Is it a Classic?

The epigraph to Miss Missy’s School

An epigraph is a short quote at the beginning of a book or book chapter. (The word also means an inscription on a building or statue.) There are a lot of literary terms that begin with “epi-.” As you can imagine, Missy gets them confused all the time! And to tell the truth, so do I! I finally got a little journal, and listed and defined them so I don’t make the same silly mistakes Missy makes. One day I’ll do a Kid Blog post about them and you can add them to your notebook, too.

Before we start the real topic of this post, let’s look at the word epigraph. The word comes from two Greek words. “Epi-” is used in Greek to make what we would call compound words. It translates into the English adverbs upon, on, over, near, at, before, or after. How do you know which one? Context. In this case, the context is the rest of the word: “-graph.” That is from the Greek word, graphos, meaning something that is drawn or written. So when we put everything together, “epi-” + “-graph” means before what is written– a short quote at the beginning.

The epigraph I chose comes from the chapter on “Famous Books” in The Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia. It asks the question…

I’m sure you can easily list a dozen classic children’s books. I’m sure your grownups and friends can do the same. And I’m really sure if you compared lists, none would be the same! For example, look at these three lists.

Top left, a GoodReads list; right, Wikipedia 20th century classic children’s literature; bottom, Barnes & Noble classics for 9-12 year olds

There are thirty-three different book titles, and only one, The Secret Garden, is on all three lists! Only four are repeated once. And take a moment to stop and think what titles you don’t see at all. I wonder where is The Jungle Book? Andersen’s Fairy Tales? Paddington? And where, oh where are the Lord of the Rings books?

What do you think the qualities of a classic book are? Is there anything the stories have in common? Is it something about the characters? Or is it what they give to their readers?

It’s hard to put your finger on just one answer, isn’t it? Next week we’ll see how a few people who have thought long and hard about “What is a Classic?” try to answer.

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