Friday, April 06, 2007

Little House Books Being Changed by the Publisher

Today someone asked me a question about a lecture tape I was listening to of Grace Llewellyn and Susannah Sheffer called “Taking Charge of Education…” which was recorded by Holt Associates before Growing Without Schooling ceased publication and before their book store “Holt Associates” sold their inventory to Fun books. I went to see if Fun Books was still selling this lecture tape (they aren’t from what I see), and I accidentally stumbled upon an announcement by Fun Books about the Little House book series.

This was awful to read. I felt sad when I read this part:

"The publisher of the Little House on the Prairie series has decided to repackage the paperback editions in order to keep them "relevant to a new generation." The revamped books will replace the beloved covers by Garth Williams with photographic covers, and remove the inside art.."

Then I read this part and am horrified. Yes, horrified.

"Unfortunately, the other Little House books that tell the stories of Laura's family (Martha, Charlotte, Caroline and Rose) are also being changed. They will be abridged and, in some cases, more than 200 pages have been cut from the original edition. They will also have photographic covers. The unabridged editions, which are the ones we carry, will be allowed to go out of print by the publisher. Some already are.

Apparently, the changes are to counter the notion that the Little House books are old-fashioned historical books and today's young readers will view the new editions as adventure books. Personally, we like the books just the way they are and find plenty of adventure in history!"

This is awful! Simply awful!

I am beside myself about this.

I am very upset that the wonderful Garth Williams illustrations are no longer going to appear in the original series.

I am angry that they are dumbing down the other, newer books to abridge them and to shorten them for “today’s readers”. I am unsure if the old/original versions will remain in print or not. If they are going to be in print then that is fine. If the original books are NOT going to be in print then I would be angered by that.

I understand that the content of these books appeals to an audience of children aged 3-10. From my understanding these books are written on about a fourth grade reading level for independent reading.

I imagine then that what they are saying is that girls in grades three or four are unable to read these books as is and therefore they are going to great pains to abridge the books to make them an easier reading level. That would be yet another indication that the reading ability of today’s children is sinking lower and lower.

I blogged in the past about the re-labeling of easy reader books, to make books that were a level 2 now be called a level 3, for example, shifting the reading level so that today’s children will be expected to read EASIER materials at a certain age or grade.

Anyway if you want the old versions of the Little House books with the Garth Williams illustrations, you’d better hurry up and get them. Fun Books sells some as does Amazon. The other books which are about the other women in the family: Martha, Charlotte, Caroline and Rose are available in limited quantity from Fun Books and Amazon has some also.

Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The original series of nine (sometimes sold in a boxed set of paperbacks)

Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

A Little House Christmas, out of print

West From Home

The Martha Years

Little House in the Highlands

Far Side of the Loch

Down to the Bonny Glen

Beyond the Heather Hills

The Charlotte Years

Little House By Boston Bay

On Tide Mill Lane

The Road From Roxbury

Across the Puddingstone Dam

The Caroline Years

Little House in Brookfield

Little Town at the Crossroads

Little Clearing in the woods

On top of Concord Hill

Across the Rolling River

Little City By the Lake

A Little House of their own

The Rose Years

Little House on Rocky Ridge

Little Farm in the Ozarks

In the land of the Big Red Apple

On the other side of the hill

Little Town in the Ozarks

New Dawn on Rocky Ridge

On the banks of the bayou

Bachelor Girl

Other Little House related books

The Little House Cookbook

My Book of Little House Paper Dolls (Illustrations similar to Garth Williams)

My Little House Crafts Book

My Research On This Matter
I have spent quite a bit of time doing research tonight to verify the information provided by Fun Books. The original publisher of the Little House series was Harper Collins. Some are now published by Scholastic. I have not been able to find a press release or anything on the publishers sites to verify the information about the changing illustrations.

I do see on Amazon already that the new photo cover version of the Little House original series is available and also that there is NO illustrator listed.

So if you want to know which books is which, the original Little House series with the photo covers have no interior illustrations and they are the ones which were stripped of the Garth Williams illustrations.

