Classical Library Overview
This page provides an in-depth description of The Children's Classical Library, including the nature of the collection and its aims and rationale.
You can skip to specific topics by clicking links in the Page Links section to the right.
The collection aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to the stories, characters, themes and motifs that have helped to shape the course of civilisation.
Though many of the world's classics contain content appropriate for young readers, most of them are not designed for young children to read by themselves. Even many of those classed as 'children's classics' are really for teenagers rather than primary-aged children.
The Children's Classical Library brings the classics to these younger readers—in the form of original texts, abridgements, adaptations and retellings. Each text comes with an introduction, notes and comprehension questions.
There is a suggested reading age for each text, which is mainly intended to give an indication of the youngest approapriate reading age. The stories are designed to be enjoyable for readers of any age. Δ
Why try these books?
Books from The Children's Classical Library are perfect for:
- teachers who need readily accessible literature to share with their classes
- parents searching for trustworthy, quality literature for their children
- young bookworms keen to taste the greatest world literature. Δ
Format & style
The texts are all available as printable ebooks, and some titles are also available as printed booklets. Comprehension questions are included with each text, and answers to these questions can be downloaded from this website.
The textual notes are printed at the bottom of the page, and include definitions of difficult words, useful information, and guidance on pronunciation.
As much as possible, abridged and adapted works retain the style and vocabulary of the original, providing a genuine taste of the original work without overwhelming the young reader with words and concepts that are too advanced. Δ
Why read the classics?
There are many features of classic literature that attract modern readers. Whether it be the richness of the language, the engaging stories, the often genteel and noble values, or the insight into life of the past, the classics offer something to everyone.
The rich language of the classics provides a valuable reference point for young learners, who are in the process of forming a vocabulary and voice of their own. Familiarity with the classics also contributes to a well-rounded education. Children should know about Odysseus and Penelope, Beowulf, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Oliver Twist ... and the thousands of other literary characters and themes that have helped shape modern civilisation.
One of the legacies of the twentieth century—at least in the West—is a general rejection of 'traditional values'. It is quite reasonable for each generation to question the values of the past and modify them where necessary; but over the last century, concepts such as morality, virtue, service, honor and duty have fallen out of favor, while really substantial alternatives are often wanting. The usefulness of tradition is that it provides a moderating influence over the forces that dominate in day-to-day, self-centered living. The decline of traditional values has led to much of the literature of today—including children's stories—being at best ethically 'neutral', offering little in the way of meaningful guidance or inspiration. The classics therefore remain as a crucial tool for ensuring that the essential nobility of humanity is not altogether forgotten. Δ
Reading is not just about sounding out words. For true reading to take place there must also be comprehension. The ability to comprehend meaning is an essential life-skill, not only in the context of reading but also in understanding the world. Though The Children's Classical Library does not provide a step-by-step course in comprehension techniques, the questions provided with each text give practice in a range of skills, and they also help readers to engage with the text and explore it at a deeper level.
Most of the comprehension questions in this series are True/False and multiple choice, making it easy for teachers or parents to check for correct answers. Answers are provided with each book description on this site. Each book also comes with suggested topics for discussion that encourage readers to engage more deeply with issues arising from the text. These topics are also useful for essay writing. Δ
There are several editorial principles to which Books for Learning adheres in presenting classical literature to children.
The first priority is to make each text educationally appropriate for a specific age level. This means that a reader should not, in general, encounter more than four or five unknown words per page. If a text contains too many unfamiliar words, comprehension of the text (and with it enjoyment) inevitably suffers, and true reading does not take place.
The second priority is to keep the text as close to the original as is reasonably possible, preserving the richness of language. Many commercially available retellings unnecessarily simplify texts, well beyond the requirements of readers.
Another priority is to ensure that stories are consistently engaging and well-paced. Some original texts contain passages that are specifically intended for adults, such as political references, and sometimes words are used that are either obscure, outdated or difficult to read. In some cases these have been edited out of the text.
