We’re moving away from adaptations of classical stories. These books are not written to be great literature, they’re written to explain what happens in great literature. They have a sort of this happened, and then this happened, and finally, this happened feel. They’re boring. The vocabulary is stilted. The language is bland and does not excite the imagination. They leave us feeling cold.
Yes, it’s great that Isa knows who Robinson Crusoe is and understands that Nemo isn’t just the name of a fish, but he doesn’t need to know all that now. I’d rather he read great books that were written specifically for children. You really only get one shot at capturing that magic. Once he’s older, he’s not going to want to read those stories. If he does, he may enjoy them, but they just won’t have the same effect.
I remember re-reading some childhood favourites as an adult, and while they were great books, I didn’t get that captivated, swept-away feeling that I did as a child.
So, what’s on Isa’s reading list now? Here are a few:
- The Family Under the Bridge
- The Bears on Hemlock Mountain
- The Door in the Wall
- Follow My Leader
- The Great Brain
- Henry Huggins
I think being exposed to great literature, rich language…learning to think and analyse on a basic level, using stories that children can sink their literary teeth into, is far better preparation for the grown up classics to come than reading adaptations, even good adaptations.
I read Deconstructing Penguins a while back, but I didn’t completely “get” what they were teaching until I started studying creative writing, so if you need help, pick up a few books on writing, such as The Art & Craft of Fiction (also available in Kindle).
We use the following three questions when analysing literature:
- Who are the main characters?
- What is the problem or problems they are facing?
- How do they solve their problems?
We began by analysing favourite movies and books. Now Isa can pick out the “problem” (or lack of) easily. He looks purposely for it. Doing this is also teaching him about creative writing and he understands some of the elements that he needs to have in his own stories.
In time, you can add more elements. Here is a more expanded list:
- Who are the main characters? (protagonist/ antagonist/ contagonist/ guardian, etc. more info here)
- What is the viewpoint? First person, second person, third person? (viewpoint)
- What are the characters like? (characterisation)
- Where are they? (setting)
- What is the problem or problems they are facing? (conflict)
- What obstacles are in their way? (tension)
- How do they solve their problems? (climax & resolution)
- Did the protagonist changed in any way? (character arcs)
- Was it a good ending? (Most often, if an ending is poor, it’s because the protagonist did not solve his or her own problems. Did someone else swoop in and save the day? Did the protagonist come into a bit of luck? Stories that end this way are often a let-down.)
- What kind of book was this? Funny? Serious? Fantasy? Science fiction? Historical fiction? (genre)