Recently I was asked to review the latest addition of the Cozy Classics series by brothers, Jack and Holman Wang. I am an avid reader, and love any opportunity to read and review books, but being a children’s book, I was unsure about taking on this task. However, I soon realized I was being asked to review the adaption of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables into a children’s book, and I couldn’t resist seeing how they made this happen.
After all Les Mis is a story of heartache, famine, rebellion, murder, revenge, and survival, concepts no child needs to understand. To further fuel my interest I discovered the Wang brothers sum up their stories in 12 words and introduce each word with an image to help the child understand the word. In addition to their recent Les Miserables adaption, they have also rewritten classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, and War and Peace. How do you take such complex, deep stories and sum them up in 12 words? I decided I would find out.
What happens when the most complex literary form – the novel – is skillfully combined with the most simple – the baby board book?
Cozy Classics – www.mycozyclassics.com – [Simply Read Books], the popular children’s board book series with a highbrow twist from twin brothers Holman Wang and Jack Wang, ventures to find out.
Designed as developmentally appropriate abridgements for the very youngest of learners, Cozy Classics retell the world’s most beloved literary works in just 12 simple, baby-friendly words. Complemented by photographs of lifelike, expressive and simply stunning needle-felted figures and objects,Cozy Classics inject a sense of narrative into the baby wordbook—and revitalize the genre for young and old alike. For while there are only so many years one can spend learning to count to ten or the colors of the rainbow, the pleasure that is to be found in the works of literature’s greats, as any adult knows, is forever!
Now, in April 2013, the brothers Wang expand the Cozy Classics repertoire with their takes on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.
“From a very young age, children fall in love with characters: Barney, Dora, Cinderella,” says Holman Wang. “TheCozy Classics books foster a love of characters that will ultimately lead to the classics themselves. Unlike Barney and Dora, Les Misérables’s Jean Valjean and Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett are characters that children will never outgrow.”
I promptly requested two copies of the book, one for me to review, and one to giveaway to one of my lucky readers. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the book, I couldn’t wait to see what side of the story would be told. When it finally arrived I immediately opened it and was first struck by the images.
The images for the book are created by using a technique called needle felting, where felt is “punched” with a needle, causing it to become denser and entangled, allowing it to hold a shape. Each figure and object was carefully needle felted, with a surprising amount of detail added, then set in a scene, and photographed. The three dimensional quality this technique creates is mesmerizing, I found myself touching the images, almost believing they would feel fuzzy beneath my fingers. Although in true Les Mis style, not all of the images have the bright, happy colors associated with most children’s books, I do believe any child or adult would enjoy flipping through the pages.
As I read the Wang brother’s adaption of the story I did get a sense of the original with words such as “poor”, “rich”, “sad”, and “dark”. However, I felt some words were unnecessary to the story, such as the word “climb”. Yes, the characters in the story did climb from time to time to escape the vengeful police inspector, but if you have only 12 words to tell a story perhaps this one isn’t the best representation. In addition, the image that reflected this word was my least favorite. It shows an awkward angle of the inspector below a wall, with Cosette climbing over the wall, and Jean Valjean helping her up. Because of the angle it’s difficult to easily recognize Cosette as climbing.
Through the twelve words I did get a sense of the story, but only because I know it well. Someone unaware of the original will have no idea what is going on. However, I don’t believe their intent is for a baby or toddler to understand the complex emotions and story lines of Les Mis (thank goodness!). I believe their intent is for the parent to have the opportunity to share a book they love in a way that is appropriate for a child. This book acts as a learning tool, introducing them to new words, and as the child grows the parent can help them fill in the holes and eventually introduce them to the original.
The other question that arose as I flipped through the book is whether or not a child really needs to understand rich vs. poor, happy vs. sad, shouldn’t a child be protected from these titles at such a young age? I don’t have an all-encompassing answer to this question, it is something only each child’s parent can decide for themselves. Although I don’t have children yet, personally I would introduce this to my child. After all at an early age I fell in love with Annie, which is the epitome of rich vs. poor and happy vs. sad.
In conclusion to a very long review based on a very short book, I believe this could be a great book for children. The images are captivating, and for the most part give a good visual representation of basic words. It is a great learning tool for babies and toddlers, just beginning to form their vocabulary. I also think it is perfect for those avid reader adults, who love the classics. This is a great way to share a complex story with your child, although don’t expect much of the story line to be retained in just 12 words. It may not appeal to every parenting style, but I think the underlying concept, introducing classic tales to children, is amazing!
If this review piqued your interest, comment below to enter to win your very own copy of this classic! To enter either tweet about the giveaway, and include a link to your tweet, or like my blog page on facebook here, and include your facebook name in the comment! The giveaway will close next Friday June 7th at midnight.
Read more about the Cozy Classic’s book here. Check back for a chance to enter in my upcoming giveaways of a photo canvas print, by photobox, and a new novel, All Roads Lead West, by Paul Matarelli. Thanks for stopping by and participating in this giveaway!