Finally, as values change within society, those of the past—which are often embedded in the classics—can appear out of place, or even offensive to modern sensibilities. Examples might include gratuitous violence or derogatory remarks. Books for Learning does not hesitate to modify passages that are deemed inappropriate for children.
For example, in the story of Doctor Dolittle, the African prince Bumpo reads fairy stories and wishes he could be white-skinned. Various editors have tried to find a satisfactory alternative to this theme. The edition by Books for Learning presents Bumpo as wishing instead to be brave like the princes in the stories he is reading. The change is simple, but has a profound effect on the spirit of the story.
Violent ends are not uncommon in fairytales. In the story of Chicken Licken, for example, the main character and her friends meet a rather gruesome fate at the hands of a fox. Such endings are avoided in retellings by Books for Learning—especially where the characters are innocent and well-intentioned, as in this story. Even nasty characters like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood manage to get away with a stern warning. Δ
To help children, parents and teachers select appropriate reading material, each text in The Children's Classical Library has been prepared for a suggested age level. Though there is a wide range of reading proficiency at any age level, this grading nevertheless gives an approximate guide to the difficulty level of a given text. You can view a text-sample for each age level, and a sample of each story in the collection is provided with its product description. Δ
'Edited', 'Abridged', 'Adapted' and 'Retold'—what these mean
Texts in The Children's Classical Library are described as being either 'Edited', 'Abridged', 'Adapted' or 'Retold'. To better understand these categories, the following descriptions are given:
Edited: these texts contain the original words of the author, along with explanatory notes and word-meanings.
Abridged: these texts contain the original language of the author, but some words and passages have either been removed or modified for a younger audience.
Adapted: these texts, while containing much of the style and wording of the original, have been substantially reduced in length and partly rewritten.
Retold: these books have been largely rewritten, with language and themes suitable for children of the stated grade level. Δ
As a general rule, Books for Learning has chosen not to include illustrations with texts.
Illustrations are a popular feature in children's books, but on the whole such books are designed to be read to a child while the child looks at the pictures. Texts from Books for Learning, however, are specifically intended to be read by children themselves.
Some reading experts argue that illustrations, apart from their entertainment value, are a useful tool in learning to read, providing clues that help in decoding text. However, a counter argument is that if text cannot be read without the aid of pictures then it is too difficult and educationally inappropriate. Providing pictures to aid reading creates a dependence on external clues, and therefore does not encourage appropriate reading strategies.
One of the delights of reading is the infinite possibilities it provides for the imagination. Including pictures with a text detracts from this. Who has not seen an illustration of a character in a book and felt that it was utterly wrong—or in other words, not what the text suggested to the mind of the reader?
And yet, illustrations have their value, especially if the reader has no initial concept of what is being described. Therefore, covers (and some internal texts) in The Children's Classical Library come with silhouetted illustrations, which are suggestive to the mind without filling in the detail—a task much better left to the imagination. Δ
Use of the word 'classical'
The word 'classical' is used in the title of this series in the same sense as 'classic'—which is the first definition of 'classical' in the Shorter OED. That definition reads:
Of the first class, of acknowledged excellence; remarkably typical; outstandingly important.
Only in its second meaning does 'classical' refer to ancient Greek and Roman works. The word also refers to the high watermark in any field or discipline—without reference to Greece and Rome—such as 'classical dance' and 'classical music'. In terms of literature, it is perhaps no longer practical for the word 'classical' to refer solely to works of antiquity, given that the culture of the ancients (albeit sadly) no longer holds so prominent a place in the modern consciousness as it once did. Δ
A common problem for learners with reading difficulties is that the content of the books they are able to read is too simple or 'young' for them. Texts in The Children's Classical Library have the advantage of being based on classic stories that are rich in content and interest for all ages. In this respect they are a useful complement to remedial reading programmes. Δ