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3 Reasons Why I Don’t Have a Beef with Abridged Books


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It’s been my experience that abridged versions or adaptations of classic literature have gotten a bad rap. Purists feel that students should only read the original classics. While I do understand that sentiment, I don’t agree with it. Abridged or adapted classics can play a very important role in a quality education.

Abridged books can play a vital role in education

photo credit abhi sharma on flickr

Increased Comprehension

Reading an abridged version of a classic as an elementary or middle school student gives the reader an introduction to the story that can greatly increase comprehension when (or if) he later reads the original. When a student reads a book written in a more flowery language than modern English, knowing the basics of the storyline can make it easier to follow the unfamiliar language. This helps with both comprehension of the story and often results in an easier understanding of new vocabulary.

Accessible for Struggling Readers

I’ve got two dyslexic students. The fact that reading can be laborious in the first place is often compounded by books whose language would be considered challenging by most students. (Or, they can completely surprise you and comprehend some of those difficult works more easily than most students, like my daughter and Shakespeare.)

Reading an abridged version can go a long way in leveling  the playing field for a struggling reader. These alternate versions can be read alongside or in place of the original. My daughter loves the No Fear Shakespeare books. Surprisingly, she rarely reads the translated pages, but it’s a confidence booster knowing that they are available if something is confusing – and that’s true for kids who don’t struggle with dyslexia.

Understanding of the Storyline

Sometimes the choice comes down to reading the abridged version or not reading the work at all. I’d much rather my kids read the abridged version of a classic than have no knowledge of it whatsoever because, the fact is, the general storyline is all most of us are going to remember over time anyway.

While I will encourage reading the original versions as much as possible, abridged versions and adaptations will always be a part of our homeschool arsenal. That’s because I know they will give my kids the basics of the story so that they can carry on an intelligent conversation about it.

What Are Good Choices for Abridged Books or Adaptations?

I’m sure there are lots of good choices for abridged books or adaptations that we haven’t tried. However, some that we’ve used that have been successful for us include:

  • Great Illustrated Classics – We’ve used these for elementary and early middle school
  • Puffin Classics – The best that I can tell, only some of the Puffin Classics are abridged or adaptations. I think whether a book is adapted or original may depend on the difficulty of the original text.
  • Classic Starts – These are a great introduction to classics for younger students.
  • No Fear Shakespeare – We love these because they have the original text on one page with the translation on the facing page. That makes it easy to quickly get past tricky sections of text and get back to the original.

Oh, and one last tip, no matter what types of books your family reads: If you have a struggling reader, get both the print and audio versions of books. That way he can follow along in the print version as he listens. It’s great for building confidence, increasing vocabulary, and tackling difficult books.

How do you feel about abridged versions of books? Are you a purist or do you see the value in adaptations?

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21 Comments

  1. What a great perspective! When I was in High School, I would often read abridged versions of books when preparing for an exam rather than re-reading the original. I definitely agree that they can be useful, if you find the right ones!

    Thank you for hosting!

  2. Yes to all of this. My 7-year-old has read a few of the Classic Starts and Great Illustrated Classics, as well as some other abridged versions. She reads very well for her age, but not ready for the “full” version of many classics. In the meantime, she’s been able to enjoy Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and others . . . and learn to love the stories. I will look into No Fear Shakespeare when she gets a little older. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I have to agree. I enjoy abridged books for my children for the reasons you listed. A better understanding, especially when we read through an updated Pilgrim’s Progress! I want them to engage with the story line for now. I also have a struggling reader and Les Miserables would have sunk him. However, he fully explored our children’s version and enjoyed the story. There is a place and time for the true classics, I have several on my bookshelf that I read, but not everyone can embrace those ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I love to read aloud to my kids, but I’ve got a bunch of squirmy wormies, including the older ones, who find it very hard to sit still unless they’re very interested. And you’re right, comprehension is very important. If they don’t understand, they’re not going to pay attention. We’ve read the abridges versions of Treasure Island, Around the World in Eighty Days, and we’re currently on The Odyssey. Abridged versions are a great intro to the real thing, so that a child can make an informed decision about whether they want to read the “full version” or not.

  5. Thanks for this! I was just looking through my lesson plan and saw that my son is reading Julius Caesar in a few weeks. And I groaned. I just ordered the No Fear Shakespeare book. ๐Ÿ™‚ We will start with the original, but I have a feeling this will get pulled out!

  6. The illustrated “My First Little House” books are some of the best abridged books I have ever read – the illustrations are so sweet and they use the parts of the story that are the most interesting to young children (in my experience). They also led us right into the full version of the book.
    So, at any rate: I’m with you there!
    Another great one is “Little Pilgrim’s Progress.”

  7. I keep several of the abridged books around. For some of the same reasons you listed and also because I can read them to the children within a few nights without them loosing interest or getting lost on where we were

  8. You have some really excellent points! I have to admit that I am a complete purist when it comes to literature… On the other hand, my son read an abridged version of Moby Dick a couple of years ago and loved it; there is NO WAY that an eight-year-old (even *my* Clever Reader eight-year-old!) would have gotten through the “real” Moby Dick.

