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Short Versions Help Get Kids To Read

Fri., March 3, 1995

The interview with the doctor was not going well. Some doctors, if the truth be told, think journalists are kind of stupid. Then the doctor made a reference to the 18th century novel “Tristram Shandy.”

I told him I’d read the book. I said: “Remember how that character drops a chestnut in his lap early in the book and then it isn’t mentioned again for about 100 pages?” We laughed together about Laurence Sterne’s digressions. The doctor warmed up and the interview went smoothly.

I love to read, always have. My father bought me the Companion Library Classics and by age 12, I had read them all, including “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I majored in English in college, and my life has been deeply enriched by literature.

Still, I think it is great that children are reading the modernized version of “Little Women.” Trimmed from 500-plus pages to 130 and stripped of its flowery speeches and sermonettes, the plot, and some of the original dialogue, remain intact. Author Laurie Lawlor hoped to make the classic accessible and pique childrens’ imaginations to read some more.

Some members of this editorial board, and my English professor husband, reacted the way Sterne’s character did when the hot chestnut plopped on his lap. “Zounds! cried Phutatorius … in a tone of voice somewhat between that of a man in amazement, and of one in bodily pain.”

Zounds, indeed. Lawlor is a realist. Children aren’t reading as much. Accept it. Could be television. Could be computers. Could be sports. This does not mean our children are doomed. This means that adults must work harder to introduce children to the written word. Some will respond and remain readers their entire lives. Others won’t. That’s been the reality for generations.

Lawlor deserves congratulations for opening literature’s door to children. Whatever works. The world is changing, and some surprises await, if we just relax. For instance, letter writing was declared dead a few years ago, killed by long-distance calls. But as e-mail blossoms in computer land, the letter - in a different form - is making a comeback.

Someday, you might sign on to your computer and find a young person’s message: “I just found this old chestnut of a story by Louisa May Alcott. I’m typing all 500 pages in for you to read. Enjoy!”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story; For opposing view see headline; Children will read if they’re encouraged Pro-condensed It makes classics accessible.

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From Both Sides

This sidebar appeared with story; For opposing view see headline; Children will read if they’re encouraged Pro-condensed It makes classics accessible.

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From Both Sides



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