Sharing Childhood Reading Memories with Your Children

introduce child to classic literature

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” — Garrison Keillor

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We all have those cherished books that made a big impression on us growing up. Many of us look back on them with the hopes to one day share them with our own children, and impart the same values we picked up from their pages.

Sharing your best-loved reading memories is a powerful way to bond with your child, inspire their love of literature from an early age, and create brand new reading memories together.

Here are some tips for sharing your personal literary treasures with your children.

Don’t expect the exact same response – No matter how dearly you hold onto your childhood classics, the truth is that times have changed, and so have children. Your child may simply not share the same passion for your highly prized children’s books, or it may not resonate with them in quite the same way.

If your child isn’t responding to your childhood classics, there’s no shame in not finishing the book. It’s possible that they are just not ready for the themes, language or context of the story. Nevertheless, a great read is still a great, especially if your treasured childhood books include classic literature, such as Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web or James and the Giant Peach, which brings us to our next point…

Choose quality literature (usually the classics) – Some of your childhood picks might include obscure titles that have stuck with you for a very specific reason. Maybe it was an old paperback you found with your parents at an old discount store, or a lesser known title that appealed to your particular tastes or unique sense of fun (e.g. gags, gore and grossness, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea!)

However, what makes a book a classic is its ability to tell a good story and present a deep understanding of human nature. Classic stories transmit timeless values, exhibit the beauty of language, and spark a sense of wonder and imagination. Books like The Secret Garden, Wind in the Willows and The Ugly Duckling promote universal values that have stood the test of time and continue to make compelling reads for young readers today. Choosing quality literature will increase the chances of your child sharing in the same joys and learnings as you did growing up. Read more tips on how to choose the perfect children’s books for your child.

Talk about the story as you go, and explain things if you need to – Stories from our childhood may use more unfamiliar words, language and themes than usual. Some of it may even be outdated. But this shouldn’t be a big problem. Explain the story as you go, and modify the language if you need to. Once you’re halfway through and your child is used to the style, it won’t be as necessary. If it’s a chapter book, read a chapter at a time, especially for children five and under – short sharp bursts will help them maintain interest. Read some helpful ways to make sure your child is reading for meaning.

Pausing every now and again to talk about the story is also a great way to check your child’s understanding and improve their comprehension skills. Talk to them about how much you enjoyed the book when you were a child, and relate it back to moments in your childhood. You can even show them the original versions if you have them. Don’t worry about going on tangents – the point of sharing these treasures with your child is to create positive reading experiences for them. By turning reading into a fun bonding experience, your child is likely to associate reading with positive memories – a helpful step in learning to read for pleasure.

If it didn’t scare you, it will probably be OK for your child too – A lot of parents worry that some of their best-loved children’s books are too dark. Think Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Lemony Snicket, and even some classic nursery rhymes like Rock-a-bye Baby and Jack and Jill.

Nobody knows your child as well as you do. If you think some of your classic children’s titles will keep them awake over the next few nights, definitely steer clear until they’re older. But generally children can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Children’s author and teacher Kelly Barnhill summed it up brilliantly when she said, “[Kids] are darker and creepier and far more sinister than anything that you will find on display of a Barnes & Noble … In their imaginations, villains lurk under the stairs, assassins hide behind shower curtains, and tentacled monsters slurp along the basement floor.” If your classic stories appealed more to your sense of curiosity and adventure, rather than fear, chances are it will be the same for your child too.

Save some of the classics for grandparents – We know how much you’d like to share every single one of your childhood classics, but remember that grandparents can play a big role in building your child’s love of reading too. If your child is lucky enough to have grandparents in their life, encourage them to start their own reading traditions together. Have your child’s grandparents introduce special books that are only read when they’re together.

Read together, even if they can read independently – So your little one has already mastered the art of getting lost in a good book. But that doesn’t matter. If your child is already reading independently, it’s still great to set aside some special reading time together every now and then to bond and continue building positive reading experiences with them, even into adolescence if you’re one of the lucky ones. Do bedtime story nights for as long as your child welcomes it and after that, watch movies together based on your best-loved books, or enjoy audio books for long family road trips.

Some classics to get you started

  • The Velveteen Rabbit
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
  • Cinderella
  • Hansel and Grethel
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes
  • The Frog Prince
  • The Ancient Mariner
  • The Railway Children
  • The Snow Queen
  • The Stonecutter
  • The Travels of Tom Thumb
  • How the Leopard Got Its Spots
  • The Golden Goose

SPECIAL OFFER: Reading Eggs is the online literacy program that makes reading fun for children aged 3-13. The Reading Eggspress Library includes over 2000 children’s e-books, including all of the classic titles listed here. You can claim your special FREE trial offer of Reading Eggs here.

How to Choose the Perfect Children’s Book

choosing books for kids

Choosing the right books for your child is important; getting it right the first few times can spark the beginnings of a lifelong enthusiasm for reading. So how can you spot a good children’s book amongst the dizzying variety of titles and genres?

The most memorable books from childhood are usually the ones which include vivid imagery, exciting stories and interesting characters. Here’s what you can look out for:

Good books are easy to relate to. Choose books that allow your child to explore different worlds and lives but are still familiar enough that they can see themselves in the characters. Even if it’s a story set in an imaginary world of monsters and fairies, if the characters have hopes and desires that are easy to relate to, your child will be more interested in reading it until the end.

They teach us important things. Whether it’s learning a timeless moral in The Tortoise and the Hare or learning about numbers, fruit and days of the week in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the best books often teach things without us even realising it. Choose books that deliver an important message or subtly teach essential skills such as the alphabet, counting, colours or seasons.

They may not be your personal pick. Children’s author Libby Gleeson suggests that when choosing a good book for children, parents should “resist the desire only to feed their children the books they loved when they were young”. Your child may not share the same passion for your childhood classics, and, as Gleeson notes, “The world has changed and children have changed.”

They are not too difficult to read. Use the Five Finger Rule if your child will be reading on their own. If the book has a few difficult words, read aloud together with your child. There’s nothing wrong with exposing children to more complex language in context. But if you know the language and concepts will be too difficult for them to enjoy the story, avoid putting them off reading altogether by choosing a simpler book.

They have strong illustrations. Vivid and clear imagery that supports the story is powerful for early readers aged 4-8. Choose books that have good illustrations that correspond with the storyline. Wordless books are also a great way to develop your child’s language skills, as they require readers to interpret the illustrations as the story progresses.

They are fun to read aloud. How many times has your child requested yet another reading of Dr Seuss? Books that rhyme or have a good lyrical flow are fun to read aloud and listen to. Read with enthusiasm and use different voices for different characters to bring the reading experience to life.

They’re often trending. Talk to your child’s teacher, librarian or other parents to find out about popular children’s books. Alternatively, search online for award-winning children’s book lists or hop onto book review sites to read what other parents are suggesting.

Good books can simply be the books your child desires. At the end of the day, what makes a good children’s book is any age-appropriate book your child wants to read! Let your child choose which books they would like to read, because choosing to read over not choosing to read is a significant step towards a lifelong love of reading.