Classic Reading Guides | Karen Swallow Prior

Classic Reading Guides | Karen Swallow Prior

This blog has always been light on two categories: books for boys, and books for teens. But now that we have a teenager in the house, one of those categories is about to start growing. Lydia recently turned thirteen, and while I was tempted to sort of gloss over it and think about it as, well, the next number after twelve, she wasn’t having that: every few days leading up to her birthday, she’d drift through the kitchen and sigh, “I can’t believe I’m almost a teenager!” About the fourth or fifth time, it hit me: my stars, she’s almost a teenager!

And now she is one. And apart from the looming sense that she may only live with us for five more years, I love it so far: the company in the front seat of the car, the insightful conversations, the sense that the world around her is just bigger and that she’s aware of it more. Deep conversations have already sprung from her expanding perspective on the world, and we talk about these issues the way we talk about most things at our house: through really great books.

Karen Swallow Prior's Guides to Reading and Reflectioning | Little Book, Big Story

That is where Karen Swallow Prior comes in. These editions of classic books are framed by an insightful introduction by Prior, meant to introduce a Christian audience to great works of fiction, and by a selection of questions for reflection and discussion. They contain the full text of the classic work, with insightful footnotes that help decode some of the older language.

I had the chance to try these out in a small book group recently—we read and discussed Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (I’ll hold off on reading that one with my daughter for a while, though), and I was startled by how Prior’s introduction and questions gave our conversation a foundation and direction. While the whole group arrived having read the book but not sure we’d understood it at all, by the time we left we’d hit some deep points of reflection and reached some understanding of the story and the author’s main themes. It was magical.

Karen Swallow Prior's Guides to Reading and Reflectioning | Little Book, Big Story

This is a newer series, and I hope Karen Swallow Prior is working on more. I could see these being a gift for parents who want to read classics with their teens but who aren’t sure how to go about discussing them after. But already I’m struck by how much Prior’s guides add to my understanding of these classic stories—and I can’t wait to share them with my daughter.


Heart of Darkness: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting
Joseph Conrad; Karen Swallow Prior (1899; 2020)

Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting
Charlotte Bronte; Karen Swallow Prior (1848; 2021)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of Jane Eyre for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.