Homeschool, Learning Through Literature

What Makes a Book a Classic?

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What Makes A Book A Classic? Reader Question Answered!

Recently, one of my readers asked me; “How do you define a book as a classic?”

The question of what makes a book a classic was one I pondered myself when I started reading more with my children. I thought this question deserved a bit more attention and that my answer may also help you too.

Types of Classics

There are three types of classic books; typical Classics, Modern Classics and Personal Classics.

1. Classic Literature 

example of a Typical children's classic book Hans Christian  Anderson's fair tales

Typically classic books are those that have stood the test of time and even today are highly popular reads.  They are well written and considered to be worthy of taking note.

Not only this however classics are the type of books you can happily read several times over. Each new read through will expose something new to the reader that they didn’t notice or ponder on before. Classics do not engage the reader only as a form of entertainment but they capture the reader emotionally and often contain both hidden and obvious valuable life lessons .

Typical classical literature can be easy to discover. You’ll often find them in classics lists or reproduced by publishers as part of their classics collections. Children’s books in this group may include books such as Aesop’s Fables, Anderson’s Fairy Tales, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So’ Stories and “The Secret Garden”. Though there are family friendly books, that to my knowledge have not been reproduced in classic collections that would still fit this category such as “Little House in The Big Woods.” or A.A Milne’s “Winnie The Pooh”.

2. Modern Classics 

Example of a Modern Children's Classic What do you do with an idea by Kobi Yamada

Modern classics can be a little more difficult to identify. 

Generally a modern book would be anything that was written within the last 50 years or so. In essence however modern classics have the same feel as the old classics. They enrich your mind every time you read them and they can be read over and over again.

Since modern classics were written in a different time period (after the WWII era) there is an obvious shift in their content and the way they are written. Writing styles have changed over the years, in some respects so has the audience and the society that authors are trying to portray through their stories and works.  Modern classics often teach valuable life lessons, deal with complicated topics and use rich vocabulary.

Another note on all classics is that they are often able to speak to the hearts and minds of people from all different backgrounds and eras. It seems in essence, classic books contain basic human truths that exist regardless of culture, current norms of society or location on the globe.

3. Personal Classics 

This perhaps isn’t an official category. It is certainly personal opinion but I think it is important to point out. Reading isn’t just about all of the educational benefits; I know there are so many! But it is also about enjoyment.

We talk a lot about wanting our children to develop a love of reading and books. To achieve this it means we have to enjoy reading and so do they. There are many books we read that we perhaps enjoy but wouldn’t want to read again. 

A well written book that captures our hearts and imagination (or our child’s), that we enjoy reading repeatedly and gain something from iteach time, in my opinion fits the category of a classic. It’s a personal classic but it might not be one that others would recognise . 

Lifelines By David Gribble a Book on Alternative Educaton for the Underprivaleged

For example, one of my favourite ‘personal classics’ is a book called ‘Lifelines’ written by David Gribble! A friend gifted this book to me after finding it in a sale for books that had been damaged during a fire. She know’s better than anyone just how excited I always am to learn more about alternative education.

In his book David tells us about his experience of child led schools, where children were given control over the shape of their education. These schools have been set up for the poor and underprivileged children in different places around the world. Many of which have had some amazing results. David’s observations show just how successful child led education can be!

I have read this book at least 15 times since I received it. It’s a short read but well written and somehow every time I go through it, I learn something new about education, the way I wish to raise my children and my mission to help others. In fact reading that book the first time round was one of the reasons I decided to direct this blog towards helping and supporting other parents who wished to provide a child led education and environment for their children.  I am yet to meet another person who has even read this book, let alone considers it a classic, but that is exactly what it is to me!

As you and your children read more and more together you will develop your own personal list of classics. 

Read this post if you want to understand more about why I read classic literature with my children and why believe you should too.

You can also view more of our families favourite classics on our Books We Love List.


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