Here is my confession: I am a children’s librarian who has not read a (shameful) number of classic children’s books. There are books that I’ve purposefully avoided, others that I’ve always meant to read (but Time, time, who has the time?), and yet others that send a a cold jolt of fear straight into my heart. These are the books that haunt me.
Clearly, it’s time to fess up.
I’m not a complete slacker. I mean, I’ve read some classic children’s books. In point of fact, as far as old Newbery winners are concerned, I’ve read a fairly decent amount (including such golden oldies as Tales from Silver Lands and Shen of the Sea, thank you very much.) But beyond Newbery winners, my personal cannon of classic children’s literature is sorely lacking.
While I still consider myself well-read, the plain fact is that many classics have eluded me. I didn’t read them as a child, I never picked them up in college, and somehow, I was able to avoid them in both library school and in my career thus far. It’s my shameful, dirty little secret.
Has my failure to actually read these epic works prevented me from routinely recommending them, calling upon them during reader’s advisory, and even offering mini-booktalks about them? Well, no.
If a child comes into my library looking for a work of historical fiction and they’ve gone through all the American Girl books, finished The Birchbark House series, and they’re perhaps not quite up to Calpurnia Tate , I might very well ask if they’ve ever picked up the Little House books. Of course, this is a dicey move. I can only talk so much about the adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I know the gist of it: pioneer girl, family stories, set in the 1870’s. If I’m prodded for more detail, however, my heart begins to race and a trickle of sweat appears on my brow. I think to myself, “This kid’s on to me. Abort mission! Retreat!” It is at moments like this that I start to feel a tad guilty about my second-hand knowledge. I don’t want to “wing it” or rely on solely on whatever bits of information I can dredge up from the children’s-librarian-collective-unconscious in order to recommend a classic. I want to own that knowledge, fair and square!
So, my belated New Year’s Resolution is to read more classic children’s literature. What exactly do I mean by “classic children’s literature?” Excellent question! I feel it’s a “know ’em when you see ’em” kind of thing. I’m not limiting myself to any specific publication cut-off date or any criteria that limits the genre, intended audience, or format. In fact, I’m even open to suggestions (please feel free to add recommendations in the comments.)
It’s clear that it is time to come clean and confront some of the classics that have been haunting me. My goal is to read one classic per month this year. January got away from me, and frankly, I’ve been doing my darnedest to finish reading all the new books in my “to be read” pile. February, however, heralds the dawn of a new reading goal for Libraryvoice! Betsy-Tacy, watch yourself, ’cause I’m a-coming.
Here is my line-up for the next few months:
As I make my way through the list, I will review the titles here. Also, in the interest of variety (as well as assuring myself that I’m not the only classic-slacker) I may recruit a few of my library friends to guest blog about their own (shameful) list of unread classics.