LITERATURE FOR EARLY YOUTH
I subscribe to the “great books theory” of education. That is, if a person selects the great literature of man, the classics, and reads this alone, he will be educated.
I believe this process should begin early in school and be implemented by the teacher’s selecting the easier works of well-known authors. Why easy? So the student will learn to love, not loathe, reading. Why known authors? So the student will come to respect the opinions of experts in what constitutes great literature and will perceive why certain authors have stood the test of time.
Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” No self-respecting teacher of literature will encourage students to waste their time on shallow material, when so much good writing is available. Since a student will only read a limited number of books in a year, the teacher should be sure that those books will be significant and memorable.
Certain books have come to be known as children’s classics. No person should go through his youthful years without having gotten them under his belt. Accordingly, the following partial list of books, which are on the reading level of older children, is recommended. These books should be assigned for reading prior to entering high school.
Tom Sawyer Legend Of Sleepy Hollow
Treasure Island Jungle Book
Black Beauty Tarzan stories
Arabian Nights O’Henry short stories
Robin Hood Zane Grey western stories
Alice In Wonderland Poe mysteries
Robinson Crusoe H. G. Wells stories
Swiss Family Robinson King Arthur stories
Uncle Remus Jack London stories
Green Mansions Longfellow epics
Ivanhoe The Yearling
Frankenstein Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Cyrano de Bergerac Kidnapped
The Bottle Imp The Prince And The Pauper
Portions of the Bible, only in modern language translations or easily understood paraphrases, should be recommended as the highest type of literature and as a primary source of Western culture.
Dickens, except for his Christmas Carol, is too difficult for this age. Given a choice between making a child read Dickens or a comic book, I would choose the comic book, especially the Classics Illustrated series. An entire, unabridged Gulliver is also too much. This also applies to the writings of the Bronte sisters, Melville, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Maugham, Shaw, Stowe, etc., that are sometimes crammed down too-juvenile throats.
Stay away from modern authors. There is too much smut, flippancy, and crass worldliness that has no place in a classroom setting. The teacher is not rendering a good education when it is based on street language. Also, there is plenty of time for a more mature reader to get to know Ovid, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Balzac, Lawrence, Steinbeck, Hemingway, etc., later on. Prudence in the school is not prudery; it is just common sense.
The teacher bears a grave responsibility in this selective process, for a sense of good taste and a learned perception of what makes a masterpiece is the byproduct of youthful reading. It must always be borne in mind that the ultimate goal and the highest achievement of all education is a lasting affection for books.
Richard L. Atkins