A couple decades back, teenaged-me learned a lesson: just because something is a classic doesn’t mean that you’ll dig it.
This lesson came upon my reading James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer in high school. My expectations were fairly high for I had a sense that this book was a “classic.” I’m not sure where I got this idea of classic-ness (it may well have been the old Authors Card Game, which is essentially a literary version of “Go Fish”), but the book sounded promising: an old-time outdoorsman/adventurer was the main character, wild American woods were the setting, and it looked like a war played some part in the story.
Within only a few pages, I was bored to tears. Fenimore Cooper’s detailed (detailed) description of everything meant that the pace slogged along and nothing exciting happened…for hundreds of pages. I pressed on for a while, but I don’t think I finished the book.
But, of course, sometimes you do love a classic.
For our family, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is just such a classic. I read this book as a kid, and I enjoyed it right from the start. I’ve reread the series a few times, and each new read brought a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of Lewis’s work. I was a bit nervous to read these books to my kids (what if they didn’t like them?), and the series has been a hit with them too. Sometimes classics deliver.
When your kids are ready for “chapter books” that don’t have many pictures (though some editions of The Chronicles do), I highly recommend this seven-book series (the audio editions [save Aslan’s disappointing voice actor] are good as well). Should you take the plunge (and I suggest trying when your kids are around six…though I’ve seen younger kids enjoy the stories too), here are some things to keep in mind:
- I’m not sure that you can go wrong in the order that you read The Chronicles, but I recommend reading the books in their original publication order; that’s the order they’re in below.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the most well-known of the series, and it’s a gem. The Pevensie children find their way into Narnia (a different world from ours) and an adventure unfolds. Sibling relationships, responsibility and maturity, bravery, and sacrifice are aspects of a story that’s gripping right from the start. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see how each of the Pevensies grows and learns over the course of their adventure.
- Prince Caspian picks up where tLtWatW left off as the Pevensie children find themselves back in Narnia…but it’s Narnia hundreds of years after they last visited and much has changed. Once again, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have an important role to play in battling evil. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see how Prince Caspian is different than his uncle, King Miraz.
- The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” has the youngest Pevensies (Edmund and Lucy) back in Narnia, accompanied by their cousin Eustace. Their adventure is driven mostly by the Narnians’ desire to explore; the British kids are along for the ride, and they encounter interesting stuff along the way. Ask your kid(s) which of the island adventures was their favorite. Also, ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see what drove Reepicheep’s desire to reach Aslan’s country. Also, ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see how (and why) Eustace changed during the adventure.
- The Silver Chair has Eustace back in Narnia, this time with his friend Jill. They have a specific mission to pursue, and the kids set out to save the kingdom with morose Puddleglum as their memorable guide. Nothing goes as planned…yet the children persevere. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see why Eustace and Jill lost track of the mission Aslan gave them.
- The Horse and His Boy is my favorite of the Chronicles. It follows a new character, Shasta, as he and his horse seek to escape a life of slavery by reaching freedom in Narnia…while serving as unlikely heroes in a story much bigger than themselves. At the start, ask your kids to help you find the lions in the story…and — at the end — relish what you learn about them.
- The Magician’s Nephew takes you back to the beginning, back before Narnia existed. It’s a prequel from the days when prequels weren’t standard fare for successful storylines, and it introduces a couple more Brits that interact with and influence the special land. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see how little events at the creation of Narnia influence the country’s future.
- The Last Battle brings the series (and the land of Narnia) to a close. It’s the saddest book in the series as it describes the dissolution of a special place, but that sadness makes the book’s final chapters all the sweeter. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see why Shift was so effective at confusing the Narnians. Ask your kid(s)/help your kid(s) see what happens at the end of the book within the stable.
In closing remember this: the books are better than the movies.