The Blog

Are Children's Classics 'Suitable' for Modern Ears?

There was a bit of debate on Twitter this week, sparked by an article on Parentdish, about whether or not we should read our troopers the 'classics'.

There was a bit of debate on Twitter this week, sparked by an article on Parentdish, about whether or not we should read our troopers the 'classics'.

I am all in favour of reading the classics to the troopers because the reason they're still around is that the stories are exciting and appeal to young minds. But I only read out loud the classics that I know and love. I think you need to have an understanding, and certainly a fondness, for stories to really do them justice. For example, I had never read Just William, and know for a fact that I would have stumbled over the 1920s language. However, thanks to Martin Jarvis and his brilliant Just William CDs, the stories are firm favourites in our house. My troopers want a dog called Jumble, and my son Jude's party piece is an impression of an indignant William: "Dancing lessons? And that man to tea? On my birthday?"

Some classics need to be updated because they reflect the time in which they were written a little too closely. Take Enid Blyton for instance. My wife loves her Faraway Tree stories and still has her own childhood copies of them, before they were modernised. She has been reading our troopers edited versions of them for years. When she reads them, Dick helps Mother while the girls dig over the garden with Father, and they all do their homework before any high jinks with magic occurs. And just like Just William, The Phoenix and the Carpet and Five Children and It amongst many others, our troopers love them because they are good stories.

But good stories weren't only written in the past. During half term last week, we took the troopers to the excellent Imagine Children's Festival at Southbank. We went to the Redhouse Children's Book Awards, which celebrate the best in modern children's literature (and as these are the only awards voted for by children, also the most popular). Michael Morpurgo - last year's winner - spoke at the start, while my boys looked on open mouthed. To them, he is a superstar. But for my wife, it was Piers Ibbotson - there to represent his mum Eva Ibbotson - who stole the show. One of Eva's books, Which Witch? has been a firm favourite of hers since childhood, and I've read that one to our troopers too.

That got me thinking about what a 'classic' actually is. For my troopers, Roald Dahl is a classic children's author, but for me, he is a modern author, writing books from before I was born right through my childhood and even teenage years. I guess to be a classic you have to stand the test of time. So even though I think that the modern books I read to the troopers now - Harry Potter (again) and every Michael Morpurgo book for example - will be the classics of the future that will be read to my descendants for many generations to come, I am confident that they will also enjoy Just William, Enid Blyton, E Nesbit, and all the other stories I consider 'classic' just as much as I do.