I have been making a list of classic kids books to check out from the library and read to my son. He is 7 and will be in second grade next year and perhaps he can read along too.
I am looking at adventurous books like Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, Call of the Wild, Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes….
We’ve seen some of the movies that came from these books. Muppet Treasure Island anyone? And I am partly interested in reading these because I didn't read many of them when I was a kid :-( Not sure why perhaps because I read more of the "girl" classics like The Secret Garden, Little House, Heidi, Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphins...
I’ve noticed that since many of these books were written some time ago, there are many versions published now. There are some rewritten to be very kid friendly. I like that we can read and enjoy these stories now, but I am nervous we would only get the paraphrased version with all the hard words removed or somehow miss the classic feel…
I once read the first page of the original Swiss Family Robinson (published in 1812) and it was hard to understand with the older English style and wording. I guess it’s more recommended for high school readers. Pretty sure I’ll find a kid friendly version of this one.
Is it best to just stick with the most age appropriate version and let him re-read them again at an older age, if he chooses?
I personally wouldn't get anything but the unabridged original, but I'm not sure I have any really good reason why a "kid-friendly" version would be a bad idea. I guess partly it's that I'd be afraid that the simpler version wouldn't be as rich or interesting, and partly it's that I think a lot of those books may not be that interesting to a 7 year old - not just because of the vocabulary and writing style, but because of the story. I think if you wait until your kid can read the original (or enjoy listening to you read it), the kid is more likely to be at an age where the story seems really interesting.
I'm of a similar mind. I've always had a personal bias against abridged versions, but I don't have any strong arguments against giving a child a kid-friendly version. I think I worried that if they loved a simplistic rendering, they may never extend themselves to try the unabridged classic. I've loosened up a lot, though and I don't turn my nose up at the re-told stories anymore (at least, not quite so far and not quite so noticeably ). After all, I think there is a long literary tradition of revisions and adaptations of classic stories throughout history.
Generally, when I chose books for my children, I picked out original versions of stories with a range of readability. They were invited to select their own books too, though. So if they chose an abridged, simplified version of something for themselves, then that was fine.
I do use abridged and re-told classics for my kids. I think you have to be careful, because some are not well done, but there are many out there that are faithful to the original and are quite good in and of themselves.
For example, last year we vacationed along the Mississippi River in Missouri. We spent several days in Hannibal, so I wanted my children to know who Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher and all of Mark Twain's other wonderful characters were, but did not want to explain some of the topics in those books that they were just too young for, and especially was not ready to introduce them to the N* word. Instead, I found some great abridged versions that the children enjoyed immensely. It really helped them stay engaged with what they saw on the trip, and the trip helped the stories come alive for them. I have told them that what we read was not the full version of the story, and I suspect they'll want to read the full version some day.
I guess I see it as kind of similar to cartoons that use a clip of classical music, or children's books that stealthily expose kids to famous paintings - it doesn't lead the kids to an understanding of why those works are great, but the exposure to them can't hurt.
I'm another abridgement snob. Someone mentioned The Swiss Family Robinson? See, I think the archaic, cheesy, formal language is the most worthwhile and delightful aspect of the book. I can't imagine a simplified version doing justice to the "distended maw" of the snake that swallows the donkey, for instance. It doesn't seem problematic to just let the kid wait until he's old enough to read the real version, especially as there are heaps of great books at every reading level. So it's not like he'd be spending the extra years with nothing to read.
I also believe it's good for kids to read, or have read to them, books that are "too hard". Helps stretch their understanding of language. And kids can usually appreciate the books on some level, if they're well-chosen. DD's three, and into Beatrix Potter at the moment. I initially felt a bit silly reading her all the quaint phrases I knew she wouldn't understand - some of the comedy goes way over her head, and she has no idea what rabbit-tobacco is; nor do we use the word "presently" in real life. And so on. But she likes the stories - mainly for the pictures and the danger elements, like Peter and Benjamin Bunny being sat on by the cat - and as we keep reading the stories over the years, her language will catch up.
