“Forget ‘Pat the Bunny,’ My Child is Reading Hemingway.” Thus screamed the header of an article in the New York Times last month. The latest development, KinderGuides, is a series of books adapted from classics to be read to children as young as 3 or 4, and by children not much older. A look at the available titles made me cringe: “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” and Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Oh, and there is Baby Lit that puts out board books with such titles as “Anna Karenina” and Wuthering Heights.” Isn’t part of reading the classics being exposed to vocabulary, appreciating sentence structure, the nuance of language? What must they have to do to these stories to make them appropriate and interesting to young children? What is left when you condense the story line and omit objectionable parts?
On the other hand, there are many wonderful “children’s” books that offer a marvelous vocabulary and an interesting story that leads to discussion between the child and person reading to that child. Some are laugh-out-loud ,some are cry-out-loud, but all represent a situation to which a child can relate, or they present a new situation for the child to discover. They include sentence structure and story elements that pave the way for the classics at a more appropriate age. The art in these books, even by itself, is a treasure. Some teach a never-to-be-forgotten lesson.
If you ask me, the main benefit of this latest development in children’s books is to give parents bragging rights around the water cooler, at PTA meetings, in book club, and at family gatherings. .“My child is reading Jane Eyre!” And ten years or so later it leads to the bored high school student saying, “Oh, I read that book when I was four.” Really? You think so?
Dorothy C. Judd © 2017