Classical homeschool, Homeschool
Comments 4

Q&A: Original or Edited Version?

Should your child read the original or edited version of the classics?

I love getting questions from readers, whether in an email, on my facebook page, in the comments on a blog post, or even in my contact form. Reader questions help me understand what you are thinking about, they remind me I am not alone in my own wonderings and wanderings, and  … they give me something to write about!

Today, I get to answer a question from a mom in my very own homeschool support group. High fives!

Hi Lea Ann! I was wondering what your thoughts are on letting our young children read original classics or replacing them with “sanitized” classics that “clean up” the original words, such as in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Are the sanitized books just as good or should we wait until our children are old enough to understand why we don’t use certain words any longer. Thanks for your thoughts!
 – Lisa P.
via web comment
Illustration of Jim and Huckleberry Finn, by E...

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Well, Lisa, I hear you with the Twain and the language. And you have heard me gush about my Twain autobiography. He is *eh-hem* colorful in his descriptions, and rather blunt. But I don’t call him crass, really. He is a product of his time. My son, whom you’ve met, has also met Twain’s works. He is not as big a fan as I am. But he has read the words to which you refer and knows that this is not how we speak respectfully today. Language is fluid.

I had another interesting language incident with my 7-year-old Sweetie Pooh. He is just getting into reading chapter books. I say “just getting into,” because he is more than capable, but lacks enthusiasm. He will read picture books for hours, or look through an encyclopedia for information, or even research in a thick Answers in Genesis book if he is insistent, but his required literature reading, aka “fun books,” are like pulling teeth. But we’re working on small goals, picking interesting, funny books, reading authors he favors, etc. But I digress.

He brought home a book with a bright yellow cover from the library and settled on his bed to read his required 2 chapters last week. After rest time, I asked him if he could tell me a little bit about what he had read. “Oh, it is a funny book, Mom. But, what does b*&^ch mean?” 

I looked at him in shock, while his older brother yelled at him for saying bad words to his mother.

When I recovered my composure, I asked him to bring me the book. He did, and there at the top of chapter two was a sign that the farmer made for his puppies. They were for sale, and the mother was a certified … mother.

I laughed, and I laughed. Then I told him what it meant. And I told him that I had learned that particular vocabulary word when I was a little older than him, in the library of my Christian school while researching Golden Retrievers for a research papersWhen I demanded a definition from my teacher, I got the same response I gave my son.

So I explained that calling a woman a dog is no compliment, and a gentleman knows how to use words properly. Like this farmer.

For a similar reason, I am not a fan of abridged versions of anything. I’m trying to think if we’ve read an abridged version of something. We read Pilgrim’s Progress aloud when my children were all under the age of 10.  We did read simplified Beowulf, but my Sweetie Pooh demanded to read parts of the (translated) original for himself to compare. And while we are watching Shakespeare plays, we are reading Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare for each story first.

Besides that, though, we read the real thing when possible. If the child is old enough to handle the material (and I would rather reach up then dumb down) and there is nothing explicit, vulgar, or otherwise immoral, the classic is the way to go. It is a classic for a reason: the vocabulary, the description, the structure, the nuance, and the richness of the experience are lost in the editing of abridgement. Why feed my children Big Macs when we can have fillets and shrimp?

As an aside… a wonderful resource to help teach our children the fluidity of our language is King Alfred’s English. It tells how our language developed and why we should be so grateful to the Lord for it.  My children really enjoyed it.

How do you handle questionable material in your children’s books?


  1. Oh, I love this!!!!!! We also work to find the original works for similar reasons.

    I work hard to get old books from many different genres too. 😉


  2. We had this come up this year since we were studying “modern” history (1850-present day). Some of my 4th grade daughter’s books (which I pre-read) had to be discussed before I gave them to her. In one instance I warned her that there were two words we consider to be swear words and that, in spite of those, I still wanted her to read the book.

    We’re taking it one book at a time here. I despise abridgments (except classic re-tellings like Lamb’s). I have been able to stay one step ahead of my daughter, so far. I think those days are definitely numbered. I hope I’ve taught her to be a discerning reader. My goal is discernment; not white-washing or the vapors over a “bad” word.


  3. S. Lynn says

    This was very good and insightful. I agree with you. We would much rather read classics and as far as language goes, it depends on the use and the purpose. Whether a book or a movie, if the language is part of the story and the times and the way they talk, not just today’s junk with swearing, but like if it’s a gang or about the south, there are words that I consider much more vulgar, such as the “N” word…but there were times and people that used different language than we do.

    But, on the topic of the type of books you were talking about your son reading…my son never liked much but Non-fiction and that’s about all he read unless I gave him something for “School” until he found Redwall on CD and he started checking out every book in that series, I was blown away. I do NOT like fiction myself, but he found a door into that world. Of course his sister has and still does read with him, including LOTR and Narnia and Scottish Chiefs (which she thinks is the best book ever written).

    Anyway, thank you for the post, it was very good. Blessings


  4. Pingback: Read to Me, Mommy! | Lea Ann Garfias

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