    I’ve share a Real Food Shamrock Shake this week! ๐Ÿ™‚

    ~ Christine

  9. That is one of the beefs I have with the CM method is the insistence on reading the actual work, like pilgrims progress. Now don’t get me wrong I love the CM method but I feel like when they are young they get the storyline and when they are older they can read and understand Shakespeare, Pilgrim’s progress or whatever because the foundation has been laid. I’m going to share this one with the classical G+ Group, great post!

  10. I couldn’t agree with you more!
    We always use the abridged versions to begin our literature studies. It is the only reason we are able to successfully study Beowulf, Homer, Dante and the likes. We then use the original to do passage language studies.

  11. I completely agree!! Thank you for sharing this information. I have had these conversations with parents for years. I totally appreciate that this is a family choice, but abridged books have been a huge help for my children. My oldest was a struggling reader for years (now as a teen he typically listens to our book club selections). After reading the abridged versions they were able to understand the concepts you mention. Now as they are heading into high school they are asking to read and discuss the original versions. Makes me smile!!

  12. We do both abridged and originals, depending on the kid. One of mine read all the Shakespeare comedies in grade 6 in the original…but she’d been reading both Lamb’s and Nesbitt’s versions for years.

    But you can’t say you’ve really experienced the book if you’ve only read an abridged version, and that may be one of the biggest problems with abridged versions: people think they know what the book is all about, but they are missing the important parts.

    And hey, when I need to learn something new I always go to the kids’ versions of things first, and I have a PhD.

    By the way, that Shakespeare reader of mine has now, 5 years later, read the entire Dorothy Sayer’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy! I am so proud of her! (We used Veritas Press’s Omnibus as a guideline.)

    1. Yes, that is a valid point. That’s why I think reading the abridged can make a wonderful introduction for reading the full version later. However, if you’ve got a struggling reader or one who is completely disinterested in a given book, I’d still rather him read an abridged version and have the gist of the book than to know nothing of it at all.

  13. This is also why I don’t mind letting my kids watch good movie adaptations of classics. Once you know what’s going on, it makes reading it so much easier. I had never read Jane Austen until I was an adult because I couldn’t get past the language, and I consider myself a good reader! Once I watched the movies (the good ones), I read them regularly! Thanks for the links to good abridged books.

  14. SO TRUE! Very tired of hearing everyone FREAKING OUT about abridged books. I read the 600 page version of Count of Monte Cristo – and LOVED it. However, some parts were a bit dry and I knew the unabridged (which is over twice the length of the unabridged) would have just sunk me.

  15. Yes, yes, yes! Wise words, Kris. I got hung up on finding the unabridged classics last summer when I was on a Charlotte Mason high, but it’s silly really. Reading is reading.

  16. I thought I’d see it but I didn’t so I’ll say one thing that I like best about getting abridged edited versions of classics for kids is not only the English being different but for lack of a better description they were savage back then in a lot of books. Some classics have some very harsh and even some horrifying parts that could cause some serious nightmares and require explanations you shouldn’t be having to talk about yet. Even in the abridged wizard of Oz some of the head chopping off man, I’m glad I’m reading it to my 5yr old so I can edit more myself, she doesn’t need to picture a whole pack of wolves getting their heads chopped off. And like you said reading version better for kids when they are kids will help them understand the classics more when they grow up and read the original. I am a fan of classics but a lot of so-called classic kids books aren’t really appropriate for kids.

  17. Even Matt abridged Robinson Crusoe when reading to Atian!

    It’s a great way to engage with the classica. I lived on Great Illustrated Classics as a child and have read now more complete classic lit than I can count. My son is loving the “Classic Starts” series.

    Thank you for speaking up when so many people want to grind us under the heel of purism ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. Excellent article. One thing I’ve learned is that the vast majority of time in life, “good enough” is good enough. So you read an abridged version and missed out on a few details. So what? Are you going to die? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Too many people struggle with FOMO (“fear of missing out”).

    Here’s another really important point: time. For example, the abridged version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” is about 800 pages shorter than the original. Let’s say you can read about 15 pages an hour. In this case, reading the original would require over 50 more hours! Of course, if you have all the time in the world, fine, read the original. But most people have other responsibilities in life, so their time is strictly limited. Is it really worth investing over 50 extra hours in a book just to pick up some extra details?? Everyone has to decide this matter for himself, but for me personally, the answer would usually be “no.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’ve read the original version of “Les Miserables,” which is 1400+ pages. Was it worth it? Nopeโ€”not even close. There’s so much filler in that book that it’s scary. Typically if a book is longer than about 300 pages, I’d say there’s going to be a lot of filler. And as you pointed out, better to read an abridged version than not to read a novel at all.

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