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!
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 papers. When 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?