04 September 2008

Hitty Hang-ups

While reshuffling our Series section in the Children's Room, I came across a Ready-for-Chapters series called "Hitty's Travels". It is a four volume series based on Rachel Field's Newbery Award winning book Hitty Her First Hundred Years. Hitty is a wooden doll that travels from girl to girl over a span of time, and she recounts her adventures with those girls. The "Hitty's Travels" books circulated as recently as this past May. The original Hitty has not gone out since 2005. That's just not right!

I hate it when dumbed down impersonations supersede the original source. The series of "Great Illustrated Classics" is a prime example. I grind my teeth in anger each time I come across one on our shelves. I firmly believe that if a reader is not yet ready for full force gale Jane Eyre, then wait until they are--don't hand them some lame-o imitation and leave them with the impression that they've read the masterpiece. (And if the issue is remedial reading, then find something original at the appropriate level. There is so much great stuff out there!) Other examples of "divide and dumb down" are the "Portraits of Little Women" series and the cottage industry that has become the Little House books. It seems that every female relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder is entitled to a book.

I think the most over used phrase in Children's publishing today is "now available for today's youngest readers". For instance, it is used to justify the transformation of picture books into board books--two formats that at times are incompatible. Does today's youngest reader really need a board book version of The Snowy Day, written for pre-schoolers, when they will gain so much more from Bow Wow Orders Lunch, which was written specifically for that age bracket (and works better as a board book to boot?) Today's youngest reader doesn't need warmed-over, abridged Hitty. They need original books written just for them, to tie them over until they are ready to meet Hitty in all her 207 page glory.


Martha said...

I wholeheartedly agree!!

Yankeerat said...

Thank you, Martha. And after a visit to your lovely blog, I can see why we are of the same mind ^_^

Spectrum Mom said...

I basically agree, but my kids and I have enjoyed some of the picture books that respectfully cull from/reference the original-like My First Little House books, and some Wind in the Willows/Winnie the Pooh picture books (tho some are truly dreadful).
Some children with special needs may never be able to read the originals and while there are many wonderful stories out there (and I would appreciate
your suggestions for ASD kids with severe delays), still I want to share my favorites with my boy too.
Thank you for your wonderful blog.

Kara Schaff Dean said...

Hi Spectrum Mom. Thanks for stopping by again.

I have read commentary and heard anecdotal evidence that the "Great Illustrated Classics" series is popular among adult ESL students, a demographic that, admittedly, might not want to read "Frog and Toad" (although they are missing out!)But in the case of the Hitty books, I don't think their appeal was to readers with special needs. I think their appeal was that they were shorter than the original and consequently more attractive to reluctant and emerging readers. I find this so sad.

In terms of sharing beloved books with children who may never be able to read the originals, I agree that the Little House picture books have made a strong attempt to maintain the feel and tone of the originals--right down to the Garth Williams-like illustrations. I do not have the same admiration for the LH easy chapter books, though. To me they seem like cashing in on a successful franchise. LH isn't the only culprit. I recently saw that the Splat the Cat books by Rob Scotten are making the jump to the easy reader level, hot on the heels of Pinkalicious, Flat Stanley, and Fancy Nancy. Such reliant on previously successful characters is understandable, but cynical, too.

In terms of recommendations, drop me an email and let me know what your boy currently reads and enjoys.

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