The other night at dinner, Ian used the term "classic" to describe something or other. (Probably Star Wars. It's a safe bet.) I asked the assembled what they thought that term meant. Meaty discussion ensued.
From Dictionary.com: an author or a literary work of the first rank, especially one of demonstrably enduring quality. (one of several definitions.)
From TJEdOnline: A “classic” is a work — be it literature, music, art, etc. — that’s worth returning to over and over because you get more from it each time.
From my ten year old: A "classic" is a book that's really old, like at least a hundred years, and insanely popular.
What definition would you use? What pops into your mind when you think of a literary classic? Charles Dickens? Jane Austen? John Steinbeck? Homer?
How about Margaret Wise Brown?
We went around the table with each family member offering up a picture book that he or she felt deserved "classic" status -- and presenting a supporting argument. We also talked about what makes a story worth returning to over and over. Is it plot-driven or character-driven? Is there a character who changes? Who learns a lesson? If he or she learns something, does the author have to spell it out for us, or the story speak for itself? (The latter, we realized.)
Here's what we came up with and why:
Caroline: Cinderella (Cinderella learns that dreams can come true, and that good things come to those who are humble and kind.)
Eliza: The Runaway Bunny (The bunny realizes that no matter where he goes, the best place to be is with his mom, because her love for him never changes.)
Ian: The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Peter learns that disobedience never pays, although home is still a safe place. Again, Beatrix Potter doesn't TELL us this. The story ends with Peter in bed sick, and Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail relishing blackberries and milk for supper. Wouldn't the message be diminished if a follow-up page read, "And so the moral of the story is, Never disobey your mom!")
Daddy: Kitten's First Full Moon (Kitten discovers that what he's been searching for has been right there all along, just waiting for him to come home.)
Me: Miss Rumphius (One of my favorites of all time. We can all leave a legacy of making the world more beautiful, regardless of our limitations.)
Amos & Boris (Can't read our battered copy aloud without a lump in my throat. The title characters learn that friendship -- the lifelong, true-blue loyal kind -- can be found in the most unexpected places. Plus, the prose! Egads! That phosphorescent sea!)
What, you think I could limit myself to just one? Puh-leeze.
Our conversation ended with Ian going off to dig out our copy of Amos & Boris because he couldn't remember the story. He came to me later with eyes a-glistening. As I said, classics endure.
What's one book you feel every child should hear read aloud before age five?