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Steps to Success » Classic Literature

Classic Children’s Books

Most contemporary bookshops have a vast children’s section, offering everything from middle-grade adventure stories to young adult dystopian fiction. With so many exciting new titles published each year, it can be easy to ignore older texts, which may seem outdated and difficult to understand. So why bother with children’s classics at all?

First off, these books have had an enormous impact on our culture, imprinting themselves onto the collective consciousness in the form of films, TV series and modern rewrites. Directors are constantly finding innovative ways to make classic texts relevant to our times – for instance, Greta Gerwig’s recent adaptation of Little Women highlights the racial tensions in 19th-century American society and sees the protagonist prioritising her career over marriage.

Another, more practical, reason for exploring classic children’s literature is to broaden your vocabulary. Exams for UK independent schools rely to a large extent on applicants’ familiarity with obscure, old-fashioned words. The easiest and most entertaining way to improve your comprehension is to read older texts and practise understanding vocabulary from the context.

Most importantly of all, reading classic children’s literature can be great fun! If you feel intimidated by the thought of ploughing through pages of small print, familiarise yourself with the stories by watching the film adaptations first. Many famous Disney movies – from Alice in Wonderland to Peter Pan – are based on classic children’s books. Audiobooks are another great way to access the classics: a personal favourite is Martin Jarvis’s hilarious narration of the Just William stories. And finally, for a simple and engaging introduction to staples of classic children’s literature, you can read i-Learner’s very own Key to the Classics series (L1-2, L3-4, L5-6).

Even if classic children’s books initially seem a little intimidating, there’s no reason to let that prevent you from falling down the rabbit hole of reading!