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My Experience Of Two Abridged Children’s Stories

Some posts back I mentioned the abridgement of children’s books. What I’d discovered about my childhood sparked conversation both here and in my offline life and I started looking into the abridgement idea further.

The cover of Ladybird Books' The Little Mermaid

I said that abridgement seems odd in the case of children’s books but time got me considering other reasons – or, rather, I remembered The Little Mermaid.

It’s a children’s story and it’s a dark one and features a bitter-sweet ending. The original Hans Christian Andersen tale ends with the mermaid unable to kill her prince and dying, becoming foam on the sea before being offered a chance to gain a soul after 300 years of work. It’s no Disney, that’s for sure.

Disney’s version, with its red-headed Ariel, makes the tale one of triumph. Ariel gives up her voice but she wins her prince and everything turns out okay. Whilst it glosses over the darkness of the original, one could say it was a needed change, at least for younger children. Because the original, is fine for children up until that bitter-sweet ending after which it’s surely confusing and upsetting. There’s a open-ended factor to it – did the mermaid succeed in the post-death tasks she was set? It stayed in my mind for years.

The Disney change also means the story could match Disney’s idea of princesses getting their princes. Perhaps they deemed the mermaid’s story a bit too realistic in the sense that she didn’t get her dream. Enough on that point.

Disney’s changes make sense as do adaptations that follow the same thinking. They ensure younger readers can be introduced to the idea and enjoy it whilst ‘waiting’ to be old enough for the real deal. Certainly, though, I was surprised at my Ladybird copy of the book and its sad ending, it’s beautifully drawn picture of spirits in the sky. Disney had guided my journey but I did feel duped. Whether I was really old enough to appreciate the real story is another thing; that it haunts me to this day suggests that perhaps there’s no good time for the story to be discovered.

The cover of Ladybird Books' Around The World In 80 Days

Looking again at adult books, my copy of Around The World In 80 Days sported no more than 80 pages. It may even have been 50 – I remember that by adult standards it looked short but the text was crammed in. I stayed up all night to read it, proudly going downstairs around 2am to tell my mother I’d read it all and being escorted swiftly back to bed because I had school the next day. Whether it was because she set a time limit or because I’d realised she wasn’t as happy as I’d expected her to be, I didn’t read for that long in bed again for a good few years.

This was an adult book abridged for children and done right. It was fascinating; it had pictures throughout (it was another Ladybird), the scenes chosen ensured it kept your attention, and it made you feel as though you’d really accomplished something as my pride above showed. It made you feel you’d stepped up your reading, that you’d read a whole book. I don’t feel cheated, even now, because it was produced with so much thought.

Whether or not the book’s release date coincided or if it was just my ownership of it, around the same time the BBC adaptation, a cartoon, again for children, started its run, and again it was well done.

Abridgement can work but only when it makes sense, only when it will truly offer something of value that can’t wait until maturity. Have I read Around The World In 80 Days? No, I haven’t, but I do intend to, and my childhood experience of the story together with my recent reading of Palin’s Verne-inspired trip has made me excited about it.

Has abridgement worked for you?



March 14, 2016, 3:31 am

I loved the Jules Verne books I read as a kid — Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to The Center of the Earth, Around the World… What I loved was the rich vocabulary, which made them seem peeks into an amazing, adult world. When I found copies for my kids, they were bored — the kid versions were simplified in language and complexity, taking away what had made them shine. So I tend to avoid abridgments; if you aren’t ready to read a book yet, don’t read it.

In my limited experience (myself as a kid, kids I’ve met as an adult and a parent), children can handle bad endings — it’s adults who can’t handle giving children sad endings. When telling my kids bedtime stories, they would pick “American style” or “Greek style” which would change whether all three little pigs lived while the wolf ran away, or whether only the third pig survived to dine on wolf soup at the end.


March 14, 2016, 12:02 pm

Wonderful post, Charlie! I read a lot of abridged classics when I was a child – Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Austen, Shakespeare, R.L.Stevenson, Jules Verne, Dumas. I love the abridged version of ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ – so it was so nice to know that you loved it too. I remember reading it in my aunt’s place. Everyone was sitting in a room and talking while I was sitting in another room reading it. I later went back and read the original one and it was wonderful too. I am not sure whether they should change the ending of a book in the abridged version. I agree with you though that sometimes sad / tragic endings or complex endings might be hard to take for younger readers.


March 15, 2016, 8:11 pm

I tend to avoid abridged books, so I am not sure what I think about them. They might work for me, but I haven’t tried. lol


March 18, 2016, 10:52 am

Beth: That’s a good point about abridgements, that some books need the language to work (we go on enough about lovely writing as bloggers!) Not being ready is something I’d agree with too.

We can go too far about bad endings, worry too much, and then that worry will stay with the child for some time. I like the ‘style’ idea, that’s quite fun!

Vishy: Thanks, Vishy! That is quite a list! Yes, 80 Days was done rather well, I think. You chose the right activity ;) With bad endings, timing is definitely important; I think Beth’s idea comes into this well – there are some books that shouldn’t be read but a lot can.

Kailana: Fair enough. I think they work up to a certain point – a certain age.



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