When I was in elementary school, I discovered a series of books called Great Illustrated Classics. My first Great Illustrated Classic was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, adapted by Shirley Bogart. I was drawn into the futuristic story, the interesting adventures, and the wild idea of a time machine. I imagined where I would go if I had a time machine of my own. From there, I read further Great Illustrated Classic books such as Little Women, Heidi, and Alice in Wonderland. These classics are, after all, classics for a reason. They have stood the test of time through generation after generation. Abridged books in the classroom allow younger students to enjoy the charm and adventure of the classics in a concise and easier-to-understand way.
As a teacher, I later discovered a more modern version of these abridged novels called Classic Starts, first published in 2005. I utilized them as a middle and high school English teacher when some students struggled to read the traditional versions of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Classic Starts series allowed my students to understand the premise, basic storylines, and rip-roaring action of the novels, by cutting through the various aspects that made it difficult to read.
As a mother, my nine-year-old son has been able to dive into these classic stories because of Classic Starts. From The Time Machine to Robinson Crusoe, from The Swiss Family Robinson to Peter Pan, he has enjoyed the memorable characters and exciting plot lines of the classics.
Benefits of Abridged Books
There are countless benefits to reading the abridged version of classical literature. Students are able to not only understand the major events, unforgettable characters, and enthralling storylines of classics, but they are able to learn about different settings, historical events, and cultures as well. Students can learn about various settings such as early 19th century London, England in Oliver Twist, or the 1800s Civil War America era from The Red Badge of Courage.
Consider pairing a Classic Starts book with history and the study of cultures as various novels can coincide with an important event. For example, The Last of the Mohicans, pairs well with learning about the French and Indian War, or The Iliad and The Odyssey about ancient Greece.
These abridged novels inspire a love for classic literature. As students get older and tackle the original versions of these books, they’ll be better prepared having become familiar with the storyline, basic themes, premises, and characters.
Classic Starts books are written at a 2nd-3rd grade reading level, allowing students to enjoy these classical stories without the obstacle of a harder reading level to struggle through or more formal language. The books are on average 160 pages or less, therefore making them less overwhelming and a quick, pleasurable read.
Ways to Incorporate Abridged Books
Since there are around 55 published Classic Starts books and even more of the Great Illustrated Classics, teachers have a variety to choose from as a read-aloud in the classroom. The teacher could even read abridged versions of classical books as read-alouds for the entire school year!
Teachers can also use these abridged versions as whole-class novels or in leveled reading groups for language arts.
Another way for students to become familiar with classical literature is to complete an assigned book report project, but students can pick from any Classic Starts or Great Illustrated Classics books.
This persuasive book report resource would be perfect for an assigned book report on the classics.
Every year, I require my students to complete an Independent Book project, and students have to pick a book within certain criteria. Allow students to pick from over 100 books in the Classic Starts and Great Illustrated Classics novels.
This independent book project resource has 10 different book project choices, all inspired by Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Students can choose between painting a scene, writing a song or rap, or even creating a scrapbook, among other choices. This project also comes with a rubric to guide students through their creation. It also allows teachers to grade a variety of projects.
You may have heard of First Chapter Friday, in which teachers read aloud the first chapter of a book to their class. If students are intrigued by the book and want to continue reading, they are allowed to then check it out. It’s a great way to get students intrigued. They have so many different types of books that they otherwise would not have picked up on their own. Because Fridays in the classroom are always a busy time with vocabulary quizzes and reading assessments, I implemented Wordy Wednesday. Consider reading the first chapter of a Classic Starts or Great Illustrated Classics book every week to capture your students’ attention. Some students shy away from older books, wanting more of a modern storyline, so this is a great way to introduce them to classic literature.
Grab our Wordy Wednesday freebie here.
Boys’ and Girls’ Recommendations
Boys and girls alike have enjoyed these abridged versions of classic literature so much. The following recommendations come from real students and what classic versions they found delightful.
“I like The Swiss Family Robinson because of the four brothers having fun hunting and being together.”
-Liam, Age 9
“Black Beauty was my favorite. I take horse-riding lessons, so I love books about horses.”
-Jade, Age 10
“I loved Heidi! I like how her grandmother teaches her about God. As a Christian, I relate to this!”
-Kylie, Age 9
“Around the World in 80 Days was cool! I liked the adventures of Phileas.”
-Jack, Age 8
If you would like to explore more abridged book versions, visit here.
I still remember loving the various abridged versions I read as a child. I remember not being able to put these books down and reading them any chance I could. The publishers of Classic Starts and Great Illustrated Classics have taken classical literature and made them accessible to children. This allows more and more generations to fall in love with these amazing books. Consider implementing them into your classroom this year!