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>"For Children"

>The recent challenge in Colorado to a video introducing Gounod’s Faust (featuring Joan Sutherland and puppets) and our upcoming article by Vicky Smith regarding adaptations of Shakespeare both came to mind last Saturday morning. Richard generally keeps the radio going nonstop in the kitchen, always tuned to WCRB, Boston’s classical station. And when, back from walking the dog, I’m in there making coffee, this infernal children’s classical music program comes on. You know the kind–lots of music imitating animals, and an announcer with one of those ‘storytelling’ voices, breathless with barely suppressed–albeit totally manufactured–excitement. It makes me want to hurl. The radio.

But how do we bring kids to the classics, musical, literary, or visual? The tendency seems to be to reach down–witness all the art history books that ask kids to “find the dog” or “count the flowers” in a painting. Might it be better to encourage kids to reach up? In some way, this is a continuation of my rant about our field’s prejudice against young people reading adult books.

As Vicky says in her article, do middle-graders need Shakespeare? I guess I feel the same way about Faust –making it allegedly “kid-friendly” can only dilute the qualities that lead us to want to expose children to it in the first place. But that said, I hasten to add that those who accused the Colorado teacher of using Faust to promote Satanism are too stupid to be allowed near children, opera, or any task involving opposable thumbs.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. shyoftheweb says:

    >Yes, some middle schoolers do need Shakespeare. The real thing. Many, I’d wager. I remember falling in love with Romeo and Juliet at 12 years old (7th grade). What a great play for those just starting to feel their hormones! I would think pubescent videogamers would find the madness and mayhem, death and destruction of Macbeth irresistable, once properly introduced. By high school, rebellious teens are ready to go wild with Henry IV and all his parts.

    Perhaps there is a place for “modern English” abridged versions in that they may be usefully read in preparation for the real thing. Then the story is familiar and the language can be savored. But as stand-alones–the thought always makes me a bit queasy.

  2. rindambyers says:

    >I am with you, on this one, Roger, about diluting classics down for children like this in this condescending, cheapened manner. I remember the comic books as a youngster that were classic stories adapted for children, and to my mind, that was a good thing. I had absolutely no access at the time (due financial limitations and wehre I was living at the time) to any of the books they had adapted, but the comics made me so curious that I searched them out of course and read them when I was older. But the comics ignited curiosity, you see to explore the REAL thing. That’s what needs to be done, to ignite that fire, to lure the young heart and mind onwards and upwards into the real creative work. So if the adaptation works to achieve that, well and good. But if you dilute and adapt in such a way that you don’t inspire that passion and curiosity to explore further in children, it’s a worse than useless effort. It’s harmful. It’s like lying to them. They won’t explore further. They’ll settle for cheap, easy entertainment. So, people HAVE to be careful in how great works are presented and/or edited or adapted to children but in the direction to explore more not inhibit or restrict. Making sure children know there is a REAL unedited version out there to explore is essential.

    As far as the music is concerned, that’s kind of a universal language but words come in for a very close second. We must care careful. children may not undrestand all of Shakespeare, for example, but they can love the mystery and the pleasure of his authentic rich sounds at a very young age. Infect and expose with the real thing whenever possible is my policy with children and books.

    I know I’m probably a wild card here, but you know, my parents, bless their hearts, let me read ANYTHING I could get my hands on as a child, even the Bible, and there are some pretty horrible awful things described in that book, but I didn’t grow up to do pretty, horrible awful things.

    P.S. As to the music thing, I hvae cats who congretate in the living room on Saturday mornigns to listen the Met opera broadcast….I mean you know, if cats can show a liking like that for good music…why can’t children? We so belittle in the sense of making little children in our socieity. I am serious about the cats’ behavior. I’ve gott so used to it I hardly notice any more. Probably something about the wildness of the voices is attractive to them.

  3. >Classics Illustrated were the best thing to happen to kids. Some of them actually pushed me to read the full book. and sometimes the full book was actually better!

  4. >I had aurally memorized the Piano Concertos of Saint Saens (my mother’s favorite)and Rachmaninov by the age of 10 because Mom played them on the record player every Saturday while we cleaned house.

    You CAN introduce kids to the classics….play the music, read the books. There’s nothing wrong with a little culture as long as you don’t make a big deal of it. Make it a part of your life and your kids will grow to love it.

    My kids love the classics in books and music because we had them and used them in our home constantly. No big deal.

  5. >I can only speak from my experience with my granddaughter who is now a 10th grader. I took her to Boston Pops concerts starting at age 12 and she loved it. Of course not very deep stuff but it’s not sweetened for kids. On the other hand she was bored by a Flamenco performance and charmed by Alvin Ailey. At about age 13 I introduced her to some scenes from Don Giovanni (the catalog aria, seduction of Zerlina, and draggiing Don Giovanni into hell) She liked them but I may have been pushing her attention span. In her 10th grade English class she studied Oedipus Rex which I always thought was pretty heavy stuff, and Romeo and Juliet which is probably just right for her age level. Generalizations? Introduce kids to the real stuff, maybe a little ahead of what you think they’re “ready for” then back down a little if it turns out you’re gone past their interest level.


  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m with Rinda and Ron–simply present children with the real thing. I know that research tells us that reading to children turns them into readers, but in my case it was seeing the enjoyment my parents and older sister got out of the activity, and wanting to mimic it. So, play on, play on!

    I also have to say that my piano lessons with the scary but effective Sister Irene Marie gave me a great foundation for my appreciation of classical music many years later. And I can still play nost of the “Spinning Song” by heart!

  7. >How about some erzatz stuff then? Haven’t seen it myself, but the Neew York Times review for “Baron Rabinovitsj”
    ( seems somehow related. And, by the way, I’m in the “give them the real thing” camp and further in the “when they are ready” cabin.

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