On reading the classics - a
concern of a parent expressed to a teacher
Dear Mr. Michel:
The subject of Alice reading just for points has
come several times and I have been meaning to
address it. I realized that responding to your
comment would involve more than a yes or no answer.
I apologize for the delayed response.
I am responsible for encouraging Alice to read
children’s classics (which tend to have higher
Lexile levels); my reason for doing this is not for
points. My goal is to create in Alice an awareness
of the world outside her immediate realm, to build
up her critical thinking skills, and to broaden her
Alice started reading early. We read well-written
books appropriate for her age (from Africa’s Anansi
stories to Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight). By the
second grade, she was reading higher Lexiled books
on her own. Though she loved reading, she was doing
this mainly to keep up with her older sister who is
a voracious reader. (I had age appropriate books in
my little library but she was disinterested).
A turning point came when she started reading a book
entitled, The Lightening Thief, a three hundred
paged book by Rick Riordan. She could not complete
it fast enough. She grew increasingly frustrated.
She finally finished reading the book.
After this unfortunate experience, she started
reading sixty to hundred paged books with very
simplistic themes. Her favorites were the
uninspiring Rainbow Magic Books, with titles such as
Poppy the Harp Fairy. I let her go at own pace. I
became increasingly concerned when at the close of
third grade she was still reading these colorless
and unimaginative books. I also noticed that there
were huge gaps in her knowledge. This I found
singularly alarming and disturbing.
I was so desperate that I started reading children’s
classics with her just to get her interested in
well-written books. She loved it when I read to her,
but she would not do it on her own. I devised a plan
of beginning a book with her, and leaving her to
finish it. This was successful. Through the summer
months before 4th grade, I encouraged to her read
books such as The Trumpet of the Swan, The Christmas
Carol, Black Beauty etc. I however, noticed that she
always gravitated towards her usual insipid
sixty-paged mindless paperbacks.
So, when she became your student and you insisted on
the class reading at or above grade level unless
they have special needs. I was very happy. I
realized this was a perfect opportunity to get her
reading some wonderful classics, and to gently
direct her attention away from her beloved Rainbow
I understand that Alice does not fully comprehend
all that she reads. Some of these abridge classics,
despite the fact that they are written for children,
have sophisticated themes. Alice might not readily
grasp the themes in for example Journey to The
Center of the Earth , Moby Dick, Call of the Wild
e.t.c. I am just glad that she is being exposed to
There is nothing wrong with going back to revisit
some of these classics in the very near future, when
she is a year or two older. Personally, I do not
understand some of the scientific articles I read in
Newsweek, but that does not deter me from finishing
these articles. It affords me an opportunity to
learn and challenge myself.
A few days ago, Alice started reading The
Adventures of Dr. Dolittle.
She loved it so much that she did not want to go to
bed. I am glad your class her rekindled her interest
in books. It has always bothered me that so many
American elementary school children spent so much
time pouring over uninspiring and poorly written
books such as The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Junie B.
Jones’ books when they should be reading Mark
Twain’s Tom Sawyer.
I was recently pleasantly surprised when Alice made
a connection between the American
Civil War and The Little Women. She might not have
understood every part of the book, but it is
laudable that she made that connection.
Interestingly, Alice does not talk about reading
count points. She did at the very beginning,
however, her interest in points petered out. She is
more concerned about reading three books within a
I hope this letter clearly explains the reasons why
I have Alice reading children’s classical
Thank you for reading my e-mail.
PS: In the name of full disclosure, I grew up
reading the classics (from the Ghanaian Anansi
Stories to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer). I also have a
small children’s library well stocked with
children’s classics. Therein lies my preference for