If you see an Internet site selling a book from an original series, look to see if you can verify that they are the old editions if you see that Garth Williams is clearly listed as the illustrator and you can see his hand drawn illustrations on the cover also. (I see some of those still available on Amazon.)

Information from Melissa Wiley
Through the Carnival of Homeschooling, last year, I began reading a homeschooling mother’s blog and after reading it a few times did it dawn on me that she was the author of some of the sequels in the Little House series. I realized it when I saw some of the books in the sidebar and realized they were authored by her! She now maintains two blogs, one that seems to focus on her family and homeschooling which is now over at ClubMom and her blog “Here in the Bonny Glen” focuses more on her writing career. I just checked her blog Here in the Bonny Glen and do see that in March 2007 she blogged on the topic and cleared up some of the confusion. Here is that entry.

To clarify two things that I was specifically interested in, I will quote a part of her entry:

Are Laura Ingalls Wilder's books being abridged?
No, only the Martha, Charlotte, Caroline, and Rose books are being abridged.
I want to buy the original, unabridged editions of your Martha and Charlotte books. How can I be sure that's what I'm getting?
The new, abridged editions will have photo covers. The unabridged editions have the painted covers that appear in my sidebar.

I now see also that back on February 8, 2007 she spoke of this big change. I highly recommend that you read that post.

Here is one part that actually brought a tear to my eye.

The abridged editions of my books and the Caroline and Rose books will be released with new covers this summer. They are significantly shorter; in some cases more than a hundred pages have been cut from the original edition.
In light of these changes, I have decided not to continue writing Martha and Charlotte books. Although it is indeed strange to know that I will not tell the rest of their stories (especially the story of Martha and Lew's romance, for which I have been sowing seeds since the first books), I do not think it is such a bad thing to end my part of the story with Beyond the Heather Hills and Across the Puddingstone Dam.

Then on February 10th, she posted and stated she had received an outpouring of feedback

Here is one part:

One important point is that HarperCollins doesn't think of the abridgements as dumbed-down. I do, and that I am strongly opposed to the dumbing-down of children's literature must be obvious from my decision to walk away from a series of books that has been my heart's work for the past decade.

Then she goes on to say…

But as I said, while I see the abridgement as dumbing-down, I must say in all fairness that I don't believe my publishers see it that way at all. They see this as an opportunity to bring the books to a younger audience, a way to keep the series in print. The decision was presented to me with excitement and enthusiasm; I really think they were surprised that I was dismayed by it.

I bear them no ill will; indeed, I shall be sorry not to be working with my wonderful HarperCollins editor anymore. She is a gem. I simply disagree, quite gravely, with this publishing decision. I do think children deserve the very best books we can give them. The books I wrote, the books that were carefully and lovingly edited by not one, but two top-notch editors (the great Alix Reid, who edited all eight of my novels, not to mention Newbery winner Ella Enchanted, has since left the publishing world for other pursuits), are, I truly believe, literature of high quality. And I don't think they are too hard, or too long, for young readers. I have heard from too many enthusiastic young readers to believe otherwise.

If you are interested in this topic (which you must be if you have read this far!), I urge you to read the whole blog post. I’d quote the whole thing but it would not be right. Melissa Wiley makes some good points about book publishing as a business and business decisions. She mentions twaddle vs. good books and shares her family’s interesting book buying decision tree.

The comments sections of these posts have lots of opinions, check them out also.

My Concluding Thoughts
As I conclude this entry I was thinking, “Why does this bother me so much?” The reason is that I care about books, I care deeply about high-quality literature being available for children. I know that great books can change a person, whether that person is a child or an adult.

To know that great books are being edited and dumbed down for a less-literate population is highly disturbing to me. Well we could look at this from two perspectives. Either the book will be read by the same aged child but it will now be an easier reading level (dumbing down the book or also shall we say expecting less of the reader/student/child), or the book will be pushed down to younger children with an appropriate reading level. However to put the original books out of print and to only represent the abridged versions (some are over 100 pages shorter), is a shame as doing so would alter the story greatly. Something is being lost, we can't pretend that nothing is being lost. Anytime that is done (such as the conversion of a great book to a movie), something good is gone.

