Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Literature for Young Ladies (and their moms!)

I recently finished teaching a literature class for 9-12 year old girls, and the thing that I found most discouraging was how few truly great books these girls had read. BUT I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the girls' favorite books - ones I would never have guessed they would enjoy! (Shakespeare, anyone?) The question, though, was how to encourage them to read more. For a voracious read like myself, it never occurred to me that most people aren't avid readers - until I had children. 3 lovely girls, for whom reading came easily to 2, but more slowly to the last. My older girls both love books (though not always the ones I'd like them to read), but my youngest struggled a little in the beginning. Reading is work for her, and consequently, she doesn't enjoy it as much as her sisters. I have labored under the {erroneous} assumption for years that simply surrounding a child with books would make them naturally love books. It worked fairly well with the older girls, but obviously isn't enough for our youngest....

So, how do you foster a love of reading in children? 

Build a library. It's not the only solution, but certainly a huge factor in developing life-long readers. Our girls are surrounded by hundreds of books (yes, literally hundreds), including a large selection of favorite classics. Have they read most of them? Oh, no. But they definitely read more because they have constant access to a wide variety. Thrift stores and book fairs are our favorite places to explore! We recently had to enforce a moratorium on new purchases until I have time to build a bookcase for the family room. (It's loosely enforced, though.) Do most people need that many books? Nope. But having a decent selection on hand is a vital part of encouraging readers.

Visit the library often. Our youngest LOVES animal books! We have quite a few laying around, but not nearly enough to keep her happy. This is the child who comes home with 20-25 animal books. I swear she cleans out the entire shelf every time we go!

Join (or start) a book club for them. My oldest learned to love the classics last year in an Honors English class, but  I really wanted my younger girls to develop a taste for great books a little sooner. I loved teaching the "Literature for Young Ladies" class for our homeschool co-op, but this next semester we'll be hosting a book club instead. The children take turns choosing a book for the group and hosting the discussion group each month. Local libraries often have book clubs for different ages and interests, so check there, too.

Read with them. I'm going to be honest here. I didn't read to my younger girls nearly as much as my oldest, and I seriously regret it.  This Fall, we read most of the class selections together, though. Even older kids love to be read to, and those nights with all three of my girls curled up on our bed are priceless memories! If your children are  older, they can even take turns reading.

Start with abridged versions for young readers. The language in older classics can be challenging for struggling or young readers. My youngest would never make it through Little Women right now, but thoroughly enjoyed the abridged version. I know she'll pick up the original when she's ready, but the abridged version was a great introduction for her.

Use incentives! Just finished Little House on the Prairie? Visit a local pioneer site or museum. A Wrinkle in Time can be a great reason to visit a science museum or exhibit. My literature class loved craft projects and games related to the stories! A quick search of Pinterest can yield more ideas than you'll ever be able to use. One of my favorite resources is the LitWits Workshop website. They have resources and teaching guides for a number of children's classics.
 I don't recommend using money or unrelated rewards, though. I once tried to pay my girls $1 per book. They actually read fewer books. Research indicates that it can make reading seem like something undesirable that needs a "sweetener". Save the bribes for trips to the dentist!

I would really love to see this be the year my younger girls explore great literature! To that end, I'm compiling a list of "approved" books grouped by genre for them to chose from including traditional classics, plus some I found enjoyable as a child/teen. It doesn't mean they can't read other books, but they'll be expected to finish one from the list each month. For all of you, I also included ones we've already read that your families might enjoy. It's certainly not a complete list, though, so please feel free to add your favorites in the comments, and I'll add them to our hopefully-growing list!

Great Literature for Young Ladies 2014

Historical & Fiction
 (anything set in another time period)
Anne of Green Gables series
Little Women series
The Secret Garden
 Little House on the Prairie 
Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
American Girl books
Emma
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Bronze Bow
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Fantasy/Science Fiction
A Wrinkle in Time series
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander
Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey 
Hatching Magic by Ann Downer
Harry Potter series
Ender's Game series
Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (series)
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (series)
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Frog Princess by E.D.Baker (series)
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale (comic book-style)
Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Through the Looking Glass/ Alice in Wonderland

Poetry & Plays
Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare (really, anything by him)
Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
Walt Whitman
Shel Silverstein 
The What Your __ Grader Should Know series by E.D.Hirsch has an age-appropriate collection of fables, short stories, and poetry in every book.

Adventure
Treasure Island
Swiss Family Robinson
Sherlock Holmes
Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Red Badge of Courage
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Journey to the Center of the Earth
 Kidnapped
Robinson Crusoe
Gulliver's Travels

For Younger Girls
Charlotte's Web
Trumpet of the Swan
Stuart Little
The Borrowers series
Pippi Longstocking series
Aesop's Fables
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (series)
Happy reading!!!

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