Confessions of an abridged book reader

Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

“I pledge allegiance to living books, to the pure classics of literature. And never will an abridgment land on our shelves, for it would ruin our education forever.”

If you’ve been homeschooling long, you’ve no doubt heard one of our creeds:

“Down with textbooks!”

And for good reason. Many of us have memories of being bored to tears reading overviews in short paragraphs with summary questions to answer at the end. Now that we’re educators ourselves, we think there must be a better way. There is.

Living books.

A term coined by British educator Charlotte Mason, living books are those written by an author with a passion for the subject at hand. The writer’s expertise and enthusiasm breathe life into the book, as opposed to a textbook’s impersonal synopsis.

The classics, which I firmly believe we should study and learn from, are living books. I’ve done my best to introduce plenty of them into our homeschool. These works have stood the test of time for generations, inspiring and teaching throughout history.

Surely they have lessons to offer us too.

But certain homeschooling resources will tell you adamantly that there’s one way you should not introduce the classics in your home–through abridged books. An abridged book has been shortened and simplified, “dumbed down” so to speak.

Shhhhh, come closer. And don’t tell anyone. I have a confession:

confessions of an abridged book reader

We use abridged books in our home sometimes, and they’ve actually enhanced our learning.

I have three incredible kiddos, two of whom would listen to read-alouds all the live long day. Like the poster homeschooling children, they beg “one more chapter, please!” Tantrums have even been known to occasionally erupt if I stop reading. (another issue entirely, one which would knock them quickly off their poster homeschooling children pedestal!)

But my other child, for whatever reason, has not taken to read-alouds as enthusiastically. I’ve worked for years to help this listener fall in love with stories the way the other two have.

When we were in the Philippines this summer raising money for a homeschooling library, I bought a few abridgments for the girls in the Round Home. Since some of the girls who live there are not native English speakers, I reasoned that an abridgment might introduce them to a classic story. I also bought the original, so if a plot captured their interest they could read on.

pinocchioOne day during this time I flipped through the abridgment for Pinocchio, and it dawned on me that the short chapters and simplified story might connect with my reluctant listener.

I explained to the kids that this was the little kids’ version of Pinocchio, and that if they liked it maybe we could read the big kids’ version, which was famous and even better than this one. (A bit of hype never goes amiss.)

Imagine my surprise while reading the abridgment to hear my reluctant listener laughing and chiming in with requests for “one more chapter, please!” Sweet, sweet music to this mama’s heart. When we finished the shortened version, I asked the kids if they would like to read the original together, and all three gave a firm yes! Score!

We’ve been reading the original Pinocchio over the past month and have really enjoyed it. Because they have a familiarity with it, my kids join in with “I remember this part!” Or “that’s different than the little kids’ book.”

Because my reluctant listener already has a basic understanding of the story, it has allowed that child to tackle the more complex vocabulary that otherwise might lead to glossed-over eyes.

Pinocchio has gone on to join the ranks of our three most enjoyed read-alouds. (Curious about the other two? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Peter Pan–neither of which need abridgments, in my opinion.)


Do you think abridgments might be a help in your homeschool?

I won’t tell if you won’t. 😉 I like the Classic Starts series. Also check out the Great Illustrated Classics.

While it’s important to have our creeds about living books, it’s even more important to remember that they are guiding principles, not laws we must adhere to or ruin our children forever.

Let’s consider any resources that lead to our ultimate goal–a passion for learning and a love of reading.

“Let books be your dining table,
And you shall be full of delights
Let them be your mattress
And you shall sleep restful nights.”
~ Author Unknown

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I like your point about your reluctant listener being able to tackle the more complex vocabulary thanks to the familiarity with the story from the abridged version. I can remember not being as quick to read as other children in my school year and I quickly became self conscious about it and any book with difficult vocabulary I just shut off to. It was harder for me and I automatically believed I wouldn’t enjoy or understand it. I think this is a perfect situation to use abridged versions and then move on to the originals with enthusiasm. I will definitely bear this in mind for when I start to homeschool. Thanks for sharing your secret!
    Jessica’s latest post: {Be Inspired} Yield by Homeland

  2. Thank you for this. I feel the same way about things like Cliff’s Notes for difficult literature. I was an English major and high school English teacher, and I think it would help a lot of teens enjoy and appreciate the classics more to read a synopsis of the chapter first before delving into the meaty original. Not only does it help with understanding what’s going on, but it frees you up to actually appreciate the writing more because you’re not spending all of your mental energy trying to figure out what’s going on in the story. If they are used as a tool or a stepping stone for delving into the original (as opposed to a way to “cheat”), I think these kinds of books can be wonderful resources.
    Annie Reneau’s latest post: Dear Halloween: My Daughter Just Wants to Be a Tiger

  3. I’ve been raiding the Target dollar bins for abridged versions of great classics for my 1,2,3 & 5 year olds. They love the condensed chapters and it’s been a great place to start with my young ones… and a frugal way to start stocking my shelves with quality chapter books. 🙂

    • I also raid those bins. My 9 year old reads through everything so fast I hoard books and give them to her throughout the year. But she has the emotional age of about a 4 or 5 year old so I know while she’s very capable of reading the originals, she enjoys the simplified versions more at the moment and I know she comprehends them as opposed to reading them for reading’s sake and not being sure she understands.

