Reading aloud draws children into classics
U.S. Department of Education

It may be early for holiday shopping, but birthdays and other special occasions continually send family and friends to bookstores and the Internet for gifts.

The National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C., has published its first themed list of 15 classic books for young readers at different grade levels. This year's theme is "courage."

NEH selected books "that will help young readers explore the meaning of courage and our nation's culture and history."

In addition, this year NEH updated its list of 300 classic books for young readers, with the expertise of the American Library Association. That list includes such enduring authors as Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Maurice Sendak, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Maya Angelou, Thornton Wilder, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Carl Sandburg, Leo Tolstoy, John Updike and Herman Wouk.

How do parents get their children to read the classics? The same way they encourage their children to read, says Barbara W. Rooks, Hillsborough County schools supervisor of library media services, kindergarten through fifth grades.

Building Vocabulary

"Read aloud," Rooks says. "It sparks interest big time."

Reading aloud is the way teachers draw students into the classics, Rooks says, and it is important at all grade levels.

"The more you read aloud, the more kids build their vocabulary," she says. "Children may not be able to read something, but they understand it when it's read to them."

Classics endure because of their timeless messages, points out Christine Van Brunt, Hillsborough County Schools coordinator of library media services, grades six through 12.

"A lot of the classics have been made into movies," Van Brunt says. Mel Gibson played Hamlet and Hugh Grant starred in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," for example.

"A lot of times seeing the movie will spark interest in reading the book," Van Brunt says.

Recommended Reading

The fifteen books selected by NEH are:

Kindergarten through third grade:

"The Cabin Faced West," by Jean Fritz; "Anansi the Spider," by Gerald McDermott; "Sylvester and The Magic Pebble," by William Steig.

Fourth through sixth grades:

"The Matchlock Gun," by Walter D. Edmonds; "My Side of the Mountain," by Jean Craighead George; "The Dream Keeper and Other Poems," by Langston Hughes; "Little House on the Prairie," by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Seventh and eighth grades:

"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," by Frederick Douglass; "Johnny Tremain," by Esther Forbes; "The Hobbit," by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Ninth through 12th grades:

"The Red Badge of Courage," by Stephen Crane; "Invisible Man," by Ralph Ellison; "Profiles in Courage," by John F. Kennedy; "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee; "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain.

All of the above are available in Hillsborough County school libraries, although not all titles are at every school, say Rooks and Van Brunt.

NEH is offering free sets of the 15 books chosen for its theme of courage to public and private libraries, says Noel Milan, director of the office of public affairs for NEH.

At least 500 sets will be available, Milan says, and schools and libraries may apply online. The deadline is Oct. 22.

For an application, as well as the complete list of 300 books recommended for reading for students in all grades, visit the Web site at