A few years back I read an online article with the title: “Are children’s classics in danger of becoming obsolete?” In it, the author Laura Cummings referred to a survey which suggests that the books which our parents treasured are being almost completely ignored by today’s young people. She also included this quote: “The children’s bestseller list is dominated by modern literature. Books like Oliver Twist and The Wind in the Willows, which have been must-reads for generations, are getting dangerously close to extinction.”
The article reminded me of a post-graduate education class I took, where a teacher made the comment that he didn’t want to teach classics anymore because his students never showed any interest in them. Every year, I dedicate a month to reading and reviewing the classics. More often than not, my reading selections for favorites come from the classics. I’d hate to see classical literature disappear. Yet I often do wonder: Do young people read the classics anymore? And if not, should we care?
From my experience as an elementary-school teacher, my answer to that first question is mixed. The students whom I have taught certainly lack familiarity with a lot of standard literature. They don’t know fairy tales. Books such as Wizard of Oz, Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, or The Black Stallion are unknown works to them. If they do know stories such as Peter Pan, Bridge to Terabithia, Paddington Bear, or Because of Winn Dixie, it’s because they’ve seen the movie. Then again, they’re suprisingly familiar with authors such as Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Gary Paulson, and Louis Sachar. Why? Because they’ve been read selections by these authors are school.
In my opinion then, classics are still being enjoyed. In fact, the aforementioned article goes on to make two points. First, only the lesser known classics aren’t selling as well. For example, a contrast is made between the sales of The Railway Children by E.B. Nesbit and The Enchanted Castle. Second, young people tend to read those classics which boast of a new cover design and interior illustrations. In other words, sometimes presentation helps.
The question still remains: Should we care? The aforementioned article makes the point that the important thing is that young people read. Ones are also quoted as saying that today’s literature, along with books of yesteryear, are top-notch. So, maybe it’s okay that classics aren’t as popular. On the other hand, when it comes to other areas of entertainment, I see that at least the collections of dedicated fans tend to include a mix of the old and the new. In reality, I see this with my students too. Those who fall for reading tend to know not just the name of Rick Riodan but also of Lloyd Alexander. So, maybe there’s also a case for continuing to ensure the classics are being introduced.
What’s your opinion?