Classics for the Young: Junior High Literature

Simone Weil, a noted Jewish philosopher, remarked, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Whereas many Hollywood films offer this imaginary glamour of evil and dullness of virtue, Hans Christian Andersen’s genius as a storyteller captures the glorious, adventurous drama of a real life of goodness that is filled with wonder and marvels. In stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” and “The Traveling Companion,” Andersen captures the essence of goodness as a small seed buried in the earth—a seed that in time produces a bountiful harvest that surpasses all expectations. The doer of a good deed should forget it, but it is not forgotten because it accompanies him like a best friend.

Classics of Family Life

The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie on the Run, and Pegeen are charming, wholesome, fun-filled tales of Catholic family life in 1940s Ireland that are humorous and heartwarming. In these stories, the children are carefree, happy-go-lucky children who live innocent lives. They enjoy their brothers and sisters, they love their mother and father, they revel in the fun of life, and they radiate the pure hearts of children who are blessed with good parents who cherish their children. These books are ideal to read aloud to children eight or nine years old and most appropriate as good literature for children in junior high school or older.

Classics for the Young: Middle School Literature

In A Wonder Book and The Tanglewood Tales Hawthorne retells some of the famous classical myths in an imaginative and charming style that captures the universality and moral wisdom of the stories and expresses the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil. He retells these favorites: “The Minotaur,” “The Pygmies,” “The Dragon’s Teeth,” “Circe’s Palace,” “The Pomegranate Seeds,” and “The Golden Fleece.” In “The Pygmies,” for example, Hawthorne portrays not only the littleness of the creatures only six inches in height but also depicts the smallness of their minds and the narrow-mindedness of their thinking. Smallness of mind means selfishness, pettiness, quarreling, and revenge. Living next to their neighbor, the giant Antaeus, who possesses “more strength on his little finger than in ten million of such bodies as theirs,” the Pygmies receive many benefits from the good-natured giant’s friendship. Antaeus with the breath of his mighty lungs moves the windmills, with the shadow of his great bulk provides shade in the summer, and with the size of his outstretched body offers a playground for the children “dodging in and out among his hair” and “running races on his forehead.” The gigantic Antaeus, however, is not only large in body but also great in mind, a magnanimous hero who overlooks all the irritations the Pygmies inflict upon him. He is large-minded enough to forgive and forget, to tolerate no grudges, and to ignore the impertinent behavior of the Pygmies who imagine themselves more intelligent than the giant.