The ideas behind
Real Reads

Why more illustrated classics?

by Gill Tavner, reteller of Dickens, Austen, et al.

Gill Tavner

How many times have you heard somebody speak fondly about a Dickens, Austen or Hardy novel that they read in school or studied for ‘O’ Level or ‘A’ Level, yet they have not read another since?

As an English Teacher and Head of English, I have witnessed the enjoyment experienced by children of all ages and abilities when guided sensitively through a daunting text. They enjoy using their critical faculties to analyse plot, characters, themes and the writer’s craft. They are capable of lively critical debate. However, only the most confident readers will broaden their reading of classics independently of a teacher, either as children or in their adult life. Most people therefore deprive themselves of the delights offered by some of the most influential writers and thinkers. What a loss for them. What a loss for our society.

I have long thought that there must be a way of making the qualities of ‘classics’ accessible to most readers, but I was unconvinced that abridging was the answer. As a mother of two young children, I have endured the pain of reading abridged fairy tales and Disney films. These often machine-gun the reader with a list of events. Rarely do they offer the reader an opportunity to develop interest in or appreciation of varied vocabulary, style or themes. Do abridged versions need to be like this? Surely there is a way to make an abridged version an enjoyable and enriching rather than simply informative reading experience? Surely this is an important distinction if we aim to nurture keen, confident readers?

In Real Reads we believe we have found an answer to these problems. For many readers, Real Reads will develop a confidence and enthusiasm to address the original, something we try to nurture in the ‘Taking Things Further’ section of every Real Read. For others, who might never have tackled the originals, Real Reads make accessible great stories, great characters and important moral debates which they might otherwise never have encountered.