These books need no introduction. They are free and they are many. Enjoy!*
- Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
- Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
- Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
- Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
- Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling)
- The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
- Rikki Tikki Tavi (Rudyard Kipling)
- Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)
- Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss)
- A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
- The Call of the Wind (Jack London)
- The Prince and the Pauper (Mark Twain)
- Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Mark Twain)
- The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
*It should be noted that, although these books are considered classics, some of them are problematic. Many were written at a time when slavery and/or colonialism were at their height. If you have not re-read these books as an adult, it would be good to do. Then you will be prepared to have candid conversations with your child about the historical context these comments come from and the importance of learning from our errant history.
By way of example, in The Secret Garden, at beginning of the fourth chapter there are several exchanges between Martha and Mary that contain racist statements. When Mary comments on how different England is, Martha says, “I dare say it’s because there’s such a lot o’ blacks there instead o’ respectable white people.” Martha then says that she has nothing against “the blacks”…but you cannot help but read that white people are the “respectable” ones and your children will not miss the distinction. After this, Martha tells Mary that she expected her to be black and Mary is furious, saying, “You don’t know anything about native people. They are not people – they’re servants…”
These are horrifying words. And this from a “trusted” classic children’s book! The Secret Garden is not alone in this. If you are reading aloud to your child, you will have to decide how to censure and/or discuss this as you read. But if you are letting your child read by themselves, you need to make sure these words do not go unaddressed or he or she will begin think of them as normative. We should not presume that these concepts are “over their heads” or that children will not be affected by such language. We all know the power of the written word and children are always attuned to much more than they are given credit for. It is much wiser, and even necessary, for us to instruct our children directly on the injustices and wrongs done while providing them with a correct view of acknowledging, valuing, and respecting our differences as humans.
We want to raise conscientious readers and that begins with us, as the adults in their lives, being conscientious teachers.