Classic Remarks: Should We Adapt Classics for Children?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What do you think of adapting classics for younger readers?

In many ways I’m a literary purist. I often bristle at movie adaptations that aren’t faithful to the original novels, and I’m not afraid to grump about people disrespecting masterpieces with all their silly changes. (Shudder.)  As I grow older, however, I’ve come around..a little bit…to the idea that sometimes changes are necessary or good–that maybe something that works in writing doesn’t work as well in film and needs to be tweaked. Or maybe, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter whether the protagonist’s sister’s teacher’s daughter has the correct color hair.  However, no matter the medium, I’m still a purist where it comes to the spirit of a text, and my greatest frustration with children’s adaptations is that they often make great literature less in order to make it more accessible for younger readers.

When I say the literature is made “less,” I refer to all manners of changes, but all have the consequence of diluting the story.  Sometimes children’s adaptations cut material to make the book shorter.  Sometimes they simplify the prose. And sometimes they remove material because it’s not “suitable for children.”  The ultimate goal appears to be making the novel “easier to read.”  I suppose an idealist would say the goal is to introduce children to great literature, but my complaint is that with these adaptations the reader isn’t really getting Jane Eyre or The Count of Monte Cristo or Hamlet or whatever.  The reader is getting an editor’s interpretation of what’s most valuable about the original text.  And it’s often less interesting, less complicated or nuanced, than what the author originally wrote. What’s the value in that?

So, yes, I bristle that great literature is being watered down and important pieces are being lost.  I also have a practical objection, however: I think that, instead of making readers more interested in classics, these adaptations could make children less likely to read the original.  I remember receiving children’s adaptations to read when I was a child. Half the time, I was confused by whether I was reading an adaptation or not, since it often isn’t clear from the way the book presents itself.  I thought I was reading the actual text, and it never occurred to me that in five years I should graduate to reading the “real” version.  The other half of the time, I considered my job done.  I had read some version of Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe or whatever. I knew how the story went, and I therefore had no interest in reading it all over again in a longer version.  These adaptations discouraged me from reading classics because I felt I had already read them.

I’m a firm believer in letting readers read books whenever they feel ready for them, not in altering the books to try to meet the reader halfway.  I don’t have an issue with children reading “adult books” (I did it all the time), but the fact remains that the target audience is adults.  The issues presented and the way they are handled are not meant for children.  Artificially trying to make them resonate with children (or simply comprehensible to younger readers) isn’t a worthwhile goal, particularly if the means of doing this is just hacking away at scenes to make the book shorter.  Omitting a sex scene from a novel isn’t automatically going to make a book about love, loss, and divorce speak to a child the same way it would speak to a reader who was older and had actually been in a romantic relationship.

I’m sure there’s someone in the world who enjoys children’s adaptations,  but I have never been one of them.  I wouldn’t be sad to see this trend disappear.  I’d rather see children read full classics when they’re ready and interested in them.

This Week’s Participants:

Briana

Classic Remarks: What Would You Do in Anne of Green Gables?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  The schedule for 2017 is available now, if you would like to participate. We look forward to seeing your responses!


You’ve been dropped into L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

What do you do first?

Anne of Green Gables

Although I love the characters L.M. Montgomery creates in the Anne series, I am also enchanted by her portrayal of Prince Edward Island. I know that life on the Island may not have entirely been idyllic in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  (Anne’s chores are sometimes noticeably glossed over in the books, unless she’s having a mishap baking cakes or such.) However, Montgomery still makes the Island sound like one of the most beautiful places on earth, and if I were plunked directly into Anne of Green Gables, I would start exploring it.

Anne is enraptured by the red soil and the beautiful flowering trees when she first heads to Green Gables with Matthew, so I like I’d like to start there, traveling down the White Way of Delight. I’d move on to see all the beautiful places where Anne spends her girlhood, from the Lake of Shining  Waters to the Dryad’s Bubble to Lover’s Lane.  I think walking around Anne’s haunts would be a well-spent day.

If I had more time in Avonlea, I’d love to see what events were happening.  Entertainment in the past seems so much different than our own today.  (People really went to recitals to hear children recite great poems of literature?) However, it also sounds charming. I think I’d enjoy going to a school concert or a church picnic, or whatever was happening that week, and hopefully there would be delicious homemade desserts!

If you are participating this week, please leave the link to your post in the comments.