One example of a living book that was changed to convert it to a movie is “The Railway Children”. I watched the movie with my children yesterday, after having read the book aloud to them. A lot of empathy and emotion was lost in translation but the scenery was pretty and the actors were good but the story was slimmed down to the point where some things were confused and others were emotion-less, and to me, to lose the emotional link and empathy with the characters takes away from the story.

Getting back to the pushing down of the story to younger children, I have also this to say. I wonder if the publishers think that children in fourth grade would not be interested in the content of those books, perhaps they think children want more modern stories, meaning, the "problem novels" or the books with sassy characters. I cite for example, the popularity of "Because of Winn Dixie" with fourth graders. One time I went to vote in an election and that brought me to my town's elementary school. A huge display was on the wall where each child stated their favorite book and their age and grade. I was surprised that nearly every fourth grader said "Because of Winn Dixie". This was before the movie came out. That sparked my curiosity enough for me to read the book myself. The book is full of problems and odd ones at that, things not typically experienced by girls of that age, at least not all of those problems on one child at the same time! I was surprised that children in fourth grade were reading it when other great books are out there that are a bit more interesting and not focused on problems.

I now think that some teachers are mandating that the fourth graders read the book and therefore when the student is asked what their favorite book is they pick from the limited number they've read. Last month a parent from a nearby town said that the public school assigned that book as a class project to read one chapter per week for third grade, again in fourth grade, and again in fifth grade. The father was miffed at why the same exact book was to be read in each of those grades. His son was bored to death, he said, as he could read way more than one chapter per week, that was too dragged out, and reading it once was enough. The boy had, on his own, already read all the Harry Potter books and all of the Lord of the Rings books and was looking for more books of that depth and length. This father felt that public school was way too easy for his son and was right on the cusp of pulling him out to homeschool him.

Back to Little House...
To lose the wonderful illustrations is a shame also—I wish ALL the editions of the Little House books still had the original illustrations. I see the removal of the cute and wholesome illustrations of Garth Williams as a deliberate act to not show wholesome illustrations to girls (and boys)---probably based on the notion that what children of that age prefer is something more realistic (like a photo) or something non-cute, perhaps the publisher envisions something more sophisticated. Specifically in the case of the original series, to have NO illustrations inside is just saying that they don’t like the way something about them looks, while they may say “too old fashioned” is that not what real life HISTORICAL stories are—old fashioned??

However historical autobiographical books and historical fiction cannot and should not be modernized. This is in a way, hiding innocent and child-like illustrations from children who are really children and who deserve child-like illustrations. And the fact of the matter is this is HISTORICAL information, this is set in former times and the illustrations SHOULD represent what things looked like back then! Let the books set in modern times reflect modern content and have modern illustrations. Let the stories set over one hundred years ago have appropriate illustrations.

I am upset about these changes and frankly none of it makes sense to me. The publishing industry seems to have some things all wrong if you ask me.

Here are the books written by Melissa Wiley, I think I got all of them!

Others in the series not written by Laura Ingalls Wilder are being edited also, not just Melissa Wiley's. I won't post those direct links right now due to time constraints (it takes a long time to make all these links).

Other Research

These sites about the series did not address this exact issue, but I am mentioning them in case you want to know more about this series.

Wikipedia entry: Little House on the Prairie

Wikipedia entry: Garth Williams

Harper Collins website, Garth Williams page (has a nice photo of him!)

more Garth Williams biographical information

To purchase original art at $3200 per piece, see here

Other books published by Random House featuring Garth Williams illustrations

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1 comment:

Marsha said...

I've been sad about the Garth Williams' illustrations, too.

My mom pointed out to me, when I was in mid-rant about it, that Williams produced his illustrations after a couple of the books had already been in print for 20 years. It's likely, she reminded me, that someone out there in time was upset that "some new guy" would be redesigning the books they already loved just as they were.

She's probably right, but it doesn't make me any happier about this!