Movies and Books for Young Minds
September 14, 2010 4:21 AM   Subscribe

What movies and books should I introduce to my kids as they move towards adulthood? I would like to give my kids a solid foundation in books and movies outside of what will be thrown at them by the media and their friends. I turn to Mefi to give me a list of the literary and cinematic signposts that would broaden and round out a toddler, tween, or teenager.
posted by jasondigitized to Education (36 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
posted by fire&wings at 4:32 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

A while ago, I asked about best book series for kids, and received a number of great answers. I think you'd find at least a few books on this list that suit your needs.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:46 AM on September 14, 2010

It's depressing how many tweens/teenagers don't know who Oscar Wilde is. If you introduce your children to his work, you'll be making thr world a better place.
posted by milarepa at 5:01 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Old silent comedies, Buster Keaton especially. Silent dramas are OK if they're spectacular, but their acting style and themes are quite dated. Modern comedy and culture owes a lot to the early silent comedy short. I mean, a promo for Psych is using the "falling wall misses oblivious man due to comically lined-up window" -- that gag is almost a hundred years old.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:05 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my experience with tweens and teens, they're pretty independent-minded, have strong and inexplicable likes and dislikes, and are difficult to influence directly. That's kind of what the developmental stage is about--learning to operate independently in the world and increasing freedom from parental dependency and control. The best strategy for me has simply been to have books available, give them the option of watching age-appropriate non-blockbuster movies with you, let them explore the music on your iPod, etc.

For example, my 15-yo is "better rounded" than my 12-yo when it comes to films, books, and movies (more due to taste and personality than age). If his best friend suggests he read Nabokov, then lookie--how convenient that mom has all this Nabokov lying around--what great stuff it is! But if I were to have suggested he read Nabokov? Pffff. His reaction would have been the same as his reaction to my suggestion that he would enjoy Joyce's Portrait of the Artist.... A polite "thanks, Mom" while mentally hitting the "ignore" button. He also independently discovered Silvia Plath in my collection, even though it's probably not what I would have offered up to him at that time (12 years old).

My 12-yo is more rigid in her tastes, and would skip even the polite obligatory response part. If I bought her a copy of Little Women or some such to "broaden" her, she would be actively angry at me for knowing her so poorly.

You might have a little more luck when they are younger, but likes and dislikes set in surprisingly early (by age 6 or 7, I'd say my kids had strong and distinct preferences in books and movies). So you have to work within that. Again, knowing my 15-yo, I suspect he might like Dostoevsky, or Camus. But not Shakespeare or any of the Brontes. My daughter is sort of a Catcher in the Rye type, if anything. And then, I would have thought son would have liked Slumdog Millionaire and my daughter not so much, but it was the reverse!
posted by drlith at 5:15 AM on September 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Watership Down and the Dark Materials books were my all-time favorites as an early teen, I read and re-read them endlessly.

Also THE MARX BROTHERS! I hate that I discovered them so late in life (as in, age 20).
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:38 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can only tell you what I was into, which I think led me to become a fairly well-rounded adult. I read anything and everything Daniel Pinkwater wrote (still do), and I was fortunate enough to be way into classic films, especially comedies like Keaton mentioned above, but primarily and most obsessively the Marx Brothers. Most of my favorite movies these days are for kids, though some are a bit older, such as The Muppet Movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Babe. Also, most of Rocky and Bullwinkle is available on DVD and to stream on Netflix, which I ate up as a kid (and yes, still do.) Hope this helps.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 5:42 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I often recommend the book "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. In a world filled with nonsense which is often very seductively presented, it is good to have at least one reliable guide to reality. As a companion suggestion, the best movie to help people to develop a healthy sense of skepticism would be "Religulous".
posted by grizzled at 5:49 AM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

As an early teen, I sought out books that had been banned. (Also, a lot of crap, but that's neither here nor there.) Teachers were impressed by my interest in Orwell and Huxley, for instance. My parents encouraged intellectual curiosity, knew what I was reading, and every now & then said "eh, we'd rather you not read that now." Obviously, the Goosebumps series isn't as enlightening literature as Hemingway or Steinbeck. But if you have available such titles, maybe gently suggesting it as "Hey, this book has been controversial, you should read it & tell me what you think of it", your kids may come out with a bit of a different view of the world.
posted by knile at 6:40 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I remember having the same feelings drlith describes about certain movies when I was young. Mom and Dad would put on something like My Dinner with Andre or The Ox-Bow Incident and I wanted to scream, because in my young adult brain, those were intolerably boring. It's incredible to me because there are a lot of movies I thought were boring back then that are riveting now that I'm an adult; I'm not including any of those in my list here and they include a lot of great cinematic signposts.

