Looking for classic children's literature to read to my class of five year olds
September 15, 2012 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me classic children's literature to read aloud to five-year-olds.

I am a primary school teacher, teaching five year olds. As well as reading them short picture books that they can either read themselves or likely have already read at home with parents, I would like to find a much longer classic children's book that I can read with them over a month or two.

I'm looking for something with chapters and of a decent length. I want it to be a classic children's story - no Harry Potter or the like. While more modern books like these may well be becoming classic children's literature, I want something that they are unlikely to come across otherwise.

Some of the children are only just five, so it must be suitable for that age group. I don't want to upset any children (or parents!) so stories with potentially scary or age-inappropriate scenes are out. Obviously it also needs to be something that will appeal to boys and girls, and be gripping enough to capture the attention of these television-watching, video game-playing kids!

I considered The Hobbit, but I'm not sure whether it's a bit old for the children. I know many parents would read it to their five-year-olds, but as a parent you have more time to talk through the story and you know how your child will react to different scenes. I have similar reservations about Alice in Wonderland.

I did read this question but its not quite as geared towards classic books.

Thanks in advance!
posted by schmoo to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
The Wind in the Willows, obviously :)
posted by lollusc at 1:13 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Matilda? Little House in The Big Woods? I also loved books-on-tape at that age and a bit older -- I especially loved E.B. White books (Stuart Little, Trumpeter Swan, Charlotte's Web).
posted by naturalog at 1:15 AM on September 15, 2012

When I was little I loved the Swallows and Amazons series of Arthur Ransome. Mostly about camping, learning to sail in the English Lake District, and playing outside.
posted by XMLicious at 1:21 AM on September 15, 2012

Peter Pan? Curious George? Pippi Longstocking?
posted by trip and a half at 1:25 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by trip and a half at 1:29 AM on September 15, 2012

Heidi too... And another possibility is I Am David? Dark WWII context, though.

Also, on the picture book end of things, as a kid I absolutely loved The Marvelous Mud Washing Machine.
posted by XMLicious at 1:33 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Seconding Arthur Ransome, Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte's Webb.

Other books from my childhood:

The Witches, Matilda, BFG, Charlie & Choc Factory - Roald Dahl (beware though that Dahl can have pretty dark undertones and can deal with pretty cruel issues, though most of this was lost on me as a child)

Dr Doolittle series - Hugh Lofting (loved these series as a child!)

Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Indian in the Cupboard - Lynne Reid Banks

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (the philosophical aspect will be lost to kids probably but still a nice, easy book to read)

The Borrowers - Mary Norton

Watership Down - Richard Adams

Momo - Michael Ende

Emil and the Detectives - Erich Kaestner

Black Beauty - Anna Sewell (can draw quite good morals from the story)

Also, suitably abridged versions of the classics, like Little Women, The Secret Garden, Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, The Wizard of Oz etc.

One I WOULDN'T suggest is the Grimm Tales... while they are pretty harmless in the modern popularised versions the originals are shocking and scarred me somewhat when I discovered that as a teenager...!
posted by pikeandshield at 1:47 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The original Winnie-the-Pooh stories by A.A. Milne.
posted by colfax at 1:49 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just came in to say the Winnie the Pooh stories, so I will second them.
posted by trip and a half at 1:50 AM on September 15, 2012

Also Now We Are Six.
posted by trip and a half at 1:53 AM on September 15, 2012

Also Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. (She lives in an upside-down house!)
posted by trip and a half at 2:03 AM on September 15, 2012

The Princess and The Goblin.
posted by smoke at 2:04 AM on September 15, 2012

Oh, and Pinocchio.
posted by smoke at 2:06 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

(I also love Sylvie and Bruno, but if Alice is out, this may be too for similar reasons.)
posted by trip and a half at 2:18 AM on September 15, 2012

posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 3:26 AM on September 15, 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins
posted by crazycanuck at 4:56 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please don't read Watership Down to five-year-olds. And I loved Dr. Doolittle as a kid, but please read it yourself before you read it out loud, there are parts that are shockingly racist. I'd recommend Beverly Cleary. Both the Ramona and Beezus series and the Henry Huggins series are about right for that age.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:27 AM on September 15, 2012

Heidi really isn't appropriate for a primary school class, unless you teach at a religious school. I love the book, but people tend to forget that it has a VERY heavy-handed religious message until they re-read it as adults. If you have any non-religious or non-Christian kids in your class it would potentially confuse the kids and anger the parents.
posted by Wylla at 6:04 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: I have incredibly fond memories of being read Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, The Wind in the Willows, and Little House in the Big Woods by my parents when I was about that age. I was also a big fan of Mister Popper's Penguins, Boxcar Children, If you do read Little House, you should follow it up with Farmer Boy.

