In proofreading the Fall issue of the Horn Book Guide today, I came across a series published by Sterling called Classic Starts, a series of--well, let's not here get into a discussion of the term "classic," we'll instead go with "famous and copyright-free"--novels abridged and retold for young readers. Titles include Huck Finn, Little Women, Call of the Wild--the usual suspects. Each volume contains an afterword by Arthur Pober, not, as you might think, pointing out the virtues of each title, but rather supplying the rationale for the series. It's the same in each volume and it goes like this:
Even for a gifted young reader, getting through long chapters with dense language can easily become overwhelming and can obscure the richness of the story and its characters. Reading an abridged, newly crafted version of a classic novel can be the gentle introduction a child needs to explore the characters and story line without the frustrations of difficult vocabulary and complex themes.
Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a "grown-up" book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story's themes, characters, history, and details. As a child's reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge.
Oh, sure. Here's what it really wants to say:
Attention Walmart Shopper: For only $4.95, you can buy this hardcover version of a book you have definitely heard of but have probably never read. And not just any old famous book but a classic, the kind of book your third- or fourth- grader should be reading rather than wasting his or her time with an easy and probably demonic "children's book." This book used to be a grownup book, which means your child will be smarter and more advanced after reading it. And think of the sense of pride and satisfaction you will have that your child read a classic. Go ahead and brag. You've earned it.