These are some classic movies my parents made me like. It's possible if not likely that your idea of appropriate content will vary from my parents'.

A Face in the Crowd
Planet of the Apes
In the Heat of the Night
Inherit the Wind
12 Angry Men
Stalag 17
The Sweet Smell of Success
Born Yesterday
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Haunting
Das Boot
The King and I
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Young Frankenstein
Captain Blood
Fantastic Planet
The Defiant Ones
The Killing
The Time Machine
Midnight Cowboy
Forbidden Planet
House of Wax
Some Like It Hot
The Court Jester
The Producers
The Apartment
The Night of the Iguana
Witness for the Prosecution
X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Born to Kill
Baby Doll
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Darby O'Gill and the Little People
The Last Detail

The Marx Brothers movies and all the Bond movies were big hits too.
posted by heatvision at 6:43 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stand By Me
To Kill a Mockingbird
In Cold Blood
Small Change
posted by Freedomboy at 6:57 AM on September 14, 2010

Broadening your kids' horizons with books is admirable. However, please remember that the answers you're getting here are from people who are no longer kids. The books that spoke to kids years ago may not always speak to today's (or tomorrow's) kids. As you try to introduce your kids to some of the suggestions in this post, remember to also be on the lookout for quality new literature for kids.
posted by TEA at 7:03 AM on September 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

A nineteen-year-old I know still appreciates Hitchcock, the Marx Brothers, and screwball comedies, which his dad and I introduced him to in his early teens.
posted by chez shoes at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2010

Broadening your kids' horizons with books is admirable. However, please remember that the answers you're getting here are from people who are no longer kids. The books that spoke to kids years ago may not always speak to today's (or tomorrow's) kids. As you try to introduce your kids to some of the suggestions in this post, remember to also be on the lookout for quality new literature for kids.

Some of us are parents and know what changed our children's lives.
posted by milarepa at 7:36 AM on September 14, 2010

If your children don't know bible stories, it may be valuable to them to read some (even in a "bible stories" anthology, if that is more age appropriate). So much classic literature is influenced in some way by the bible, that a basic familiarity may become useful.

Seconding the recommendation of To Kill a Mockingbird. This may be required reading in their school - most of my friends had it for required reading sometime around age 14 (7th grade - 9th grade).
posted by kellygrape at 7:41 AM on September 14, 2010

For early teens/tweens.... Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

I think it's a great book that shows even kids have the power to change the world, and because it's a recent novel, it's easy to relate to.
posted by Zoyashka at 7:43 AM on September 14, 2010

1984, and Fahrenheit 451. Why didn't I read these earlier, god ...

If they haven't read them yet, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's the movies, yes, but there's so much you just don't get to see because of time or technology constraints. It's quite heavy reading in places, which could present a bit more of a challenge.
posted by Heretical at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rebecca Blood does an excellent job of highlighting reading lists for all ages.

The Hunger Games trilogy is hot for the "Young Adult" market right now. This might be an opportunity to introduce some of the classic dystopian fiction like 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, etc.
posted by cross_impact at 8:02 AM on September 14, 2010

When I was young, my parents allowed me to buy an unlimited number of books. Toys and clothes were limited, but books were not. Conveniently, children's books can be shockingly inexpensive. My school used to pass out Scholastic catalogs full of great books that were only a couple of dollars each. Every month I would get a a massive box of books. We also made regular (weekly) trips to libraries.