Anne of Green Gables gets old too fast, and so much of the fun of that book is the adult conversation that it would likely be lost on them. I deeply love Little Women, but it's really preachy and overtly Christian and I can't imagine that would go over well. Also, it's not going to be the most exciting read ever, and the youngest character is 10. The Secret Garden is also wonderful, but Mary Lennox is disagreeable for a good portion of the book, and parents die and there's colonial attitudes towards India, and again, it's not exceptionally exciting.

The Wizard of Oz is a really good suggestion, though it starts out kind of depressingly. I'd add The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and maybe The Cricket in Time Square and Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Ben Franklin by his Good Mouse Amos.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:08 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah! Just looking over the thread you linked and I want to enthusiastically recommend My Father's Dragon.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:11 AM on September 15, 2012

Enthusiastic second for the Moomin books!! and E.B. White (I have especially fond memories of Trumpet of the Swan!)--my parents read them to me at about five years old and I loved them.
posted by beryllium at 6:18 AM on September 15, 2012

The Borrowers!
posted by misha at 7:02 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Homer Price
Misty of Chincoteague
Betsy-Tacy if the boys are ok about girls. The son of family friends is a lifelong one of Betsy's.
posted by brujita at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2012

Charlotte's Web
The Velveteen Rabbit
Pippi Longstocking
Beezus and Ramona
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Cricket in Times Square
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
The Boxcar Children
The Black Stallion
The Secret Garden
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I think that 5 is too young for The Hobbit or Alice in Wonderland.
posted by Kriesa at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2012

There are a lot of good suggestions here, Mrs Piggle Wiggle! Winnie the Pooh! Homer Price! I just wanted to stop by and remind you that Tinkerbell tries to murder Wendy in Peter Pan. It's too dark.
posted by Duffington at 9:28 AM on September 15, 2012

Please don't read the simplified versions. They were created by publishers to make more money.
posted by brujita at 10:00 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Five Children and It
The Secret Garden
A Little Princess
Anne of Green Gables
The Neverending Story
anything by Roald Dahl
Just-So Stories
The Phantom Toolbooth
The Swiss Family Robinson
Black Beauty
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
What Katy Did
Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking Glass
Dr. Seuss
Shel Silverstein
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Arabian Nights
The Five Little Peppers

You're going to need to scan most of these for racism and religious stuff. But please do it yourself rather than using abridged children's versions; they tend to cut out a lot of the good with the bad, change the wording, dumb the content down, and leave nothing but bland, dull mush behind. Kids deserve something better than that, which I suspect is why you want classics in the first place.
posted by windykites at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2012

Seconding The Phantom Tollbooth. It has a map of... wherever the story takes place... in the front of the book. You could copy it and they could help Milo on his journey!

The Borrowers is also quite good, and there was a movie made called The Secret World of Arrietty based on it. Movie was done by the master Disney-esque guy from Japan.
posted by wwartorff at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rikki Tikki Tavi is one I loved as a child and one my 4-yr-old thinks rocks now.
posted by tigerjade at 1:34 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: I teach kindergarten (5 yr olds) and, unless your population is very different than mine (and it might well be), I disagree with a lot of the suggestions. Many of the "classics" are dated that you will find that you have to explain much of what is mentioned in the story because it's unfamiliar to them.

Books we fondly remember from our childhood often don't fly in the era of fast paced video games and internet based activities. A book like Little House on the Prairie has long descriptive passages, too long for older children, and much too long for today's 5 year old. Even some of the Dr. Seuss books stretch their attention span. If you want to read longer books you first need to help them build stamina because a 5 year old's attention span is about 5 min. If you want to try and read a chapter book, work on building stamina, and then choose something that has some action, isn't too long, and that they can relate to.
posted by Flacka at 6:29 PM on September 15, 2012

As a children's book reviewer, I agree with Flacka that many of these suggestions are either too difficult, too long, or too non-contemporary for kindergarteners. I think the outer edge of what most kindergarteners can handle would be something like Mrs. Noodlekugel, which is a chapter book with quite a lot of text but some illustrations and a fun and intriguing story line. If you end up trying that one, I'd be interested to know how it goes.
posted by Dansaman at 12:53 PM on September 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your suggestions! I am going to buy a few of the books that were mentioned and, like Daily Alice pointed out, read them myself before reading to the children! Once I have read a few chapters I should be able to ascertain how suitable I think it will be for my class - but it was really valuable to have your suggestions as a starting point, so thank you. And you're absolutely right windykites - I really want to avoid 'children's versions' of the classics, while at the same time choosing something that is accessible and interesting to children today.
Thanks, all!
posted by schmoo at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2012

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