There seem to be some very strong views out there in the “bookish” community about not allowing children to read abridged classics. I am afraid that I do not agree with this sentiment. I am a great lover of books and, particularly of classics, and I have always harboured a secret hope that my boys will also love the classics.
My oldest son loves to read. I always read extensively to both my boys and, as the classics are my thing, I did tend to read children’s classics to them from a young age. They were introduced to the joys of The Secret Garden, Heidi, The adventures of Dr Dolittle and many others. At the end of Grade 1, Gregory’s reading suddenly took off. He spent a significant part of his December holiday at the end of that year reading the entire Horrid Henry series from beginning to end. He then quickly progressed to other books, the ones that were the most notable to me being my beloved Roald Dahl series. During his grade 2 year, Gregory was quite ill again and had to take some time off school. I thought the time was right to start introducing him to the classics. I had bought the entire Classic Starts book series and started giving these to Greg, one book at a time. It was a great joy to me to see how Greg devoured these books. He read every one except for Dracula and Frankenstein, both of which he has not read to this day.
What has happened subsequently? Greg has just completed his final year of primary school. Over the past two calendar years, Greg has progressed to reading many of the original classics, the abridged versions of which he loved as a younger boy. He loved The Secret Garden and said that it was full of mystery and magic. He has also read some that I have never read as they are fairly masculine in nature such as The red badge of courage, Don Quixote, Treasure Island and many others. Greg was one of a team of four boys from his Prep School that represented South Africa in the finals of the Kids Literature Quiz that took place in Auckland, New Zealand during August this year. So my dream has come to fruition.
My firm belief is that original classics written in complex and unfamiliar English can be frustrating for young readers. The become so bogged down in trying to understand the unfamiliar English and long descriptive passages that they lose the storyline entirely. Abridged classics have the following three benefits:
1. They introduce young readers to the joys of the classic stories in a simple way so that they can appreciate the story. Most people only remember the general story line of a book down the line in any event so this is perfect. A knowledge of the story line will help young readers when they go on to tackle the original versions. They are then able to spend more time appreciating the prose and language as they are already familiar with the story;
2. They are many children out there who struggle to read for various reasons. Abridged classics allow them to also enjoy and appreciate these wonderful stories without becoming frustrated and losing interest; and
3. Children introduced to abridged classics at a young age frequently go on to read the originals at a later stage when their reading abilities are more developed.
I wonder what other readers think about abridged classics? Do you agree or have a strongly opposing view? Let me know.
BTW, my personal favourite classic start is:
You just have to love the wild and naughty Toad.
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