Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: The Educator Classic Library

Not your ordinary series of illustrated children's classics. Released in 1968, this set of twenty books is unabridged, hardily bound, and in an 8" x 11" hardcover format that lies open easily on a child's lap. The Educator Classic Library's unique feature, though, is a 2 1/2" outside margin on each page, in which challenging vocabulary is defined, explained, and often illustrated.

These marginalia add a new depth to each book. In chapter 27 of The Virginian, we read "Till Yesterday a Crow Indian war-bonnet had hung next it, a sumptuous cascade of feathers." In the margin, a picture of such a war-bonnet, and the note: "War bonnets were worn only by the Plains Indians, and among them only by a few, most honored men. Each eagle feather represented an award by the tribal council. Individual feathers worn in the hair were marked to show what the deed was that they honored.

Below that, drawings of four feathers with different markings, showing "Killed an Enemy," "Cut Enemy's Throat," "Cut Throat and Scalped Enemy," and "Many Wounds." How did I go for over forty years without having learned this stuff? Similarly, one reads Black Beauty and acquires an encyclopedic knowledge of tack and other horsey stuff, and Captains Courageous brings an easy familiarity with nautical jargon that Patrick O'Brian fans would envy. Besides specialized vocabulary, ordinary words likely to be new to young readers receive quick and clear definitions in the margin.

Poking around at the usual places for obtaining out-of-print books, one discovers that most extant copies are described as "Acceptable" or "Reading Quality," the battered-but-intact condition of the books being a testimony to their having been well loved. Ours aren't getting any nicer.

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