How To Raise A Lover of The Great Books

Given that we no longer live in colonial America, our children are no longer expected to be able to speak Latin and have knowledge of New Testament Greek by the 3rd grade.  No more reading the Latin historians Tacticus and Livy, or the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides. No more poetry from Horace or Virgil.

It begs the question: these days, how can we raise a lover of the Great Books?

One of our members, Colin, asked on our OGB Slack channel if anyone was reading the Great Books to their children. He mentioned that he tried reading Sophocles doing different voices, but it didn’t go over so well.

A few members are reading a kid’s version of the Iliad and Odyssey to their kiddos. Members with older children actually had their children read the Iliad and Odyssey themselves over the summer months. Member Britt has his children reading a poetic version of The Epic of Gilgamesh.

How much of this do children actually retain?

Stringfellow Barr, co-founder of the Great Books program at St. John’s College said, “the great books serve the purpose of a very large bone thrown to a young puppy. The puppy will wrestle with it, will probably not get much meat off it while agitating it, but will certainly sharpen its teeth in the process.”

Children are probably not ready for Great Books discussions. At the very least, knowing some of these foundational stories will enrich your child’s imagination and give them a vocabulary in which to think.

In the OGB Podcast #44-The Lost Tools of Learning, Scott and Karl discuss the different stages of child development in Dorthy Sayers’ groundbreaking essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

Sayers recognizes three states of development for the child. She calls them the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic. “The Poll-Parrot stage,” says Sayers,  “is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, title relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables…”

In the podcast, Scott says, “I think of grammar in terms of the Trivium as not just Latin or English grammar, but also just picking apart the bones of subjects. And so [Sayers] wants kids in the Poll-Parrot stage, in the grammar stage, to be learning the parts of everything. Dates and history for example. Little pieces of poetry, and who wrote them…you can pack their brains with information that will eventually be organized in the logic phase and start to create a world for them.”

For the youngster, science is largely about collecting and classifying at that point, they’re learning their multiplication tables, memorizing dates, ect. What about committing stories to memory?

Malachy Walsh, one of our seminar hosts here at OGB, recommended Harold Bloom’s wittingly titled book, Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages.  Bloom writes, “If readers are to come to Shakespeare and to Chekhov, to Henry James and to Jane Austen, then they are best prepared if they have read Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling.” This anthology of exceptional stories and poems was hand-selected by Bloom, author of The Western Canon, to inspire a lifelong love of reading. 

Scott recommends starting your young kids off reading Collier’s Junior Classics. The original 1918 edition started as a classified collection of tales, stories, and poems, both ancient and modern, suitable for kids from six to sixteen years of age. It’s a charming way for kiddos to add to their fund of knowledge, especially on literature and history.

The 10 volumes of the 2020 edition of the Junior Classics are as follows:

1. Fairy Tales and Fables

All the magic from all of the world that will keep your young readers up late reading. You’ll find fairy tales from England, Ireland, Germany, Norway, France, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and India by 11 different authors, (including some by the Grimm brothers!)

2. Myths and Legends

You can expect folk tales and magic stories by famous authors such as Edward Lear, A.A. Milne, Carl Sandburg, George MacDonald, Walter de la Mare, Padraic Colum, Howard Pyle, and Frank Stockton. Also, reprints of Aladdin and Ali Baba from The Arabian Nights plus 8 stories by Hans Christian Andersen.

3. Tales of Greece and Rome

You’ll find a number of legends about beasts and saints, some by Thomas Bulfinch and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

4. Heroes and Heroines of Chivalry

A wonderful addition to this collection. ALL selections are prose retelling excerpts from works such as The Odyssey, Beowulf, King Arthur and the Round Table, and Robin Hood.

5. Stories That Never Grow Old

All the classics your young readers will love. The entire Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens made the list. You can also find excerpts from Don Quixote and Gulliver’s Voyage.

6. Stories About Boys and Girls

Mostly reprinted chapters from longer works by mostly obscure authors but includes more well-known authors such as Rachel Field, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain.

7. Stories of Courage and Valor

The stories in this volume are all true and have been arranged in chronological order, an arrangement that will aid the reader to remember the times to which the stories relate.

8. The Animal Book

You can expect to find mostly reprinted chapters from longer works by authors such as John Muir, Anna Sewell with a full reprint of her book Black Beauty, Jack London with a full reprint of his short story Brown Wolf, Eric Knight with a full reprint of his short story Lassie Come Home.

9. Tales of Sport and Adventure

You’ll read about everything from Jack London “Chased by the Trail” to  Howard Pyle with a chapter from his Pirates book to Robert Bryd’s chapter from his autobiography about flying over the South Pole.

10. The Poetry Book

There are over 320 poems, with a mix of nursery rhymes, poems, riddles, and children’s poems- at least 100 of the world’s most famous poems.

 

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