I’m always reluctant to recommend condensed, abridged, or revised versions of any literary works. Students who use Cliff’s Notes or a condensed work can certainly get the gist of a plot and perhaps an accurate character overview, but the details must be omitted as are the nuances of the writer’s skill. Cliff Hilligas, the originator of the notes, made no claim to be a substitute, merely a layman’s introduction to the work. They are good for that purpose, and any competent teacher can reach past the brief synopsis when teaching and testing students.
However, when younger readers have consumed available print appropriate for their age, where do you send them? Here’s where I can, with parental caution and discretion, point to some literary revisions (revised for younger reading skills) or children’s versions of classic literature. I do so because I think reading these great stories, even in an abbreviated form, is much better than filling the gap with the plethora of garbage reading on the market. One such children’s revision of great literary works is the updated series, Great Illustrated Classics by Baronet Books. Most of the stories are written in a third-sixth grade reading level. The tremendous vocabulary and story-telling skills of the writers are often diminished in these works, but the plots are unchanged from the original and the characters have not been twisted into some politically correct format. I highly recommend that the reader tackle the original work when he is ready. After all, how many times have you read a really good book over and over?
One asset of this series is that each revised classic starts with an introduction to the author, to each character in the story, and often includes a sketch of an important place or item critical to the story. Chapters are around ten pages each, including sketches and drawings throughout. Your young reader can tackle one or two chapters a day with little effort and finish the book in about two weeks. He’ll also have a beginner’s knowledge to a great work of literature. Treasure Island, King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, and Moby Dick are just a few of the titles available.