Domestic Bliss Report

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Simplified vs. dumbed down

You know by now, Gentle Reader, that we are book people here. And you know that I'm kind of a snob, at least for myself. Give me the unabridged version, thankyouverymuch. Annotated is fine, analysis is great, footnotes are encouraged. But don't cut or dumb it down on me. I can handle it.

So that may bring up the question of why we have forty-some Great Illustrated Classics [GIC]. In short, they're for the kids. I'm not reading them; they're there for me to read to the kids or, soon enough, for them to read to themselves.

A friend was recently discussing those with a friend of hers who wasn't as much of a fan. Now, let's get something established first. There's a difference between simplified and dumbed down. The difference is relevant to the original source. To take the Little House books and make them "easy readers" is dumbing them down where the GIC version of Count of Monte Cristo is simplified. What's the difference?

Listen, have you looked at these? The Little House books are written at maybe a third grade level. That's not an insult since I'll bet they're intended for 8-year-old girls. They just don't have much room to move down, you know?
But Count of MC is fifteen hundred pages. That's a lot to drop in front of someone, especially a kid. Even in English is a high school reading level, anyway. The same goes for others--Pride and Prejudice, Three Musketeers, Time Machine, Huckleberry Finn, Black Beauty, Little Women, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist. [Can you tell we have more than a few?]
I realize some of the GIC books are already kids' books and I'm okay with that. The Wizard of Oz, The Secret Garden--so be it. In a few years they may want the original version. I've never read the original Wizard but I get the reference if someone says, "We're not in Kansas anymore" or "I'll just sic my flying monkeys on you." Though I have seen the movie...
If Dale remembers us reading Huck Finn together and picks up the GIC version in a few years, great. I think that makes it more likely that, when he discovers there's an "adult" version, he'll want to find out what he missed. He won't spend time wondering about the storyline; he'll be able to concentrate on the deeper issues in the novel.
It's kind of like me with books versus movies. Yeah, I'll watch the movie, but I'd really rather read the book. Dale already is talking about reading The Black Stallion since he's seen the movie.

I know too that some are on Kolbe's middle school lit program. If any of my kids tries to get away with reading those instead of the original, it will not be kosher. But if they've read the GIC version in third grade, and have an idea what's going on when they read it in seventh or eighth, it will be a good thing.

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5 Comments:

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I give these to my kids too. It's perfectly fine to me for my 8 yo to read Gulliver's Travels with the satirical political references removed. I've read unabridged classics to them (Wizard of Oz, Call of the Wild) but for their personal reading I think it's great if they read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea or the Time Machine.

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

I had never heard of these until you posted about them a while back. I looked into getting them from Bookmooch and have been pleased overall. Unfortunately, they do have some misspellings (you can have your snobbery, I'll cling to mine :)). But they're a great bridge in my opinion.

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Misspellings? Where? Nuts. That bothers me, too.

I've found them at places like Michael's craft store for $3-$4, new. And used bookstores, discount stores...
It's a weakness.

 
At 6:00 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

They're not terrible ones, and I get the old books free from Bookmooch. I haven't bought one new yet.

The ones I noticed: In the introduction to Tom Sawyer, "the" is "thee," for example.

I know there were a couple in my copy of The Jungle Book, but that one is SOOOO much better than the Disney storybook that I had that I'll overlook it. Haven't found but maybe one in my copy of The Swiss Family Robinson.

Just out of curiosity, how early do you start reading these to your munchkins? Kasandra (yes, that's Echo previously) loves them, and I read a chapter a day. But I have been holding off on Tom Sawyer because of all of the death in it, since she's only 4.

 
At 9:12 PM, Blogger Heather said...

I'll admit I haven't gotten Jungle Book because of the original. It always seemed like a kids' book anyway, especially broken up into the stories.
And I'm with you on the Disney thing. Eek.

As far as when to start, it depends on which book. I remember reading Little Women and Around the World in 80 Days to Madeleine when she was 3, maybe younger. (Not sure where Rachel was.) I'm leery of Call of the Wild or King Solomon's Mines for the scary parts and death.
Huck Finn was cleaned up enough for Dale at 4, and Madeleine LOVED Pride and Prejudice at 5. You know Kasandra; if your gut says "Not yet," then wait. The words won't change in the interim. :)
But you knew that.

 

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