Briana

Otter Loves Halloween! by Sam Garton

Halloween Button

Otter Loves HalloweenINFORMATION

Goodreads: Otter Loves Halloween!
Series: I Am Otter
Source: Library
Published: July 21, 2015

REVIEW

In this delightful picture book by Sam Garton, Otter and Teddy prepare for Halloween–the best holiday ever!–by choosing the perfect pumpkin, decorating the house, and finding the scariest costumes possible. Unfortunately, Halloween becomes a little scarier than Otter wanted!  With some creativity, however, soon she and her friends are able to enjoy the festivities.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, the kind with a lesson for children (that possibly appeals more to the adults buying the books).  Things may seem scary, but you can find a way to confront your fears.  Solid enough.  But I’m reading, not for the lesson, but for Otter’s charming voice and Garton’s humorous illustrations.  Otter’s exuberance for life simply leaps off the page while the illustrations humorously moderate the story, showing Otter’s fear where she tries to play cool, her mishaps when she tries to play innocent.  The play of the narrative with the illustrations is sophisticated and fun, and something I’m sure children will enjoy, as well.

I also have to note that this holiday book is not one of those ones that you suspect the publisher rushed off to the market to make some quick cash off a familiar character in October.  The story stands on its own and the quality of the tale compares with the quality of the other Otter books.  Indeed, I would read this book all year long and not reserve it solely for Halloween–it’s that good.

Being invited to Otter’s home is always a rare treat and I hope that we continue to see much more of Otter and her friends over the years.  My dream is to see the Otter books become classics.

Krysta 64

Why Aren’t You Reading Picture Books?

Why Are You Not Reading Picture Books

The Reasons You Should Read More Picture Books

Picture books aren’t just for children.

We tend to associate picture books with improving literacy in children, but they are so much more than educational tools.  A good story transcends age and even older children and adults can enjoy them. After all, reading pictures is a skill just as reading words is, and illustrators often create visual puns or give the words a new (perhaps ironic or humorous) meaning through the pictures.

Picture books are diverse.

Go to the picture book section and you are more likely to find characters of color on the cover than you are in any other section.  Picture books also feature mixed families, nontraditional families, LGBTQ characters, and more.

Picture books are creative.

Herve Tullet’s Press Here  and Christie Matherson’s Tap the Magic Tree ask readers to interact with the story by pressing, shaking, and tapping the book.  B. J. Novak ironically created a picture book without pictures in The Book with No Pictures.   Wordless picture books allow readers to create their own story to go along with the images.

Picture books are works of art.

Because picture books are associated with children, the creativity and talent of the authors and illustrators can be overlooked.  However, marrying the right illustrations and the right style of illustrations to the words is difficult, just as writing a moving, clever, or funny story in such a short space is difficult.  Furthermore, sometimes the artwork is simply astounding. I can look at Aaron Becker’s beautiful landscapes all day, and I never cease to marvel at the way in which Mo Willems’s Piggie and Elephant are brought to life with just a few lines.

Some Recommendations to Get You Started

The Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker

These wordless picture books follow two children as they escape their ordinary lives with magical crayons that allow them to draw what they need to travel through a strange new land.

Corduroy by Don Freeman

This classic from the 1960s recounts the story of a teddy bear who longs for a home but fears no one will buy him if his overalls are missing a button.

I Am Otter by Sam Garton

Otter has a lot of fun with Teddy and Otter Keeper, but hates when Otter Keeper has to go to work.  Then she has an idea–she’ll get a job and open her own restaurant.  What could possiblly go wrong?

We Are in a Book! by Mo Williems

This one is often shelved with beginner readers and maybe not technically considered a picture book.  However, the Elephant and Piggie books from the author who brought us Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus are charming and funny–and this one, in which the characters realize they are in a book and attempt to influence the reading of the story, is one of my favorites.

Krysta 64

Otter: Oh No, Bath Time! by Sam Garton

Otter Oh No BathtimeINFORMATION

Goodreads: Otter: Oh No, Bath Time!
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: June 2016

SUMMARY

Otter and Teddy love to play in the yard, but when Otter Keeper decides it’s bath time, the protagonist tries to hide.

REVIEW

I’m really not sure what to say about this early reader.  As with The Best Job Ever!, the concept of a character fearing bath time and then learning bath time is fun is hardly new.  I hoped that Otter would make it feel new–she’s very funny.  But this may be the weakest Otter offering yet.

The books seems odd in that it both assumes reader familiarity with Otter and her world and does not.  Otter Keeper, for example, speaks several times before being shown–then readers see only his back and later a few glimpses of his hand.  It’s kind of odd  having this invisible caretaker present–unless, of course, you already know who Otter Keeper is.  But if you already know who Otter Keeper is, then you have been reading about Otter for awhile and the premise of Otter hating baths seems ridiculous.  She’s presumably been bathing this whole time.  Why is she suddenly hiding from the tub now?

