Tuesday, March 8, 2011

That's Classic! Unmissable Children's Picture Books

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 TJEdOnlineA “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? 


Kristen said...

My Friend God.

Books For Breakfast said...

One? Oh, dear. Ummm . . . Miss Suzy. No, wait. Norman the Doorman. Agghhh. I can't do it! Ok, ok. Here it is. The Zabajaba Jungle. Or The Maggie B. Technically, that's four. But you put forth an impossible question.

Stephanie said...

Excellent post, on so many levels. Wonderful.

Hannah said...

@Books for Breakfast: I know! It's torture. I shouldn't have specified "one." Thanks for the contributions!

@Kristen: Fo' SHO'.

Books For Breakfast said...

I tried the game with my daughter after I read this. I asked her what one book - only one - would she choose as her favorite. After a few agonizing moments, she said in a panicked voice, "All of my cat books." "Could you pick just one?" "All of them," in a tone that meant don't even ask that question again. You would have thought I was making her give up all but one.

KTG said...

Make Way for Ducklings
Set in the hometown, good to read before a ride on the Swan Boats.
I got a chuckle out of reading this as a mom too. Mr.Mallard takes off to check out the Public Garden and Mrs Mallard says "Don't you worry I know all about bringing up children".

The Poky Little Puppy made a Big impression on me as a kid too!

Ami said...

The Paper Bag Princess. Sometimes the girl can rescue the guy. Brains over brawn. And if the guy's a jerk, dump him, doesn't matter what his title is.

JoAnn said...

I grew up with Golden books, which are definitely classics, but not nearly so moral-laden. The Pokey Little Puppy is still on our shelf here. The Tawny Scrawny Lion was also a favorite. Once I learned to read, it was all Nancy Drew. How fortunate your children are that you read these wonderful classics to them. I got into the better books when the librarian at our Jr. High, for whom I worked any time I could, began to select some really good books for me to read and expanded my world.

Laura said...

The Baby BeeBee Bird. And the Day the Babies Crawled Away. And Blueberries for Sal. Aaagh. Too hard.

Galex said...

Peek a Boo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

Galex said...

OK Kristen. I finally got a hold of "My Friend God." I'll be directing all my 6 year old's questions to YOU, OK????