Classic literature does not have to be limited to adult fiction or a classroom. Here are ten great classic works for young readers.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women follows the four March sisters in a coming of age tale about growing up, love, and individuality. The sisters have unique personalities that make them easy to identify with, even centuries later. It is an interesting insight into life for young women in the 19th century, but also a moving story about family and budding identities.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Black Beauty is the life story of a horse with the same name. The story follows his life from a colt to retirement as he learns important moral lessons. It is a great story to teach young readers about empathy and care for animals. It is also one of the biggest selling books of all time!
A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hogdson Burnett
Frances Hogdson Burnett is responsible for a few of my favorite childhood stories. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Sarah from A Little Princess is a naturally caring and generous girl who goes from wealth, poverty, and back to wealth. Along the way, she makes friends with the underdogs and teaches others (even adults) the value of empathy. Mary in The Secret Garden, on the other hand, was an ignored child who grew up spiteful and uncaring. She eventually learns a lesson on empathy and gains what she’s always craved, love and friendship.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is another classic that teaches young readers about the importance of caring for others. Especially those who can’t speak for themselves (like animals). The story follows Wilbur the pig as he and his barnyard friends try to keep him from the slaughterhouse. With the help of Charlotte the spider and her miracle webs, Wilbur learns about the challenges of growing up (and apart) and death.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
For most of us, Where the Red Fern Grows brings up memories of the tearfilled afternoon we finished it in elementary school. The story follows Billy and his two hunting dogs as they chase down raccoons and win hunting championships. It is a timeless classic, but will probably make young readers a little weepy.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time follows siblings Meg and Charles Wallace on a quest to find their father who has been trapped by “The Black Thing.” With the help of a human boy named Calvin and the three supernatural Mrs. Ws, the children go on an adventure through space and time to save their father (and the universe) from the evil “Black Thing.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is responsible for numerous childhood classics but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might be his most famous work. The book follows Charlie’s adventure through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The characters in the story learn valuable lessons about greed. Matilda is another favorite classic of Dahl’s. It is the story of a very intelligent little girl who develops telekinesis due to the neglect and mistreatment from her family and school headmistress.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Holes may not have been around as long as the other books on the list but it is another personal favorite. Stanley Yelnats’s entire family was cursed with bad luck, thanks to his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” When Stanley is falsely accused to stealing an expensive pair of shoes, he’s sent off to Camp Green Lake to dig holes for the Warden. Though the holes are supposed to “build character” it seems that the Warden is actually after the infamous treasure buried in the desert by the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow.
A “classic” novel is basically a book that is widely accepted as the pinnacle of good writing and has been so for an extended period of time. Classics can vary widely between genre —such as horror (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) or romance (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). Classics also vary between cultures such as Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn set in the North American south during 1883, or Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment set in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1866. Classic romance novels are a personal favorite of mine.
When confronted by such intense books and such a wide variety of choices, it is easy to shy away from classics altogether. However, if you take the right approach and slowly begin to wade into the genre of classic romance novels, a whole new world can open up to you!
Disclaimer: While there are movie adaptations for many classic romance novels, the book is always better than the movie!!!!
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen is a well-known writer of classic romances for good reason. Pride and Prejudice is a novel about a family of the five Bennet daughters whose mother is eager to marry them all off. The opening line of the novel reflects the mother’s view, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Throughout the novel the reader gets to experience the heart breaks, scandals, and enjoyment of the Bennet sisters, especially Elizabeth and Jane.
This novel is appropriate for virtually any age, but is probably of the most interest to ages 12 and up. I would highly recommend checking out this book, as well as Jane Austen’s other novels including Sense and Sensibility and Emma.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame is not quite the same thing.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Emily is one of the Bronte sisters who wrote novels and poems in the mid 1800s. This particular novel can be a bit gloomy, and is probably best read on a dark and stormy night.
Wuthering Heights is written from a very interesting perspective of a tenant on Mr. Heathcliff’s property. The novel is told as this man learns the history of the property as well as experiences for himself the current situation and possible future. This novel is a rollercoaster of emotions including pity for the main character, disgust at his actions, sorrow for decisions, deep feelings of love, and satisfaction at an unpredictable ending.
Admittedly, this is not a very happy romance, but this novel packs a lot of feelings. I would advise this book for readers over the age of 15 because of some mature thematic elements such as violence. I would recommend checking out this book if you are tired of repetitive story lines!
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Published in 1918, this novel is slightly more contemporary (only 100 years old or so). Like Wuthering Heights, this novel is told from an interesting perspective. A man asks his friend Jim to recount to him all that he remembered about Antonia. Jim then gives his friend a manuscript of all he remembers about the girl, and the story begins.
Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, this novel is from the perspective of an adolescent Jim. He recounts his adventures and growing love for Antonia, a daughter in a Bohemian immigrant family that has come to live near him on the prairie. This book is sweet with surprising twists that truly reflect how life doesn’t always go as planned. Jim’s perspective is romantic and kind, and develops into something more as the story progresses.
I would recommend this book for almost any age, but more specifically 14 and older due to one scene regarding birth (though it is not explicit). This is a wonderful classic I would recommend to anyone!
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Last but not least is my absolute FAVORITE work of fiction! Just as full of heart as Wuthering Heights, but much less dreary, this book is a wonderful adventure! The novel follows Jane from her youth in an unloving home to a school for girls, and eventually to a job as a governess for Mr. Rochester’s young ward. As the book progresses from place to place and as Jane grows older there is fantastic character development! She learns to deal with tragedy and heartache without lashing out. While Jane is humble, she is strong in her beliefs and fights for what she knows is right. Jane is a heroine throughout the novel and loves more deeply than she was ever loved as a child or young adult. This book may look lengthy, but it is worth every second of reading! There is so much love and strength and perseverance as Jane learns to love the young girl she teaches as well as her foreboding benefactor. There is a surprising twist in this novel that had me in tears. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book and recommend it for all ages! It promotes love, morals, and strength!
These are just a few of so many wonderful classic romance novels that will expand your mind and provide a break from the modern and popular story lines in most new novels.
Looking for some inspiration on what to read next? Who better to ask then the people who work around books for a living!? Each month we will post a "staff picks" blog post written by one of our staff members. These posts will vary in genre, theme, age appropriateness, etc. If you have any requests on a genre or age category you would like to see, submit a comment here and we will get it on the list!