Q. My eight-year-old daughter has been sent home with abridged versions of novels such as Little Women. Are these a great way to get into literature or will they ruin the real full-length books when she is old enough to read them? Eleanor, Oxford
From Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare to modern mini-sets of literature, abridged children’s classics are everywhere, but I worry that they may not be the right way to encourage reading. Isla Whitcroft, author of The Cate Carlisle Files, a series of thrillers for girls (aged 10+), agrees. She says, ‘One of the key benefits of reading, apart from the obvious joys of discovering new worlds and characters, is that it subtly increases and exercises the attention span. How many other activities encourage a child to concentrate without deviation or distraction for up to an hour or longer? Attention span is an essential educational tool to be nurtured.
‘So, giving a child the impression that a book is something to be scanned and read through quickly, removes one of the last few tools that helps them to increase their attention span,’ says Whitcroft, who also runs thriller writing workshops for young teens.
‘Apart from the fact that an abridged version will always necessarily slice through the intricacies of the plot line and decimate the characters (which may even put her off reading), if your daughter reads an abridged version now, it is highly unlikely that she will return to the fuller version later. In her mind she will have already read it.
‘Wait until your child is old enough to enjoy reading the unabridged version before offering it to her. There are plenty of excellent, exciting, age-appropriate books around for her to enjoy now. And if you do want to begin the process of introducing her to the young classics (and I agree this is a great thing to do at any age), do it verbally by describing the enjoyment you got from them and how they opened up your mind to the potential of travel and inspired you with ideas. In short, whet her young appetite but please don’t spoil it.’