Cheap Trick or Brilliance? Read All About It.

Lots of kids are reading, and that’s cause for celebration. At least that’s what I take away from conversations with teachers, parents and bookstore managers over the past two weeks. Reading—and getting kids to read—is one of my passions, so any time I’m hearing this news I’m happy. And I don’t care how they got there.

Technology gets them reading.
Everyone I spoke with praised the power of the E-Reader. Whether it’s the Kindle, Nook, iPad or an app on the iPhone or iPod Touch, something about working with cool technology gets kids reading. Moreover, many of the classics are available in free editions for these readers. Now, I’m not saying run out and buy one, but if you have access to this technology, you might consider it.

But the story keeps them coming back.
And then there’s marketing. The publishing imprint Harper Teen has released three classics in packaging that makes them fit right in on the shelf next to the Twilight series or any of the Teen/Tween pulp books.

Check this jacket blurb out: “With all the forces of the world conspiring to keep them apart, how will fate manage to bring them together? It certainly won’t be easy if they’re fighting it every step of the way. But theirs is a love that was meant to be, despite all the odds against them.”

Sounds salacious and irresistible, right? You know what book that describes? Pride and Prejudice! Right—the Jane Austen novel from 1813. But I’m betting it works. The novel is easy enough to read, and with large type and a dewy photo of a rose on the cover, it becomes accessible to today’s kids. Gone is the cramped type publishers have consistently used to save money. This is a brilliant move. At the end of the book, there are even quizzes like “Which Pride and Prejudice girl are you?” and a speculative Facebook page for Elizabeth Bennet.

Of course, I can see some people getting twisted up about this. “These classics are being cheapened,” is the type of thing I’ve heard when I’ve mentioned this series to a couple of English teachers. Perhaps, but at least they may get read. Besides, what classic literature hasn’t been updated to reflect contemporary sensibilities and understanding? It happens all the time with Shakespeare productions. The words haven’t been changed; it’s just that they’ve been given a new context that will draw in new fans. If you think about it, Pride and Prejudice has all the elements that make “Gossip Girl” or any of these series—thwarted, impossible love; backbiting and rumor, scandal and, of course, love triumphant. Of course, the bottom line is that in addition to a story that is better crafted and more compelling than many of the stuff out there, reading these, kids will learn that whether it’s 200 or 500 years later human nature remains unchanged, and as Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

So, in the vein of summer fun, I thought I’d try my hand at recasting some classics for today’s readers. See if you can guess them. (Answers at the bottom.)

a)  Driven by a supernatural force, a darkly tormented young man cast out by his family, tangled in a web of deception and intrigue and forced to deny his one true love; is driven to solve a mystery that goes to the highest levels of power—or face certain destruction.

b)  A forbidden passion. A mother’s love. A lost father, aching to make things right. Can their pure-hearted daughter overcome her dark past to forge a new life among the glittering aristocracy?

c)  A forgotten and unloved boy seems doomed to a life in the shadows of the world, abused and unjustly punished, driven towards a life of crime. But can love save him? Is it enough, and can his spirit and passion overcome early tragedy to find a love that will never die with a woman who will make him so much more than he was alone?

Doesn’t this make you want to delve into these stories full of spice, romance, intrigue and certain doom avoided—or not—at the last minute? Then go right ahead. They’re a) Hamlet, b) The Scarlet Letter and c) David Copperfield.

This kind of marketing is what movies have been doing for years. I love seeing it applied to literature. As I said, they may come for the marketing, but they’ll stay for the stories. There’s a reason these works have endured for centuries. We just need to let the kids know why in ways they understand.

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