I suppose early readers aren’t going to over-analyze the premise of the book and will simply be enchanted by Otter’s winsome personality and her funny attempts to avoid getting clean.  However, I couldn’t help but feel the whole time that something was off.  And yet, I still love Otter.  I want to read more of her stories.  I hope that the next picture book will again give us everything that makes Otter so lovable.

4 starsKrysta 64

Otter: The Best Job Ever! by Sam Garton

Otter Best Job EverINFORMATION

Goodreads: Otter: The Best Job Ever!
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: June 2016

SUMMARY

Otter of I Am Otter fame decides she and Teddy need jobs, just like Otter Keeper.  But how can Teddy get a job if he isn’t good at anything?

Review

Though I love picture books, I tend not to read beginner books, even for characters I enjoy, because they rely on simplistic sentences and repetition, and generally read awkwardly to me.  Picture books, believe it or not, tend to be much more sophisticated.  However, I love Otter so much that I ordered her two new beginner readers as soon as they were released.  I don’t regret the purchase because I want to support Otter.   However, I don’t see myself rereading The Best Job Ever! as I do Otter’s picture books, I Am Otter, Otter in Space, and Otter Loves Halloween!

Much of Otter’s charm stems from her propensity for mischief–and then for blaming the results on Teddy.  You can read her endearingly funny adventures on her blog (The Attic Mission storyline is my favorite.).  However, publication has tamed Otter a bit.  Otter now needs to teach children lessons.  Lessons about acceptance and the mastery of fear and other good-for-children stuff.

I’m sure Harper Collins knows what sells and presumably educators and parents are eager to instill morals in their young readers.  But a book about finding a job is simply not very original as an early reader concept.  If I didn’t already love Otter, I would never pick up this book because I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times before.  As it is, Otter’s charm still makes it a fun read and readers may well even chuckle.  But Otter can deserves better.  Otter is original–and her books should allow Sam Garton to showcase that.

4 starsKrysta 64

Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green (Blog Tour)

HippoMr_BlogTourBanner

Summary

The zoo isn’t what it used to be. It’s run-down and falling apart. Hippo hardly ever gets any visitors. So he decides to set off for the outside with his friend Red Panda. To make it in the human world, Hippo will have to become a Hippopotamister: he’ll have to act like a human, get a job, and wear a hat as a disguise. He’s a good employee, whether he’s a construction worker, a hair stylist, or a sous chef. But what he really needs is a job where he can be himself.

HippoMr-chef1

About the Author

John Patrick Green grew up on Long Island and has worked in New York City since graduating from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in graphic design. He was the comics consultant for Disney Adventures magazine, where he wrote and often drew the popular Last Laugh feature. John is the co-creator and illustrator of the graphic novel series Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden and Teen Boat!, both with writer Dave Roman. He has also worked as a writer, illustrator, or designer on comics and graphic novels for Nickelodeon Magazine, DreamWorks, Scholastic Graphix, and DC Comics. John lives in Brooklyn with zero cats and way too many LEGOs.


Hippopotamister RGBInformation

Goodreads: Hippopotamister
Series: None
Source: Publisher for Review
Published: May 10, 2016

My Review

Hippopotamister is an exuberant story about one hippo’s search for the perfect job.  With bold shapes and bright colors, the book brings readers along with Hippo and Red Panda as they seek to blend into the human world and sample a variety of human jobs–all of them poised to become the best job ever.

Though the outcome of the story is predictable in the sense readers will probably will able to guess what job Hippo will decide on as the best, the journey is still a fun romp.  Hippo and Red Panda cycle through a variety of occupations, ranging from construction worker to hair stylist to chef.  Hippo has a talent for most of them.  Red Panda does not, which results in hilarious mishaps given center stage in the illustrations.  Readers will be rooting for both characters, however, as their optimism is contagious.

The book will speak equally to children and adult readers, though I think in different ways.  The opening scenes of the run-down, neglected city zoo will have entirely different overtones for adults familiar with discussions on whether it’s even ethical to keep animals in zoos; children will probably simply find it sad, and maybe a little funny that the lion has a ridiculous, mangy mane and the walrus has fish stuck in his teeth.  Similarly, Hippo’s quest for a fulfilling job will read differently to working adults rather than to kids.  This makes Hippopotamister a great choice for parents and children to read together.

Although the publisher’s website does not seem to use the term “picture book” to describe Hippopotamister, that’s how the book was pitched to me, and other readers are using the label on Goodreads.  The book is on the long-ish side for a picture book (84 pages) and may work better for slightly older readers, even though the graphic novel style of the book means there generally are not very many words per page.

Hippopotamister is an uplifting story about friendship and finding purpose through hard work.  It has an endearing story and a cute ending.  I’ll be looking forward to more from John Patrick Green.