A Look at Books Living and Not
One of the best ways to dive into the topic of living books, and to grow our taste and understanding of them, if to compare books that are living with books that are not. As we see books side by side, we begin to gain more than a lofty idea of what living books should look like, an instead form a picture in our mind's gallery of what living books actually DO look like. Comparisons also give us the opportunity to look at various aspects of living books, and to hone our instincts for what is best so that we can search for it, not settle for less, and fully enjoy the benefits of living books in our homeschool.
"A Look at Books Living and Not" is a series of posts comparing books and displaying the various qualities of living books, and discussing the things that we are attempting to avoid in books that aren't.
I am staring with a comparison of a book with its abridged version. This is because the most prevalent type of Twaddle available on book store shelves is a plethora of abridged books.
You will notice that one of my identifying factors of Twaddle is abridgement. It is popular, and convenient, to choose "children's versions" of books. However, in most cases, abridgment does indeed qualify a book as Twaddle. If we hold to the dictionary's definition of Twaddle, which is "foolish or trivial", we can see in abridged books a particular brand of triviality in which children are viewed as incapable of enjoying quality language and the depth of story available to adults and need a "simpler" version.
In particular, I want to address the multitude of "illustrated classics" lines of abridgements that are available. Please note that an "abridged book" and a "retelling" are not the same thing, and I have a post coming about retellings.
I have pictured here an illustrated abridgement of Tom Sawyer, along with my original (first edition- a gift from my late mother in law ❤). I have also pictured one of the best portions of the entire story in both books: the fence painting and fight scene. You can see my note in the original indicating that the scene is 21 pages long in the original, and 7 pages long in the abridged version.
By definition, to abridge something is to make it shorter.
Shorter can seem at first glance to be better when trying to hold the attention of young readers.
So, what is the problem? Well, there are a few:
1. The Story is Butchered.
The authors of classic books wrote their stories, in each of their individual brilliance, the way that they thought they should be written. And, each piece of classic literature has stood the test of time precisely because of the story being told and the way it is told. To decide which portions of a story need to be sacrificed in order to abridge it is to butcher the story. A child doesn't need the book to be shorter, and in fact, in many abridgements some of the best portions of the book are removed.
This is certainly the case in the fight scene from Tom Sawyer. I read these portions of both of these books at my very first Retreat, and every mom present was amazed at how the abridged version failed to captivate and hold her attention, even though it was far shorter.
2. Poor Language Quality.
Most abridged versions of children's classics are aimed AT children, and not written FOR children. The language is dumbed down, simplified, and robbed of all of its richness. The sentences are often disjointed, and the living ideas are often sacrificed in the name of fitting in all of the events and "important" details such as dates. Simply put, these books are usually not quality writing.
3. Taste is Bred.
Many times, I hear a case being made for reading an abridged version in hopes that it will whet a child's appetite for the real thing. The problem is that this is seldom the case. I am not saying that it never happens, but it rarely does. This is because quality language begets an appetite for quality language. Taste is bred. In order to desire quality language, and living ideas, a child's mind must be fed a steady diet of quality language and living ideas. We don't give children cookies in hopes that they will then want broccoli, and giving a child an abridged version of a book in hopes that they will want the real thing is just as futile.
The fact is that, in most cases, we can just read the real thing.
They CAN handle it, and we do children a large disservice by underestimating them.
In the cases where a child simply isn't ready for a particular book, or it is truly best for an older audience, it is better to simply wait and read it later.
Classic (and quality modern) literature is one of the best gifts that we can give our children, and we truly have no need to cheapen it.
What is your favorite piece of literature that you've read to your children?
Tom Sawyer was the book we read for Teddy's first literature lessons, with narration required, for his first term of first grade. I wouldn't choose Tom Sawyer (it isn't an "easy" book) again, but I sure don't regret it. He didn't understand all of it (the theological banter made me chuckle but was certainly above his head), but he got to know Tom and Huck, and I will never forget his delight and amusement when reading the fight scene. He thought "suck eggs" was the best insult he had ever heard. 😉