J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

Encouraging Youth to Read Classic Literature

As a youth growing up in Salinas, CA, birthplace of John Steinbeck, it was generally expected that every high school student would read at least 5 of Steinbeck’s published works. In fact, it was mandatory to read East of Eden by graduation. Because Steinbeck frequently mentioned Salinas and the surrounding areas in his novels, it was easy for someone like me (a Salinas native) to connect with his books.

Although I no longer live in Salinas, I wanted to encourage my own kids to read some of Steinbeck’s novel. The dilemma was how to encourage my kids to read these “old books”. Would they be able to enjoy these novels in the same way I had? There are no references to I-pods, computers, televisions or video games since most of his books were written in the mid-1930s. And, there are certainly no vampires or teenage wizards in these novels.

I wanted my 13 year-old daughter to read Of Mice and Men, not just because I was from Salinas but because I felt it is a really good book. When I recommended the book to her, I told her that it offers a small snapshot of what life may have been like in the early 20th century. It was also an easy sell to her because it’s a short and easy read – something my daughter seriously takes into consideration since her school requires that she read at least one book per month. She read the book, and when she finished I asked her for her thoughts. Her response was priceless: “Yes, I liked it, but Mom that was a messed up ending!”

That was exactly the response I was looking for. By reading it myself just before, we were able to discuss the book together: how we felt, what we liked & what we didn’t like. It was a mini-book club between mother and daughter and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Books – especially very good books – are meant to make you feel. At times, they may greatly disturb you or make you angry. In other cases you may be positively motivated by its content. Many times, books are not politically correct and they stretch the boundaries of our comfort zones. This is prevalent in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, as it covers situations which would be completely unacceptable today. By reading this book, my daughter and I had a candid discussion on not only the book, but what would happen if situations covered in the book would (or could) occur today. The classics may not be today’s hot best seller, but they are classics for a reason – they are good.

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One Response to “Encouraging Youth to Read Classic Literature”

  1. Scott Copperman
    on Mar 18th, 2011
    @ 10:38 am

    I can definitely relate.

    While going to school in southwestern Connecticut, my class read My Brother Sam is Dead. I have owned a copies of that book, The Bloody Country, and Where the Red Fern Grows for almost 30 years, holding them for the day I can give them to my son to read.

    This year, my boy finally read the Collier and Collier books, and he loved them. He had the same reaction to them I did long ago, and we sat and talked about them just like you and your daughter. He’s reading Where the Red Fern Grows now, and when he’s a little older I’ll give him a copy of my other gut-wrenching read, Flowers for Algernon.

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