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Cheryl Floyd

Jean Valjean and Dante

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How young do you think you can start to introduce classic literature? How do you introduce it? Do you use an abridged version with lots of art first? Do you then have middle schoolers read a more wordy, but still abridged version? And then finally do you tackle the full text in high school? At what age do you think you could read a few lines, explaining as you go to say, 6-8 year-olds? I am reading Les Mis for myself, but I think my kids could listen to the audio and follow along. I am reading out loud to them, Dante' Inferno, I think it's going ok. We are going really slow and reviewing before and after each read. The language is so beautiful. Any thoughts? 

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Hi Cheryl! I think it totally depends on the selection. We read Plutarch aloud to students as young as 6th grade, in bite-sized chunks. And Shakespeare, of course! Same with poetry - we read Wordsworth and Donne and Hopkins and Burns, etc. to students as young as K, with lots of repetition. Pilgrim's Progress, Dickens, etc. can be read aloud pretty early. Good for you to be reading Inferno with younger children! What a delight.

I could see Les Mis working that way also, although the themes are fairly intense for young children, so that might give me pause. I would avoid explaining anything, but let them tell you what they are understanding (narration), especially if it is a work they will revisit later! I would also add that reading the King James Version of the bible aloud is a great way to expose your children to beautiful language patterns. We use ESV for Bible study, but KJV for all other reading aloud and for composition exercises.

We do use thoughtfully abridged versions (usually older well-written children's versions from excellent authors) for some stories like the Odyssey and the Aeneid. If the tale in its original setting would have been known in the general culture before reading/listening, then it's probably good to familiarize our children with the storyline in that way. In fact, I often have older students read a well-written children's version before they begin a challenging read, especially one from antiquity or Christendom. Otherwise, we pretty much avoid abridged versions of classics, and spend more time with younger students reading fairy tales, fables, and worthy children's lit.  

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Now that I am further into Les Miserables I see this would be too intense and too long for my children, even my older ones! There is so much that is extraneous! What have you done if you started a book with your children and figured out in the middle of it it's not right, or there are things you wouldn't want them exposed to? Would you just stop? Would you try to read ahead and abridge yourself? Would you push through? I usually know ahead of time what we are going to read, but sometimes I take a chance with something. I'm glad I didn't start reading Les Miserables to them! I think if I did, though, now, I would just read up to where Jean val Jean has his epiphany. That could be a beautiful story all in itself. That's what made me think I could read it to them! 

Dante I know is going to have hard themes, but they are so crouched in poetry that I wondered if I couldn't just read through it anyway, and just stop on the parts I do want to expound upon. 

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