I think establishing and maintaining this sort of book-loving family environment is much more important than prescribing specific signposts. However, since you have a baby, you don't have to worry about a sullen teen rejecting your opinions. I think the Newbery and Caldecott medals are truly excellent awards (for children's and picture books, respectively). Why not stock baby's library with as many of those you can find? If cost is an issue, they're all available VERY cheaply used.

You should also stock nonfiction books about people/events you think are amazing, plus classic series (for girls: Ballet Shoes, Little House, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women/Men, Weetzie Bat). I think the pioneer/survival-type books are a good antidote to Internet culture. Along with Little House, there's also stuff like Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Girl of the Limberlost, etc. To encourage independence and learning, there's Roller Skates, The Silver Pencil, The Egypt Game and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. For entrepreneurial spirit nothing beats the 1963 horse book Golden Sovereign. Before high school you'll want to slip in some drug classics like Go Ask Alice or Smack.

Jezebel had a great column called "Fine Lines" containing reflections on childhood books, which have now been expanded into a book called Shelf Discovery. Perhaps you'll find its suggestions and perspectives useful.

Also, every 6th grade girl in the world should read the extremely obscure book The Leaving, an out-of-print collection of stories set in Nova Scotia that capture the struggles of adolescence in a particularly knowing light. Buy it before it goes out of print.

Similarly as there may never be a magazine for girls as good as Sassy, I was going to suggest that you stock up on back issues at Ebay. But I see that they're going for $10 to $500, so maybe not?

Finally, I'm still obsessed with the modern counterpart to the Diary of Anne Frank: Zlata's Diary, a moving, triumphant diary set in the siege of Sarajevo.

Also, don't forget MUSIC. All my coolest friends grew up listening not to baby music, but to the Beatles/Pink Floyd/the Clash/etc etc etc.
posted by acidic at 8:07 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

My kids enjoyed film noir, most silent comedies, and some MGM musicals. (They're in college now). They also liked the Marx brothers, Fred 'n' Ginger, and the big epics. Doris and Rock fell flat as did most Westerns.

Rather than try to force spinach movies upon them, I think movie night as a family ritual (pizza, popcorn, ice cream) is a good way to make watching older films enjoyable. For us, Sunday night was the night to sit in front of the TV and have fun.
Same with reading books--a book at bedtime and book tapes in the car for long trips.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:11 AM on September 14, 2010

give them The Giver.
posted by changeling at 8:39 AM on September 14, 2010

I'm betting they'll get it through the course of schooling, but I have to second To Kill a Mockingbird. It is my go-to book for describing how reading a story at different times in one's life can allow the reader to identify with different characters. (Jem as a child, then Boo as a young man, finally Atticus as an adult.) Each time, I've gotten something completely different from the story.
posted by quin at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2010

I would like to give my kids a solid foundation in books and movies outside of what will be thrown at them by the media and their friends.

One way to do this is to first take the step of engaging with them about the media they like, and using your understanding of what their tastes to try to make connections to classic films and books that are appealing for the same sorts of reasons. For example, if your kid gets into some new detective show, you could point out Arthur Conan Doyle's work or classic film noir that explore similar themes. As others have said though, each generation and individual person has a different perspective on classic works, so it can be a good idea to just give children access to as much quality media as possible and let them find what speaks to them.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:56 AM on September 14, 2010

My son is currently reading Frankenstein for school, which he thought he would enjoy, but he is finding frustrating because Victor's inconsistency drives him nuts (he relates to Victor's OCD moments, not at all to his religious concerns). He read Ender's Game and Fahrenheit 451 for school as well and I feel those were beneficial. He and his brother sympathized with poor Boxer from Animal Farm.

We all felt that Night was vivid, stark and eye-opening and a must-read.

My oldest is not a reader, though (to my despair), and attempts to steer him to works I myself enjoyed are NOT appreciated or acted upon. My youngest prefers his friends' recommendations to mine; I can't get him to read The Dresden Files but they have him considering R.J. Salvatore's work. We both devoured World War Z, though.

