Friday, March 11, 2011

Young Adult Classics

Childhood flies by so fast. How does one ensure passing on to one's children one's values? Collecting the classics for them helps...encouraging young people to read them and then talking about them. Even better is reading with one's children. I had a friend who was a part time book critic; full time he was an Attorney General, but he loved to read; now he is a Juvenile Judge. He and his wife made it a point to read with their children every night. There is no better way of sharing one's thoughts and happy childhood moments together.

What to Read?

It is a good thing I didn't read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell until I was an adult. I discovered it for the first time while teaching reading to a fourth grader one summer. It was such a sad story, about the lack of control animals, who live such short lives, have over their lives. From a life of happiness, to that of being a war horse and shot at, to having owners who abused him, Black Beauty's life was the life of many animals. I once heard from someone, that pets are really more our slaves than our friends; they are subject to our moods, our time constraints our lack of knowledge and poor judgment. Black Beauty is a book to be shared with one's children about our responsiblilities as animal owners and the joyto be shared by making animals happy.

If Black Beauty is a Classic, What is a Classic?

This was a topic hotly debated in all of the English classes I took for my degree , and a subject I always brought up in mine. Books are classics that have withstood the test of time because they remain relevant. They hold up a mirror to human nature, and human nature does not change that readily. They speak to people as well today as they did one hundred years ago.

Another Young Adult classic, and as refreshing today as it was when it was published in Civil War times, is Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Louisa's story is the story of every young girl who has wanted to write. It is the story of a girl who can't always control her own emotions, who doesn't always fit into gender stereotypes or family expectations. It is a story of how poverty, war, the absence of a parent effects a family. A feminist before her time, Louise was the breadwinner in her family when her extremely idealistic father still hadn't figured out how to make a go of it. The four Alcott girls could be the four girls in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, all wanting different things out of life. They're just all wearing hoop skirts. The book is timeless.

For the More Romantic Female Species

Young girls, it seems, much more than young boys, in junior high and later like to read about romance. They look for classics where the mating game is a theme. Maybe with life changing as it is, we shouldn't encourage our young women to read romantic novels. They have to prepare themselves for the working world today, just as much as the men. And won't romantic novels, kill young women's taste for real men, thereafter?

But what would life be like if young men and women didn't grow up with dreams? What books do young women like to dream on?

Ask most young females, who enjoy reading, and most of them become Jane Austen fans after reading Pride and Prejudice. It's the Cinderella story, isn't it? Even if the real Jane remained single all her life, after deciding not to run off with Tom LaFoy who later on became the top judge in Ireland; in her most famous novel, Jane's Lizzy Bennett, is more lucky. Poor but extremely level headed and sensitive, and with a sense of self, Lizzy does not just give herself away for the asking. Mr. Darcy, rich and handsome though he is, must prove that he is worthy of Lizzy by truely seeing her worth and respecting her. And respect her he does, for her intelligence and wit. Isn't this what we want for our girls?

I read Pride and Prejudice myself, for years every year, just like the Meg Ryan character in You've Got Mail. But my students read Romeo and Juliet each year, because of the curriculum When spring came around and alternative assessment projects were due, visitors could tell what my English class had read by the felt banners that encircled my room, and most of them were about Romeo and Juliet. Except for at first deciphering the language, what's not to love about the play? Two shy innocent young people fall instantly in love at first sight and stay that way. No words of boredom here; no nights out with the boys. It is a beautiful love story, where two people love each other more than themselves. Isn't this what we want for our children, too, though not the tragic end.

It is no wonder that Stephanie Meyers Twilight borrows from both of these books. Rich, debonair, eternally faithful lovers are what most girls dream of, and encouraging junior high school students to read Twilight, is good preparation for them to read the other books.

But if we want to give our children amazing memories, good role models as characters, is there any story more exciting and fascinating than Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities? Set in the France of the time of the guillotines, it is the story of a woman loved by two men who look exactly alike. Isn't that even better than a Edward Cullen and a Taylor Lautner? And the language...."It was the best of was the worst of times...." Isn't the author describing now?

Our children couldn't do much better, and they could definitely do much worse.

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