Classics, begins with nursery rhymes and poems and progresses into longer short stories with each successive volume. However, later volumes are more focused on encyclopedic topics, such as the animal kingdom. Childcraft was widely popular, and was translated into multiple languages and distributed to dozens of countries around the world. Overall, the set is a great way to introduce children to a wide variety of topics, not just fairy tales and nursery rhymes, peaking their interest in the arts and sciences as well as literature.
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Though there is some overlap of stories between different collections, these sets should be enough to keep a reader occupied for years, helping to instill an appreciation for the western canon of literature, as well as supplement a proper moral framework. Picking up one or two of these sets would be a great decision for any parent looking to get their children reading.