Classic Literature for kids has been getting a bad rap lately. In this series I am going to go through several genres of classic literature and explain how and why we should teach them to children.
Classic Literature for Kids: Fairy Tales
Children’s literature holds a remarkable power to shape young minds, ignite the imagination, and foster a lifelong love for reading. Now that we’ve covered why it’s great to introduce children to traditional literature, I am going to share my list with you.
In this post, I am going to classic literature for kids and the importance of reading them in 2023. I am also going to give you some practical reading tips and things to consider when reading these books with a modern lens.
I am splitting this post into four parts because it would be super long otherwise, and I think some books on this list touch on topics that need contextualization before they can be fully appreciated, especially by young adults.
Last thing before we get started. I love reading classic literature for kids. I taught an entire class on it at U.C Berkeley. That being said, these books work better with slightly older children. These are not for very young readers.
Classic Literature for Kids: Reading with a Modern Lens
Some of these books are difficult/problematic/banned to teach in school but I think they also offer insight into how the world was, and they give children access to concepts that might be otherwise too difficult.
I read most of these before I was 13 (but I am Gen X!). I think they have literary value, though I think children must have a certain level of maturity before reading many of them.
Fairy Tales: Magical Stories That Transcend Time
Classic literature for kids transcends time but no other genre reminds us of the classic kids stories like fairy tales. Fairy tales, with their enchanting narratives and fantastical settings, have charmed readers for generations.
These timeless tales capture the imaginations of young readers and transport them to extraordinary worlds where anything is possible.
Fairy tales not only entertain but also serve as vessels of moral lessons, teaching valuable values and life wisdom in a captivating manner.
In the realm of fairy tales, imagination reigns supreme, allowing children to embark on extraordinary adventures alongside their beloved characters.
I Classic Literature for Kids: “Cinderella”
The most classic literature for kids are fairy tales. Everyone knows Cinderdella. The timeless tale of a young girl, mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, who finds her life transformed with the help of her fairy godmother.
Did you know that many cultures have a version of Cinderella? It’s a tale told as early as Ancient Egypt. I teach this story every year in English class at the end of the year. Kids always think they know the story.
This classic Disney fairy tale emphasizes themes of kindness, perseverance, and the belief in happy endings, but most Cinderella stories are not like the Disney version.
The early tales of Cinderella talk about jealousy, evil, and the treatment of women amongst women. It’s a great story to discuss the importance of supporting each other as women, and how to work through complicated emotions.
II Classic Literature for Kids: “Snow White”
This tale follows Snow White, a princess who escapes the wrath of her jealous stepmother, the wicked queen, and finds refuge with seven dwarfs in the forest.
I am again recommending the Charles Perrault version, as this is the most well-known version outside of the Disney tale.
The story talks a lot about fate, standards of beauty, and the triumph of good over evil. It also allows for the discussion of consent, and how/when women can give consent. These books are for slightly older children.
Anyone who loves literature should also be able to make connections. In America, our literature often connects to Greek/Roman mythology and/or the bible. You can begin a discussion over the importance of the apple in the Bible and literature in general.
III Classic Literature for Kids: “Little Red Riding Hood”
In this cautionary tale, a young girl named Little Red Riding Hood journeys through the woods to visit her grandmother. However, she encounters a cunning wolf who tries to deceive her.
This tale serves as a lesson about stranger danger and the importance of being cautious, discerning, and staying on the right path (literally, figuratively, morally). It also underscores how vulnerable we can be to deception. Unlike many fair tales, this one also talks about female empowerment.
IV Classic Literature for Kids: “Beauty and the Beast”
This beloved tale tells the story of a young woman named Beauty who voluntarily takes her father’s place as a captive in a beast’s enchanted castle.
Over time, she discovers the beast’s inner kindness and breaks the curse that has transformed him. “Beauty and the Beast” teaches the values of inner beauty, kindness, and the power of love.
This is a complicated story because while the beast transforms and is ultimately able to show his inner beauty, Belle must endure his abuse. It also makes young readers wonder – is it worth it? Should she love her abuser? This story is quite different with the view of a modern lens. The link is to the classic tale, not the Disney version.
V Classic Literature for Kids: “Hansel and Gretel”
This dark and thrilling fairy tale follows the adventures of siblings Hansel and Gretel, who are abandoned in the forest by their parents and stumble upon a witch’s gingerbread house.
They must outsmart the witch and find their way back home, showcasing bravery, resourcefulness, and the triumph of good over evil.
This story deals with themes of the bond between siblings, survival, courage and bravery. It also deals with deception, temptation, cruelty, greed and the consequences of them.
Things to Consider
It’s important to recognize that some fairy tales may contain elements that are considered problematic by modern standards. Classic literature for kids was written a long time ago, hence “classic”. While many are great gems of storytelling, it is essential we talk about the story in context.
For example, gender stereotypes, damsel in distress tropes, and simplistic characterizations have been subject to criticism.
Yet, these problematic elements offer an opportunity for critical analysis and interpretation. By engaging in discussions with children, we can explore these narratives through a contemporary lens, encouraging dialogue about stereotypes, agency, and the evolution of societal values.
Some fairy tales are included on banned lists. These controversies often stem from concerns regarding inappropriate or violent content, outdated gender roles, or racially insensitive depictions.
However, understanding the context in which these stories were created and approaching them with a critical mindset can help navigate the complex terrain of children’s literature.
By engaging with fairy tales children learn about empathy, resilience, and the importance of making ethical choices. Children learn to explore difficult concepts through imagined worlds, making the space easier to understand.
Fairy tales continue to captivate and resonate with today’s children, providing a bridge between the past and the present, and nurturing their imaginations as they embark on magical journeys of self-discovery.
Next up, in Part II: Adventure Tales!