Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: The Father Brown Reader II by Nancy Brown

I avoid adaptations, condensed novels and other “re-told by” books of the classics. If we have to wait to expose our children (or ourselves) to great works, so be it.  Adaptations are so ... "reader's digestish"!

That said I have made an exception on occasion. One such exception was Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Father Brown Reader, published a few years ago and an excellent re-telling of some of Chesterton’s stories for the younger set. Today, I received the hard-copy of the sequel, The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton. Published by Hillside Education, Brown has done another phenomenal job of making Chesterton attainable for children, while keeping the rich imagery and language of the original.  I was fortunate to get an electronic copy for review a couple of weeks ago and so this review is based on that reading.

The difference between this second compilation is that Brown has chosen stories with murder as the theme. She is quick to point out (in the ‘note to parents’) that these stories are not “gratuitously graphic” and that she believes teaching children about life and death is important. I agree wholeheartedly. By choosing these stories to adapt, Brown has opened a world to children that allows them to see that untimely deaths and the finding of the culprit are a worthwhile endeavor that can be treated with dignity and avoid the voyeuristic themes of other books.

Reader II includes four stories that are classic Chesterton: “The Invisible Man”, “The Mirror of the Magistrate”, “The Eye of Apollo”, and “The Perishing of the Pendragons”. The retellings are well done, tightly written and accessible for the younger readers – I am starting these as a read-aloud for my children so that we can talk through the events and messages Chesterton develops in each of these stories.

A bonus from the first set of stories and repeated in this volume is the artistry of Ted Schluenderfritz. Schluenderfritz helps children really see the humble parish priest Father Brown, the dapper and debonair Flambeau, the criminals as Chesterton describes them. These drawings, scattered throughout the volume, are a lesson in illustration from text-description and will make a great drawing unit for my children.  His sketches really bring to life the dumpy Fr. Brown, the tall, svelte Flambeau and the other characters scattered throughout.  The cover is just gorgeous ... well done, Ted and Margot!

Bottom line: for those who can, read the original Chesterton stories; for those who can’t, feel confident reading this (as well as the first) collection adapted by Brown. You will not regret reading these “re-told by” books!


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