  4. Last year, my dauhter read her literature books by herself in part, so I went the abridgement road. This year, however, since I am a literature teacher at our co-op, we are reading all the originals together. We are finishing up Treasure Island over the next 2 weeks, then we start our challenge for the year: Little Women. I hope we can make it through!

  5. Meet a child where he/she is. That is all!
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: (BLUE) BIRD BY (BLUE) BIRD: On Small Writing Goals and Big Change

  6. I have never thought any less of abridgments! We use them all the time. My kids are little, 4 & 6, and love listening to good stories. My daughter (4) will actually wander away if the story doesn’t interest her, but I’ve noticed all the books she really loves to stay for (my other child LOVES any type of book so doesn’t wander ever) are the classics (abridgments) and fairy tales. I think it gives them such a good background for the knowledge of the story, and sometimes we’ll watch the tv/movie versions (the older the better!) after we’ve finished the book. I find them to be super helpful when you’re trying to take big ideas (Roman mythology for example) and digest them for younger minds. My kids have read many, many classics, mythology, Dickens’, and a slew of fairy tales this way.
    Sarah M
    Sarah m’s latest post: A Peek Into Some Homeschooling Thoughts…

  7. I have to confess that I used to think abridgements were not the best way to go either, but I learned with my middle child (who is a NOT an auditory learner) that an a good abridged version of a book can really hook him. I think it really depends on the version, though, some abridged versions change the story instead of just simplify it. Thanks for the post!

  8. We love abridgements! My kids are 5 and 2 and are not quite ready for some of the meatier classics, but I love sharing the stories with them. When they’re a little older and can sit then I will introduce the real books. But for now, we do what works for our family

  9. Thanks for this suggestion. My kids are still little age 4 and 5.5, so a lot of our reading is still picture books. My 5 year old (auditory learner) will listen to books for as long as you are willing to read to him. We only began reading chapter books within the past year or so, but he is at the points where as long as they are developmentally appropriate he loves them. My 4 year old (visual learner) likes books well enough but he does not share his brothers love of being read to. He will sometimes throw a temper tantrum if he sees me pulling out a chapter book. I have noticed though that he is beginning to listen to longer more complex stories as long as there are pictures. Abridged books will probably be a good way to introduce him to the classics as he transitions into chapter books in a few years.

  10. You’re right that some books do better in the abridged version and it really depends on the age and interest of the kids. But, I don’t think I would have made it through high school without good ole cliff notes

  11. I’ve had the same experience with my reluctant/struggling readers – the abridgement helps them understand the original when we read it. Alternately, there have been times when my kid(s) really didn’t like the abridged version, so we never read the original. I like that, even in that case, they are at least familiar with the story, which, to me, is better than having never read it at all.
    Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’s latest post: Early Explorers Unit Study

  12. I have read many abridged books to my boys. I feel like it is a great way to introduce a classic story to young children. My mother read us lamb’s tales when we were young and I am still in love with many of Shakespeares plays today because of it.

  13. I couldn’t get past this because my mom, rest her soul, was a book hoarder (lucky in some ways we were!) , so I added to the poem (my mom would not be amused):

    Let them be stairs,
    And insulation for your walls!
    Let them surround the toilet,
    And be plant shelves in the halls!

  14. This has nothing to do with abridged books, but I wanted to chime in that, even though my oldest “student” is not quite four, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is already our favorite read-aloud. Some things never change. 🙂

  15. This post is perfectly timed for me! I passed over some abridged classics at the thrift store recently and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I think these classics might well help my eldest to begin reading classics on his own and yet something in me balks. Yet I read abridged classics as a child and have a degree in literature! You are right that it is about what works for the littles and an abridged classic is still way better than a lot of the drivel available to kids these days. A great reminder thanks!

    • Dumbed down…so insulting. There are just so many things a seven year old would miss reading unabridged, which might cause the child to dislike the book. Hook them on the story, told at their level-dumb as you think kids are- and later introduce them to the real deal. People who say these books are dumbed down are not looking at the bigger picture in my opinion.

