Contact Erica
About Books Events Blog And More!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Very Little Red Riding Hood, Even Less About The Wolf

In today's New York Times, there's this article about Orion Books publishing what they like to call "pared down classics." That is, newly edited versions of classic books, including Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and David Copperfield. The Times then asked several literary luminaries - including Offsprung's own Neal Pollack - to weigh in on which classics they felt should be whittled.

Had the Times asked me - not that I'm bitter that they went to Neal first, mind you -they might have been surprised to find that I can rattle off several classic picture books that could benefit from a flourish of red pen. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that these books be altered now. Heck, I scowl when they reissue classic children's books with new art, even good art. James and the Giant Peach comes to mind. It was reissued in two different editions, one with art by Lane Smith and another with art by Quentin Blake, despite the fact that the original art by Nancy Ekholm Burkert was sublime. But I digress...

Here's the point. Many of the so-called children's book classics practically beg parents to skip pages while reading aloud. Look no further than good old Curious George if you need an example. In Curious George Flies a Kite, there are baby bunnies, a fat guy fishing, and all sorts of irrelevant events before a kite even enters the narrative. The Poky Little Puppy? Good Lord. There are about ten extraneous dawdling trips home from the hill before Mama gets wise. And don't even get me started on Dr. Seuss. Many of his books are sheer perfection, it's true. And some are so charming that they are worth hanging in for even when the energizer bunny of children's books keeps going and going (e.g. The Sleep Book, my all-time Seuss favorite, and Horton Hears a Who). But if you want to see what I'm really talking about, take If I Ran the Circus or And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street out for a spin. You'll run out of gas looooong before the good doctor gets mid-way through these yarns.

I know I'm probably going to get a lot of grief for taking this position, especially about Dr. Seuss. The fourteen people who reviewed If I Ran The Circus on Amazon and who each gave it five stars - one guy claimed he read it aloud to his wife when his kids "begged him to stop" - will certainly disagree with me.

What can I say? I call 'em like I see 'em.

And now, so can you: What classic kids' books do YOU wish had a couple fewer pages? Or seem like their meandering plots went unchecked at press time?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?