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Abridging Children's Books


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Old 30-03-2004, 01:43   #1
russkayatatu russkayatatu is offline
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Abridging Children's Books

There was an article recently in a magazine called "Salon" about the abridgement of classic children's books like The Wind in the Willows, how they're dumbed-down and generally mutilated to make them more 'cartoonish': you can read it at:

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2...ows/index.html

Lately I've been reading several things around this topic, and I'm infuriated. Even taking into account that the article is about one publisher , I think that there is a definite movement away from books like The Wind in the Willows and many, many children in the United States grow up without ever reading or even hearing about these books. Which publishers and corporations take advantage of and encourage with their half-literate adaptations and spin-offs, not only by supplanting them but by defanging them when they do appear. I've no idea how many kids grow up with The Wind in the Willows and The Jungle Book, but I would guess they're the minority ... my mom works at a preschool, teaching kids who are around four years old now, and was complaining to me once about how most of the stories available on the shelves are trash. And I said that was a shame, since there are a lot of great children's books - maybe she should bring some in - so that they could be exposed to something better than "Rugrats."

"Read them The Just So Stories," I said. "Like The Cat That Walked by Himself: here, listen to this: 'Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and be-happened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. The Dog was wild, and the Horse was wild, and the Cow was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild — as wild as wild could be — and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.'

That's not too difficult," I said. "What do you think?"

My mom was not too keen on the idea, but then again one of the other teachers at the school, when she was reading "The Three Little Pigs" changed the ending to: "and they all sat down to have a nice dinner together and lived happily ever after."

A few days ago I read an essay by a film critic that said that, ever since he had three young sons and began paying attention to children's movies, he discovered that Disney had constructed childhood to make it fully compatible with consumerism. So even if the abridged versions of classic children's books are not as widespread as the Salon article suggests they are, I think the quality of the literature and films that most children grow up with is not very high - which is doubly a shame because there are so many good films and books, stories out there - written by authors like E. B. White and Lewis Carroll.

Especially Disney films! Disney films, the early Disney films, are masterpieces: "Sleeping Beauty," "Bambi," "Pinocchio" ... I stopped paying much attention to Disney movies after I finished watching "Beauty and the Beast" ... now if I go into Blockbuster I see "Snow White 2" right next to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Sleeping Beauty" is nowhere to be found. Is it really better to have "A Beauty and Beast Christmas" than "Dumbo"?

I'm sure everything is not all that bad but there seems to be a clear pattern and a trend - in a culture mostly apathetic ... that keeps golighting films where the overwhelming message is "we want your $9" and one of the biggest, longest-running bestsellers is The South Beach Diet that not even children's books, the OLD children's books, that don't require any new creativity or imagination but only appreciation, are not taken seriously and are on a par with the latest sequel spin-off from a gigantic corporation - and often even less because they're not N * E * W. The obsession with new things is also something that disturbs me; I remember when I visited my dad a few months ago we went to a music store, and he said he didn't care what he listened to, he wanted to listen to "anything new" - you know, whatever's hip. So we listened to OutKast.

Not, of course, that there can be nothing new that's good - there CAN, and probably is - this is later than Walt Disney, but "The Great Mouse Detective" is not bad at all - but sometimes the old films and stories are as good as it gets: moments like "man has entered the forest" in "Bambi," or going up the staircase in "Sleeping Beauty" are worth a hundred "Pocahontes" and rank with the very best in film - and literature - ever. I get the superficial impression that most of it is hack work, or overly condescending - children's literature demands, or it should demand, originality and daring.

Is it just me, or is it awful for anyone else? What do you think about the article and children's literature and film in general - or in other countries?

It also makes me sad that Disney is now the name of a multimillion dollar company and no longer the last name of Walt Disney who was a genuine talent and did great things in animation. "Disneyfication" is a coinage and almost a dirty word to some people, like the woman who wrote the Salon article ... and it's a shame, what else can I say, a gosh-darned, howditcometothis kind of shame that I think I would feel even more if I had been alive in the forties and fifties.

Just to end with something totally unrelated, but also a bummer: Peter Ustinov has died. If you don't know his films, let me recommend them to you -

Last edited by russkayatatu; 30-03-2004 at 19:32.
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Old 30-03-2004, 02:12   #2
coolasfcuk coolasfcuk is offline
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thanks Rach for the great post again! I love reading your posts .. I think you should try to publish hihi

ummm.... well, I never grew up with Disney really, being a commie little kid, but..... I do agree, now-a-days kids.... esp those in America and in the West in General .. no book reading....

...I honestly dont know much about kids books currently... but reading what you said ... and I dont know at all about Disney movies still, since I HATE them! so I cant comment on those either...

...but growing up, my all time fav kids author, who i read over and over and constantly was Astrid Lindgred! my brother even made fun of me how many times i read Elim from Lonneberga .... Of course, the all time classics of Brothers Grim ... and that fun Italian - Janni Rodari and his naughty Onion character that was called: "Lukcho' in Bulgarian hihi ... we read the Three Pigs too, but not with alternative ending

..... also, we didint get that many cartoons while growing up - some bulgarian ones, which now that i think about it were more targeted towardsmature audience... and of course the Great "Ny Pogodi" We got the american 'Pink Panther' once a week for 10 mins on Sunday nights... ha ha... and thats about it....
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Old 31-03-2004, 04:47   #3
LenochkaO LenochkaO is offline
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You're right to be concerned, Rachael. Bring back the children's classics!

