This month, an all-classics book chat: a long classic, a shortened classic, and a new, adorable version of some favorite classics.
I didn’t know anything about “North and South,” but its author, Elizabeth Gaskell, was a familiar name. I knew her as the first biographer of Charlotte Bronte. A few years back, I was on a Bronte kick and read a bunch of books about them. Most all of them referenced “Mrs. Gaskell”‘s biography over and over, so I was interested to read a book she had written.
“North and South” is set in 1850s England. Margaret Hale lives in a country town with her clergyman father and mother. But her father has a crisis in which he realizes he no longer supports all the beliefs of the church, and so he resigns and moves the family north, to a dark and dank factory town.
There, Mr. Hale makes a much poorer living by tutoring those who can afford this luxury, notably Mr. Thornton, factory owner. Mr. Thornton is a rather distant chap, who talks constantly of making profits and ways to put down the ever-threatening strikes.
Margaret sees Mr. Thornton’s points regarding the dilemmas of business owners. But then, she also becomes acquainted with some factory workers and their destitute families. She is able to see their side of the equation as well.
Mix in several more side dramas (as I said, this is a 400+ page book), and you have quite a book. The issues fit in well with our times, even though the book is not far from 200 years old: who has right on their side — the workers or the owners? Is it preferable to live in the city or the country? Is it best to always tell the truth, regardless of consequences?
You may have suspected that Margaret and Mr. Thornton get together in the end. I won’t tell you that; you’ll have to take the delightful journey through “North and South” yourself to find out …
So, while I’m in a classics mood, let’s talk about the Bard himself, good old Shakespeare. I was really excited to learn about a new book series called Sixty Minute Shakespeare. The series consists of several Shakespeare titles, condensed into shorter versions that can indeed be read in about thirty minutes. Also included is some background info that make the plays more accessible to kids of this generation, notes on what various words mean, themes to look for, etc.
I was happy to see that the original language is preserved (I had fears of reading, Romeo, yo Romeo — where are you?) — it’s just shortened. I really enjoyed my hour spent renewing my acquaintance with Romeo and Juliet, and I think this series would be great for homeschoolers, teens/tweens who’d like a less-intimidating introduction to Shakespeare, or for productions of these plays that don’t go on and on forever.
Continuing with my great literature theme…
Here’s a new discovery of mine, and I absolutely love them: counting primers of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Romeo and Juliet” — yes, now you can introduce your baby to the classics in the form of these adorable board books.
3 People Meet
4 Roses (the Shakespeare quote “that which we call a rose …” is on the opposite page)
You get the idea. The illustrations are really cute as well, and tie in well with the themes of the books.
I just love the idea of these, and wish like anything I’d have come up with it :). I think it is genius; similar to the genius of the Baby Einstein folks in making classical music accessible to babies.
I was fortunate enough to be able to ask a few questions of the books’ author, Jennifer Adams.
Me: I love the idea behind these books! How did you come up with it?
JA: The idea for BabyLit is from my genius editor, Suzanne Taylor, Creative Director at Gibbs Smith, Publisher. She came up with the concept and then we worked closely developing the manuscripts. I wrote quite a few different versions of the books before we settled on making them counting primers.
Me: I like the variety of springboards the books offer: from the very simple (5 sisters) to the more complex (a Shakespeare quote). Do you have any ideas for ways parents might use these books with their children?
JA: We tried to make the books work on many levels from the very simple to the more complex. So the books are a lot of fun if you just look at the fabulous illustrations for very little babies, or if you want to take them a step further to use them to teach your child counting, they are great for that. Or when your children are even a little older parents can elaborate and tell more of the story of Pride and Prejudice or actually read some Shakespeare to their kids. It’s a great way to introduce your child to the classics and make the classics accessible. We are also developing a very cool version for the iPad that will have added features for kids in addition to what you see in the printed book.
Me: Do you have other books for this series in the works?
JA: There are very exciting plans in the works for the next books. Be on the lookout for orphans, vampires, and some interesting aristocracy!
There you have it. I think these books would be a wonderful baby gift. But, I’m not parting with mine. I just love them!