Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Swotting up on children’s books

I remember reading A Little Princess and loving the old-fashioned language and the quaint illustrations. I could just imagine I was Sara living oh so long ago. But recently I checked out a few possibilities for our bedtime book (one chapter or thereabouts each night) and the quaint language gave me some hard decisions to make.

My heart was set on Peter Pan, the 100th anniversary edition. I don't think I've actually read it myself, and was keen to share the experience with my two girls. The first night, however, we hit a snag. 'Rather delightful' is a quaint yet accessible phrase, and I loved how it set the tone in the first paragraph. The second, however, started 'Of course they lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one.' I really didn't get it myself, and there was a chorus of questions from the girls' beds. Soon we were reading about bookkeeping, Brussels sprout, cauliflowers and babies. It was all too much, and we abandoned the effort after two nights.

This dilemma made me sad. Are my kids never going to read Barrie's original work? Will they forever identify with the Disney version? How much effort am I willing to put in to our evening read? I really can't imagine how we will get through it at this age, and that makes me sad. I hold out hope for the future, when we can read it together or they pick up the books by themselves. Unlocking an old-fashioned text is like learning a foreign language. It helps with our everyday language and gives us a sense of accomplishment.

The girls and I are now reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, and loving it. The tiny pictsies speak what seems to me Scottish accents with quaint words, 'Ach, yer fightin' yersels, ye eejits! Ah'm fed up wi' the paira yees!' Their swear word of choice is 'crivens' and they say, 'Wailly wailly' when they are distressed. We are having so much fun. Or at least I am. I bung on an accent which I think is pretty good, and have even used 'wailly wailly' on FaceBook, much to my brother's amusement. I do tend to get carried away!

In the book only the pictsies use such language, and the rest of the text is effortlessly understood. I find this mix an entertaining, pleasant challenge. Tiffany, the protagonist also has to seek translations from pictsie to English, and that helps us to identify with her.

So how timely that I read this article on the re-editing of Enid Blyton's works. The debate rages at household and global level. Do you think we should edit classics so that children can understand them more easily?


  1. I loved The Little Princess, Alice in Wonderland, and all of those sorts of books.
    Part of what makes these stories so fantastic, is the way they were written, the language, the poetry, the descriptions. They are as much of the story as the plot and characters!
    I look forward to my little ones reading these stories, the way they were written.
    Right now, our bedtime stories are books like, "PREDATORS of the Dinosaurs" or "PREDATORS of the Ocean" or "PREDATORS of Africa" (do you see a theme? It's like, uh, a series.)
    But when my little girl is a little older, I would love to read Alice in Wonderland with her!

  2. Leslie, I was going to say I must check out the predator series, but then I remembered my audience. That little girl will be reading books before you know it!

  3. I remember attempting to read Peter Pan when I was a child and I had to put it down after a few chapters.

    As for Enid Blyton - I notice the article didnt mention all the racist and sexist stuff which also had to be edited from her books.

  4. +JMJ+

    DeLynne, I remember someone arguing a few years back that Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland can no longer be considered a Children's Book because its Victorian language has been completely inaccessible to children for at least the past few decades. Only adults can read it now.

    It's partly the way English has changed, partly the way our communication patterns have changed, partly the way we're just more visual these days, partly the way we're happier to break things down for children than the Victorians were . . . Oh, there are so many reasons--but I'm not writing a thesis here! =P

    Anyway, I think the same fate has befallen Peter Pan. The old-fashioned language really is, as you point out, practically a foreign language. (Isn't there a saying that goes, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there"?) I tried reading Barrie's book as a young teenager and failing miserably. But just a few weeks ago, I gave it another try, and was completely enthralled.

    But no, I don't believe in editing or abridging classics just so that children can understand them more easily. As long as there are some books they can still understand, stick to those and hope that they will be ready for the harder ones later. And when all great classics our grandparents' generation can remember have been rendered totally impenetrable, well, let's hope there are some newer classics that our children can still enjoy.

    (Pardon my verbose comment! Yes, I realise I do have my own blog. *embarrassed*)

  5. Oh, En, we welcome your comments, be they brief or elaborate.

    Funny, I think our co-blogger Izzy was reading Alice at a very young age. We'll ask her to weigh in on it being suitable for children.

    I did find Peter (compared to Alice) quite impenetrable, but, as you say, there is hope that our children will read the classics as adults.

    Jessica is quite right to point out the objectionable content in so many of our classics. There is no way we would let our PC kids read that now!

  6. What I remember from children's books is my grandfather, or parents reading to me. For me, that's what makes them special.

    Reading a nighttime story to my children these days is the highlight of my day - every day.

  7. Ahhh, I just finished reading A Little Princess a while ago. :) One of my childhood favorites! Also, you brought memories back with The Magic Faraway Tree. I used to gobble up Enid Blyton's work as a kid - in fact, a few months ago, I bought the faraway tree series because I was feeling nostalgic ;). The Mallory towers is next!
    p.s. - thanks for stopping by at my blog - I really appreciate it! :)

  8. Today walking in Target, I was so excited to see a bin of classics (paperback) for $1 each. A few titles: Little Princess, Peter Pan, Alice, Oliver Twist. What a disapointment to see 'adapted and condensed' on the cover. I did not buy a single one! So now you know which side of the fence I am on.

    btw, I glanced at the first page of Little Princess-- so drab..


Welcome to the yakkity yak box, Book Lovers! Your comments are greatly appreciated so please feel free to share your thoughts and ask questions.

Comments/questions will receive a response here and visits will be returned as time allows. We are a chatty bunch but also busy with work/school/family so apologies in advance for any delays.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...