As I post this, it’s World Book Day. It’s a time to celebrate the joy of books and reading and (at least for me) particularly, a day to share that joy with children. All of the research I know anything about suggests strongly that children who grow up in a print-rich environment are more likely to become lifelong readers themselves. And that makes sense.
Of course, I’m sure I don’t have to convince you of the value of reading with children and pre-teens. You probably do that already if you have children and/or grandchildren. And I’ll bet you remember what it was like to be introduced to reading when you were young.
There are of course many timeless books out there, and lots of them are mysteries. I’ll just mention Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as one example. This story of a supposed family curse and the way Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve a puzzling set of mysteries and murder has been immensely popular with readers for more than a hundred years. There’s one major challenge with such books, though: they sometimes contain language that young readers find very difficult. There’s nothing wrong with children being a bit challenged when they read. In fact, research suggests that reading something that makes you think actually improves reading skills. But that said, some passages of those great novels we’ve loved can be demanding. Here’s just one example from The Hound of the Baskervilles:
‘…several people had seen a creature upon the moor which corresponds with this Baskerville demon, and which could not possibly be any animal known to science. They all agreed that it was a huge creature, luminous, ghastly, and spectral. I have cross-examined these men, one of them a hard-headed countryman, one a farrier, and one a moorland farmer, who all tell the same story of this dreadful apparition…’
Even a motivated young reader might not know several of these words, and that can be discouraging.
Some publishers have addressed this issue by rewriting some of the classics in easier and more modern language, so that young readers can more easily immerse themselves in the story. Here, for example, is the same passage with more updated and simplified language (This is from Oxford University Press’ Oxford Bookworm series):
‘Several people have seen an animal on the moor that looks like an enormous hound. They all agree that it was a huge creature, which shone with a strange light like a ghost. I have questioned these’ people carefully. They are all sensible people. They all tell the same story. Although they have only seen the creature far away, it is exactly like the hell-hound of the Baskerville story.’
As you can see, the message is virtually the same (although we could debate about whether it really is the same!), but the language is simplified.
There are other publishers who’ve adapted this story (and others) as graphic novels, again with the goal of introducing young readers to Conan Doyle’s work without the barrier of difficult or outdated language. There’s even one publisher, Hicklebee’s, which has adapted some of this novel as a picture book with one or two words on each page, to help the youngest readers learn how words correspond with sounds. One page, for instance, says Gates, and includes a simple illustration of an old gate. The next page has the word Screech. You can well imagine how appealing this adaptation was for me when I was looking for a book to read with the youngest reader in my family…
There are many other examples of books, such as this one, that have been adapted with different, more contemporary language, or with easier synonyms. Some people argue that any time one changes the language of a story, one also changes the message. And there’s truth to that. There are subtle shades of meaning that really can be lost if words are changed. That’s why, for instance, translation can be a challenge.
Others argue though that the whole point of adaptations for young readers is introducing them to the joy of books. Stories that are written in clear, simple language are more likely to attract young readers, who will then develop reading fluency and (more importantly) interest in reading.
What do you think about adapting classics such as The Hound of the Baskervilles for young readers? If you have children or grandchildren, do you read adapted stories with them? Do they read them?
One final point is in order here, I think. We can debate about adapting books. There’s a lot of rich ‘food for thought’ there. But one thing seems certain. The more we read to and with children, the more likely they are to become lifelong readers themselves. And in case you were wondering, those benefits start pretty much from birth. So even parents of the very youngest infants are helping their newborns ‘hook into’ reading when they read aloud. What’s more, reading together gives young people a reading role model, and that’s extremely valuable. And reading together helps cement family bonds. But I probably don’t have to convince you of that.
So today, I invite you to share your love of reading with young readers. There are lots of ways to do that, even if you don’t have children or grandchildren. I’d love to hear your ‘reading together’ stories.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love.