I bless the teacher who finally convinced them to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a perennial favorite of the entire family. We've also bonded over Aliens and Big Trouble in Little China.
posted by misha at 9:11 AM on September 14, 2010

On classic movies, I don't have specific suggestions, but the father of a friend of mine overheard us all discussing movies and was APPALLED that basically none of us had seen Hitchcock. So he started "movie night with Mr. R" and every Wednesday, all summer, would invite all his daughter's friends over for a classic movie. He provided the snacks and soda and a high tolerance for rambunctiousness.

This is sneakily brilliant parenting because he got to know all his daughters' friends, we thought he was SO COOL for providing awesome movies AND snacks, and his daughter watched all these movies that, if he just said, "Come watch North by Northwest" she would have been like, "whatever, dad."

Usually he got two movies and told us a little about each and let us pick which one we wanted. With his "movie club" I saw North by Northwest, Vertigo, Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, and several others. Lots of great stuff I otherwise probably wouldn't have seen because I'm not a huge film buff and neither are my parents.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:18 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Be prepared for your kids to think that some of the stuff you really love is totally lame.

Also be prepared for you to think that some of the stuff your kids love is totally artistically-worthless crap. Let them experience it anyway.

My dad was really into showing me Silver Age DC comics when I was a little kid. Then I moved off into the horrid X-treme 90's crap (which I LOVED at the time and he thought was beyond dreck). Had my dad given me Watchmen at the time, I would have thought it was boring, old-man stuff. But later, when I found out about Watchmen on my own, he had a copy on his shelf to give to me. I though my dad was a lot cooler after that.

Movies I bonded with my parents over, that lead to me finder other cool stuff :

Dr. Strangelove
Shadow of a Doubt
The Princess Bride (I think this is a pretty timeless classic)
Blade Runner
Die Hard
Romancing the Stone
posted by fryman at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2010

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Anything by Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five or Cat's Cradle or Mother Night especially)

Try to ensure they've seen and liked some foreign films, it's so depressing when you meet people who "don't like anything with subtitles."
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:18 AM on September 14, 2010

First, a movie: 12 Angry Men.

Second, Cather in the Rye and Anthem or, really, any Rand, but Anthem is short. Wait, wait, let me explain! I think that books like this are important for kids to read, possibly identify with, and then grow out of and into understanding, in Cather's case, the real point of the book and the flaws of the reasoning in Rand's case. It was for me, anyway.

Reading Catcher in the Rye at 15 or 16, I identified with Holden in some ways. All those OTHER damn phonies, you know? Later, as I came into my own, I understood that Holden was a hypocrite. A phony too, if not the only actual phony in the book.

Similarly, reading Anthem I was like, "Yeah, I can take care of myself! Fuck everyone else!" And later realized that that's not an ethos, it's just called being a dickhead.

posted by cmoj at 10:31 AM on September 14, 2010

Oops. Imagine I closed my tags properly.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on September 14, 2010

I used The Insider as part of a section called 'coming of age' I taught to a class of seniors in high school and my students (despite senioritis) were all riveted and contributed really amazing insights to the discussions. One of the things I liked about teaching this movie so much was the notion that defining who you are doesn't just stop when you're an adolescent. Discussions around the notion that becoming yourself is a constantly evolving process were really appealing to them--and they said they appreciated seeing it from a middle-aged point of view (alongside My Life as a Dog, among others).
posted by ohyouknow at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2010

My dad made me watch 'Breaking Away' when I was in junior high. It really helped me understand the world.
posted by derivation at 1:18 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My dad made me watch Breaking Away in junior high too! It's still one of my favourites. I'd recommend it to any teenager, even if it might seem a little dated now.
posted by fso at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2010

I asked a similar question a couple years ago and got some good suggestions.

With my kids, my fantasy of providing them with a well-rounded movie education was really hit-or-miss, so don't give up if some of your own favorites fall flat. At least you'll know you tried!
posted by amyms at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2010

BFI List Of The FIlms You Should See By The Age Of 14

Pretty good overall, but I'd replace A Day at the Races with either A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, or my personal favorite, Animal Crackers. Better yet, just put all of these on the list.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 6:41 PM on September 14, 2010

I seriously plan to give Cat's Cradle to any relative turning 16.
posted by ambulance blues at 6:45 PM on September 14, 2010

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