Written by Charles Dickens - retold by Gill Tavner
Part of the Real Reads Series
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The Lovereading4Kids comment
A family curse, a manipulating lawyer, poverty and secrets threaten to destroy Esther’s world. Are the walls of Bleak House strong enough to protect her and her new friends from such powerful forces? Caught up in an unfolding mystery that's full of surprises but perhaps the biggest mystery of all for the reader is: Who is Nemo? This and the other retellings by Real Reads are a fantastic way to introduce young children to some of the best-known and best-loved classics; beautifully presented and skilfully retold (and condensed – 64 pages in total) and illustrated, they are true to the original plot, capture something of the flavour and tone of the original work, while simplifying the narrative and dialogue. They’re primarily aimed for younger readers – 8-13 year olds but are also a great ‘quick fix’ for teenagers and adults.
The Lovereading comment:
What the Dickens does Dickens mean to you? Oliver’s empty bowl? Christmas ghosts? Exciting television dramas? Big books full of long words?
Charles Dickens’ stories aren’t just classics because they’re old – they’re classics because they are fascinating, exciting and humorous, and because they show a great understanding of something that time can never change – human nature.
Charles Dickens was a brilliant story-teller who had experienced every aspect of life in Victorian England. As a child he saw the misery of debtors’ prisons and, like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, survived London’s dangerous streets. As an adult, he moved in high circles, amongst top politicians debating in parliament. Largely self-educated, he possessed the genius and the imagination to become the greatest writer of his age.
A hundred and fifty years ago, anyone who could read read Dickens. Even Queen Victoria read Dickens. His work, often serialised in newspapers, was easily available. The exciting plots and lifelike characters appealed, as they do today, to young and old, rich and poor. Today, reading Dickens’ original novels is more of a challenge, as many of the things he described and the words he used to describe them are no longer part of our everyday experience.
However, the things he wrote about – poverty, justice, cruelty, responsibility and love – are just as important today as they were all those years ago.
A message from Gill Tavner:
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.
To take a look at the other classic novels published by Real Reads click here.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens - retold by Gill Tavner
Esther, at fourteen, has never known love. Determined to live well, earn some love and overcome the shadow of her birth, she takes her first steps into an unknown world. A family curse, a manipulating lawyer, poverty and secrets threaten to destroy Esther’s world. Are the walls of Bleak House strong enough to protect her and her new friends from such powerful forces? The reader will be caught up in an unfolding mystery, full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is: Who is Nemo?
. 'I can't imagine anything worse,
. 'Too difficult', 'too wordy', 'enough to put anyone off'. 'But the stories are great,
's easy to see both sides of the argument. As someone who has dipped in and out of Dickens over the years, I have always been delighted by the actual reading of the novel, but sometimes it has taken a considerable effort of will to start the thing. Many are long, all are complex, and there is some truth in the assertion that they are too difficult-not for all, certainly, but for some children at key stage three, Dickens could sound the death knell for reading pleasure. There is a case, then, for a differentiated Dickens, and here, as with other literary classics, Real Reads provides a helpful solution. The series currently includes nine of the major novels: Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Hard Times, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, A Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit. All follow the same format-a couple of pages introducing the characters with some delightful illustrations by Karen Donnelly, forty-seven pages of narrative and a 'Taking Things Further'
's hope is that for some readers, the Real Reads are a springboard into the original texts; for others it is to broaden their range of cultural experience and introduce them to a world of wonderful plots and characters. What makes these retellings particularly appealing from a classroom point of view is that significant attention is paid to the language use characteristic of the authors. The novels are retold with some integrity to the original-that is that some of the cadence of Dickens is retained; that some of the vocabulary remains authentic, and that some of those seminal passages remain relatively unaltered. Take the opening of A Tale of Two Cities as an example, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the season of wealth, it was the season of poverty. In short, it was a time very much like the present.'
's characters and while there are of course casualties, the characters that remain are rounded and engaging. For Oliver we feel pity as he pleads with Sikes 'P-p-p-please don't make me steal,'
'Quiet, vermin'. We long for Nancy to be saved by Mrs Maylie and feel the poignancy of her departure: 'You must take Oliver to safety. I must return to my life.'
's wait for death 'his face so distorted and pale, his eyes so bloodshot, that he already looked more dead than alive as he awaited his punishment.'
'Oliver and Mr Brownlow walked hand in hand to their carriage.'
's humour is preserved: Mrs Joe is to be found bringing Pip up by hand and at the birth of David Copperfield, Peggotty's 'bosom swelled with such joy and pride that two buttons popped from her bodice and flew across the room.'
'As he wasted away over the next few days, Little Dorrit didn't leave her father's side. His spirit was like a maimed bird, able to think only of the place that had broken its wings. Finally, his spirit broke free of all earthly concerns. Little Dorrit wept bitterly. The 'Filling in the Spaces'
's father was sent to Marshalsea Prison when Dickens was twelve and for Hard Times we can read about the rise of steam power and the way in which machinery in factories gave rise to mass migration to cities. There is also a two-page section called 'Food for thought'
, 'Oscar Wilde said that Nell's death makes the reader laugh, whereas critics in Dickens
-class debate. Thinking about how the symbols of fog, hands, light and shadow and city and countryside match the action in Bleak House immediately suggests ways in which pupils might track language against action as they read. At the lower end of the price range for class readers, the excellent and durable quality of the books presents a good investment at GBP4.99 RRP for individual texts. -- Jane Campion Use of English
About the Author
Charles Dickens - retold by Gill Tavner
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16th November 2007
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