I will make an exception, though, for (oddly enough) Shakespeare. Even for well-read adults Shakespeare can be tough going, and it doesn't help that plays are meant to be watched rather than read... but when you watch the plays, they can move too fast for you to really appreciate the puns and turns of phrase. So it's handy to go into a Shakespeare play with a rough idea of the plot, and which characters are comic and which are evil and so on, just so you know what to look for. So a really good adaptation of the stories can be worthwhile, I think. Charles and Mary Lamb do a good one - they don't try to imitate "Shakespearean" language, but they tell the stories in a very simple, easy-to-understand way. The adaptation definitely shouldn't replace Shakespeare, but it's a good start, and dissimilar enough from the real works that kids won't feel like they've been there, done that when it comes to reading the actual plays.
On a vaguely related topic, we bought DD a children's Bible for Christmas and it's awful. The pictures are good and it has a wide range of stories, which is why we bought it... but the stories are tamed down to the point of incomprehensibility. It's like the authors went "Oh, we should put in Samson, he's a famous character... ooh wait, that's a bit sordid" and gradually left out more and more of what actually happened to Samson, until they were left with something along the lines of "Samson was a very strong man. He could break ropes when people tied him up. He even pushed down a palace to punish God's enemies". I kid you not. No Delilah, no "out of the eater something to eat", no eye-gouging. Which, I mean yes, a bit rough for the preschool crowd, but if the story is inherently too gory for tots, why include it at all? Better leave it out than leach all the story out of it until it's totally pointless. It's like that atrocious Disney version of Notre-Dame de Paris.
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Part of my asking is that we do not have consistent access to the Library because we live outside the city limits and must pay for access: $125 a year. So I plan on getting a 6 month card this fall and want to get some good books. DS will be 8 in November. I can reserve copies online... but when faced with numerous editions it's hard to know which to pick.
I noticed before when wanting to check out Peter Rabbit, there were many versions and some received poor ratings (at Amazon.com) due to poor editing. The original pictures seem to be the best part of the book and you need to be picky about which copy you get. I found one at the library with the original pictures and they were of course adorable!
Maybe I will visit the library first when I get my card. Will the librarian be able to help me find good editions of these books?
And any recommendations for an 7 - 8 yr boy? Here is the link I discovered that showed many of the classic stories in "Classic Start" editions:
A lot of the books on the page you linked to are totally appropriate as read-alouds for a 7-8 year old in their original versions - A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Heidi, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Dolittle, Black Beauty, probably some of the others. And there are lots and lots of other interesting, well-written books out there that will probably someday be seen as classics and that would appeal to a kid that age. Why not take advantage of those while your kid is the right age for them and save the more difficult classics for when he's the right age for them?
If a book was never intended for kids, I'm not sure I see the point of making a kid-friendly version. Why would anyone try to make a kids' version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for instance? The whole story is so entirely unsuitable for kids in every way, and not about anything kids would even be interested in. Uncontrollable lust isn't something 2nd-4th graders can really identify with.
I waffle about abridged versions, so I've enjoyed reading your posts. I don't shy away from tough language personally, but the casual racism that I come across is pretty unsettling. So, even when I read "Just So Stories" I find myself substituting words. This isn't dumbing down, but it feels like something similar. I don't feel like I could do that with Huckleberry Finn, so that will have to wait until I feel ready to explain the context of the novel. Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle original Uncle Remus is almost impossible to read, and I feel silly doing it because I feel like I'm some black-face vaudevillian actor back in the day, so either simplified versions of his book, or completely different Uncle Remus stories, like the ones Jerry Pinkney so beautifully illustrated are much preferred.
My 6.5yo daughter is a champion listener. We are nearing the end of the Lord of the Rings and she has kept up with it. Together we have learned all kinds of archaic English words and borrowed Medieval warfare books from the library to support her visualization of the events. For her, I would not shy away from reading the originals if it were simply a matter of language. When choosing versions from the library, I reserve whole stacks and preview them before bringing them home. You can't get an accurate assessment of their quality so fast, but often it's a much simpler decision than I imagined. Sometimes in the end it comes down to the pictures, if any, and the girls can make that decision for themselves. The story of Pinnocchio (sp?) was a revelation, and overwhelmingly richer in character than any of the abridged versions I have read. (Then again, it's translated from Italian.....)
But for other kids, this kind of reading is a chore. I wouldn't hesitate to search for an abridged version because it is a huge assumption that they will ever want to read the original story at all. Recently I've been mulling over Robin Hood and King Arthur's knights and Treasure Island. We'll see. Children throughout the last 2 centuries have read or been read to from these classics, and we will, too. If they let me!
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