  16. I think these books are a wonderful introduction for children. My 7-year-old has read the abridged version of many classics . . . Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and others. She was never one to want to be read to once she learned to read herself, but I knew she would love these stories. Since then she’s looked at the original versions in the library and bookstore, but tells me, “I’m not ready for that yet. But I’ll read it someday.” And I have no doubt that she will. I would never consider them watered down or “dumbed” down . . . it’s simply making them accessible to more readers.
    Valerie @ Momma in Progress’s latest post: Our Top Six Homeschool Must Haves

  17. I love the classic starts series! I introduced my daughter to them as a jumping off point to harder books and also give her a warm introduction to the original. She loves them and has asked when she can tackle the originals. This series has done exactly what I hoped it would do!
    Esther’s latest post: Weekly Menu Plan

  18. Heather Pontious says:

    Yes, we do use abridged versions. I simply love the classics. My oldest was reading at a fourth grade level in kindergarten and I simply hated some of the fluff in today’s girly chapter books. She took to them like a duck. She is now in fourth grade, reading at a seventh grade level and has read several unabridged versions of the abridged that she read previously. My middle child, a boy, wasn’t really inerested in much of the subject matter in chapter books. He insisted on staying with books way below his reading level (I Can Read books and others) until I introduce him to some of the classic’s movies. He immediately jumped at reading the abridged versions. He is not as advanced as she is but is now expanding his vocabulary and enjoying chapter books. I love to watch his face while he read and try to figure out what part he is reading. He loves them so much, he often shares without me asking. I love the classics!

  19. We have had a parallel experience balancing the benefits of abridged/adapted books against the originals. In our case, our eldest is already an avid reader, and we used the abridged classic to tease him away from resting solely in the valley of modern literature. In this case he took a vehement dislike to the abridgment of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and begged for a copy of the original. This has afforded an opportunity to compare and contrast the two versions, which he will report on shortly.
    RocketRedNeck’s latest post: The Same, But Different (Abridged vs Classic vs Modern Literature)

  20. I totally agree. We use a living books approach in our home as well, but when it comes down to it, we just do what works. I read Dr. Dolittle (abridged version) with my son last year and he loved it! Thanks for sharing, Jamie!
    Kirsten Joy’s latest post: Falling into Fall: Leaf Stamping with Kids

  21. “But certain homeschooling resources will tell you adamantly that there’s one way you should not introduce the classics in your home–through abridged books. An abridged book has been shortened and simplified, “dumbed down” so to speak.” This is so sad to me and is a sure way to heap on Mommy Guilt and think you’re doing something wrong if you don’t homeschool “their” way. What a great post to remind homeschoolers that the abridged version of the classics is perfectly acceptable (and that we should all be homeschooling our children the way we feel led, which is the point of homeschooling, right?). 🙂

  22. Kari Miller says:

    Some classics are impossible to access with young children outside of an adaptation. Homer, Beowulf, Chaucer, or Faerie Queen, for example. It takes at least a sophisticated high schooler (being generous) to grasp those in a translated and unabridged form. Shakespeare goes over the heads of most adults. The Well-Trained Mind suggests simplified versions of some of the more difficult works, precisely so kids can get used to the plot points and characters before they eventually read the source text. Some books may not need to be abridged for kids to get them, but if a simplified version is more accessible to a young reader, then why not? It’s impractical and silly to be too hardnosed about “only unabridged.” That said, some versions are definitely better than others. Find good ones that are still challenging, or try to retain the character of the original work. No need to go all the way from meat and potatoes to milk!

  23. I knew the Round home in the Philippines sounded familiar, you work (with?) Love146! They do some amazing work.
    Question about abridged books, are they required to state that they’re abridged? (I’ve taken note of the two ‘brands’? you recommend.

  24. Anna Mitchell says:

    “Remember your purpose, remember your goal.” -Melinda Gray Professor of Early Education Owens Community College

    If your goal is to introduce your child to, and inspire a love for, classic literature it makes sense to be open to the use of a variety of methods. Differentiation is one of the most common arguments for choosing the homeschool route, yet we can so easily get caught up in minute details and theories that prevent us from utilizing the very perk that we so loudly claim. It does no good to limit your resources, and hold to strict theories if they are preventing you from meeting your purpose and goal. What good does an unabridged classic do if a child is so lost in trying to decipher the vocabulary and historical settings that they are unable to comprehend the story itself? Students who struggle in literature are often inspired not to love books, but to hate them because of the constant struggle they face in reading. We live in a world with more resources and options than in the days of many of the great classic authors. I often wonder what these authors would think of the vast methods and resources used to enhance the literature experience.

  25. I understand that abridged books help your children’s education because they’re so young. However, in 8th grade, when I was 14, my French teacher made us read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo (I am in a class for native speakers). I think that we would have been capable to read the original version at that age (like I did, I refused to read a diluted version) and not doing so is just intellectual laziness. A challenging read can only do good to the mind and it would help improve our reading level.

  26. Pam Brown says:

    I purchased an entire set of abridged books from the dollar store. My kids went on to read the originals of the ones they enjoyed. It was a great jumping off point for them to develop a love for reading.

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