Making Classics Books Accessible to Youth


With the arrival of social media and other easily accessible avenues for entertainment, reading has undoubtedly become a less popular pastime. There is no denying that these popular sources of entertainment will be the basis in which our culture will be informed in the future; the goings-on of social media seem set to become the historical records of this generation.

Classic literature does not possess the same accessibility and addictive appeal as mainstream media, which compels younger audiences to ignore the crusty yellowed pages of classic novels. However, these fundamental pieces of literature are necessary for understanding politics and cultural mores. How can books compete with the addictive nature of social media, or spark engagement with literary classics in young children? The answer can be found in the simplification of classic literature.

Classic literature is present in almost every aspect of culture. People must be familiar with messages communicated through these stories to interact with and understand much of current media. But works such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Of Mice and Men, and various plays by Shakespeare contain many elements that keep individuals from accessing these brilliant pieces. For non-native speakers, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Shakespeare’s plays are particularly difficult, as the vernacular can be confusing and appear convoluted. Additionally, many classic books contain sensitive topics not typically suitable for young children, such as suicide, rape, and explicit descriptions of violence.

Simplifying classic literature for children makes for a way of youth to digest material otherwise incomprehensible or violent or sexual in nature. It also provides an alternative for non-native speakers to become familiar with common stories that would typically be above their vocabulary in their original forms. 

Abridged classics are a genre of books geared towards middle schoolers that retain the basic idea of a classic piece of literature, while cutting out or altering many of the graphic details, to help with comprehension of the actual piece. If done correctly, the overall theme and mood of the shortened version will mirror those of the original text. The publishing company Penguin Readers, for example, produces classic books such as Little Women or Phantom of the Opera with abridged options for different reading levels. These lower level books are why so many young children can be familiar with popular, beloved stories. 

One of the motivators to continue publishing these books is that through these abridged novels, younger audiences may be inspired to seek out the original works as they age.

Pushing kids to read earlier on and using vocabulary and concepts they can understand will help these abridged novels and graphics to round children’s concept of fundamental literature and provide parents and guardians an alternative to social media for solitary, sedentary entertainment. 

Abridged literature benefits all who read it; whether that be for comprehension or for the illustrations that are often included. For non-native speakers, these books provide an alternative to translated texts and can be the segue for children looking to read the original works. For all, the ideas around the culture of classic literature have the potential to be understood and better appreciated.