Quote:
Just to end with something totally unrelated, but also a bummer: Peter Ustinov has died. If you don't know his films, let me recommend them to you -
V.sad news. Peter Ustinov was chancellor of my university and awarded me my degree. I don't remember much about my graduation ceremony now, 6 years on, but I do remember immensely enjoying the speech he gave.
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Old 31-03-2004, 05:42   #4
thegurgi thegurgi is offline
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When i was in like 3rd grade, i got one of those abrigded books and was hideously angered when i discovered i hadn't read the whole thing. I prompted went to the library and got the real book and the comparison was so much that i couldn't believe other kids were pulled into them. That was Alice in Wonderland.

Strange of me, i've always hated the abrigation of books [ and re-editing of films... ]. The Animated Disney Feature Films are a passion of mine [i own them all... all 42 or so ] and i HATE those dumb sequels [don't own any of them, they don't count towards the list ]

In fact, a sequel to Snow White was planned, but a petition was placed on-line promptly and successfully ended those plans.

Children don't have good books anymore. I remember being red the "The Bunny that wished for red wings [ i think that was the title] " and all those Silvestine books, Falling Up, they were just plain good. My sister read to me the original Aesop Fables, Grimm Fairy tales and those of Hans Christian Anderson...

Ask a kid 2 years younger than me, and they would have never heard of it

Lenochka0, you were given your degree by Peter Ustinov?! Wow! he was great....
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Old 04-04-2004, 05:36   #5
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Quote:
Lenochka0, you were given your degree by Peter Ustinov?! Wow! he was great....
Yeah, we were really lucky. Prince Charles got awarded an honorary degree during the same session, but that's not nearly as impressive
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Old 15-04-2004, 20:10   #6
russkayatatu russkayatatu is offline
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thegurgi, you're right, sorry and thanks for correcting me It wasn't "Snow White 2," I must have gotten confused with either the cartoon version of "The Snow Queen" (about "Tom"?) or the live-action version of "Snow White 2."

Pfff, about childhood - there's a lot of things I could say - but mostly I want to share something I just read, a review of a book by Neil Postman called The Disappearance of Childhood His thesis is that ever since the advent of the printing in the fifteenth century childhood has been considered a clear-cut stage of life: "the print culture fostered literacy, learning, sequential thinking, protestantism, secularism, a separation of literate and learned people from illiterate and unlearned people, hence the development of education, schooling, training, childhood." And going along with the concept of childhood was a stage of maturity characterized by "secret knowledge, social privileges, personal responsibilities, and a humane concern for the young."

The radio and the television, though, he argues, set the conditions for a new type of culture - "visually and aurally oriented, nonsequential, filled with images, instantaneous impressions, entertainment, and universally accessible knowledge. Thus the two groups, once demarcated by a gap in knowledge, skills, tastes, etc., collapsed, and kids and grown-ups merged into one, the 'adult-child.' Today, as in the Middle Ages, children see everything grown-ups see, both the refined and the raw; they know intimacy like adults, commit crimes like adults, play the same games, make the same dirty jokes."

Gary Kern, the reviewer, continues: "Postman adduces a series of compelling examples in support of his thesis: the same sports (little league and big league), the same clothes (kids in fine threads, grown-ups in jeans), the same crimes and punishments (murders and executions). And ... the same tastes in television programs and movies: the "ABC Saturday Night Movie," "M*A*S*H," and "Three's Company" scored high among all age groups in the Nielsen ratings for 1980. Increasingly there was no need for separate entertainments."

I think there's a lot of that that is true. From the age of around 8 everybody starts being interested in the same things, listening to the same music, seeing the same movies. This book was written in the early '80s but the internet has made everything even more equal, I think.

When we talk about "children's books" most of the time I'm not even sure what they are, since I skipped most of them (except for the fairy tales) and went straight to "adult" books. I do remember when I was little I assumed that most of the things I read or listened to or watched was geared for children, and being surprised that they weren't: like the TV series "Star Trek," like Peter, Paul, and Mary (come on: "if I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning"? ), like Gilbert and Sullivan, like the opera Carmen, like old movies from the '40s and musicals like "Kismet" or "The Music Man."

Most of the music and film made before the '70s was great to grow up with; there's little that would be traumatizing, and most of it is good quality. I wonder sometimes about movies made today ... it seems like almost all of them are rated R, or are lax PG-13's ... it's like there's nothing in between, you know? Lots of sex, lots of violence, in almost every movie, except for the Disney ones for kids. Almost all movies for kids now are more or less dumb comedies, or so I'm starting to think.

Last edited by russkayatatu; 15-04-2004 at 20:15.
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Old 15-04-2004, 21:46   #7
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that's wild!
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