Reading the “Real” Book

On the cover of some classic titles in the juvenile section, in a subtitle or small print, you will sometimes find the words, “based on,” “adapted from,” “adapted by,” “retold by” or “from the story by.” These phrases indicate that you hold in your hand not the original book by an author but a re-written version, usually written at a lower reading level for a younger audience than that originally intended for the work. Usually true to some of the plot points, adaptations tend to strip away the original language the author used. The flavor of what makes the story a classic can become unintentionally lost. The challenge is to make sure that your reader is aware of the great differences between the original and the adaptation.

Over the years I have talked with older kids who think they have read many classics, but what they have really read are the adapted or condensed versions of these works. My fear as a librarian is that these kids will miss reading the original versions and gaining an understanding of what truly makes them classics. Why are we in a hurry? And how can we share classics in their intended form with young readers? Here is one suggestion. If your child is interested in a certain classic, use that excitement to have a family read-aloud of the original work. This will help with listening skills, open up the door to conversations about more complicated plots, expose the whole family to rare words and different writing styles, and definitely provide a history lesson. At the same time, you are making family memories, and I am willing to bet you are also increasing comprehension and helping your children stretch their brains!

Canadian author Jean Little explains this point of view much more artfully in a poem from her book “Hey World, Here I Am!

Condensed Version

When I went over to the Blairs’,
Emily was reading her cousin Ann a condensed version
of Heidi.
It was all wrong—the pictures, the words,
what happened, the way it felt.
“You shouldn’t read her that,” I said.
“Why not?” asked Emily.
Suddenly, I knew exactly how to explain.
“People who read condensed versions instead of
the real book,” I said loftily,
“Are like people who read a road map
—and think they’ve been on  a journey.”
Emily looked at me, for a moment,
Then she put down the book and clapped.

“Read, Emily!” Ann said.

“Let’s read Winnie-the Pooh instead,” said Emily.

I stayed to listen.
It was the one about Eeyore’s birthday.
We liked it as much as Ann.

How perfect of Emily to clap like that!

- Jean Little, 1986 (posted with permission from the author.)

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