Captain Underpants or Cat in the Hat?

Twilight or Anne of Green Gables?

Why is one book twaddle, and the other a classic?

Let’s start with a simple question. Were you eager to read Captain Underpants to your child, or Cat in the Hat? I think Dr. Seuss will get that vote every time. Silly, colorful, sometimes nonsensical, Seuss books have a story, a sense of fun that appealed to us, stuck with us, and which we then are eager to share with our kids.

We buy Twilight after being begged by our kids because all the other kids are reading it or watching the movie, “at least my kid wants to read." We buy Anne of Green Gables because we loved the book as a child. Vampires are a passing fad. Captain Underpants is only fun to a kid at a certain age.

In other words, the stories of books like Anne of Green Gables or Cat in the Hat linger in our lives.

Two of the teens in my public speaking class last year had a blast doing a duo interpretation of Are You My Mother? It was fantastic! Even as teens they simply enjoyed sharing the story of the book. Can you imagine a teen doing an interpretation of, say, Everyone Poops (without it being a deliberate mockery)?


My teenage daughter recently mentioned how annoying it is when adults try to act cool. When they do something and it just turns out un-cool, she pointed out, that was funny. She said it is completely different when an adult tries to be cool, to act like a teen. Very teenager-y of Leah to say, and very wise.

I think the same is true with books. A history textbook specifically designed to teach is dull, whereas a book that tells the story of history is a classic. [I do think a story can and should teach. We still enjoy Aesop’s fables, for instance.] A book like Twilight merely capitalizes on a passing fad, whereas Anne of Green Gables touches you with its story. A book like Captain Underpants or a movie like Shrek is specifically designed to entertain kids with body function humor, whereas Cat in the Hat and Are You My Mother tell funny stories that linger.

Children’s authors should quit trying to teach or to make kids laugh or touch their hearts, and simply let the stories do their own teaching and entertaining and touching of lives.

The authors of the classics all did.

For Christmas, I recently bought Make Way for Ducklings for my niece, Zoe. Why? Because I remember, even as an older child, pulling the book off the shelf when I happened to see it in the library and giving it a quick re-read, running my fingers over the pictures. Plus, we were in Boston at the time of the purchase, which was cool, since the story takes place in Boston. In other words, the book was meaningful to me and I wanted to share it with her.

Don’t tell Zoe!


P.S. What children’s books do you consider to be classics? Please comment!