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Whatsoever Things Series Review by Laurie Gauger

The Little Princess, Just David, Understood Betsy, The Birds' Christmas Carol
Roots By The River

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Books, glorious books, I love books. I credit my maternal grandmother with introducing me to a wholesome mystery series that flipped a switch for me and turned me on to the joy of reading. I have enjoyed a wide variety of genres in my four plus something decades of living. At the present time, perhaps because I find myself at that middle age stage of life where nostalgia set in, I find that I am drawn to more of the classics. More specifically, I adore the older children's classics. I am not speaking of modern-day styles, although I do enjoy quite a few of those as well. No, I mean the older books, written between the late eighteen hundreds and the early nineteen hundreds. What was it about that time period? The vocabulary in those tales feels richer, a little more complex. The stories spoke genuinely about yes, a simpler time, but the hardships were real, and even expected. Yet story after story like those, told of the characters rising above their circumstances, and displaying strength of spirit and character.

For those reasons, I was ready and willing to read and review the Whatsoever Things Series. You will probably recognize the Bible verse that the name of this series references, which is Philippians 4:8. It reads, " Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (KJV) What a beautiful piece of Scripture, and what a great principle on which to base a book series. The thought behind these book editions, is to edit them, removing bits here and there, the dross, as they say, in order to leave out what might be unwholesome for readers, leaving the general idea of the book intact, and still true to the writing style of the original author.

What do they mean by unwholesome? Taking the Lord's name in vain, inappropriate language, and general sinful behaviors are a few examples, and have been removed. There are also a few instances where the author has added in a few details, in her words, "to provide a more satisfactory conclusion" to the story, or to round it out a little more. The hope in doing this, according to the author, is to stay true to the style of the original book, while making it a book that any age could read without coming across anything inappropriate.

Included in the collection that I received for review are The Little Princess, Just David, Understood Betsy, and The Birds' Christmas Carol. I was already familiar with the first and third titles but had never read the other two. I was also curious to see if I would be able to tell what content had been removed or altered. We happen to have copies of the original stories for Understood Betsy, and The Little Princess, so I kept those close by as I read those two books. I plan to pick up copies of the original stories for Just David, and The Birds' Christmas Carol. I decided not to get them while preparing for this review, or I would not have been able to finish all of my books in time.

As a quick refresher for anyone who either is not familiar with these stories, or has simply forgotten, I will begin with a general overview for each book.

The Little Princess tells of the life of a little girl named Sara, who is born into a well to do family. Sara is wise beyond her years, and is very close to her father, who is her only living parent. She is sent to a school for girls for some years, where the woman in charge has a secret grudge against Sara. Sadly, her father dies, and circumstances change for the worse for the poor girl. Will she maintain her good character? Will her misfortune cause her to go astray?

Just David, is a book that I had never read before, and now I absolutely love it. It tells the story of a somewhat odd little boy, David, who lives in the mountains with his father. Upon realizing that he is about to die, David's father takes him down to the valley, in search of a place for David to live. David is taken in by a kind, but somewhat stern couple. He is the picture of innocence, and through a series of seemingly ordinary events, he changes the lives of everyone he meets in his new town. A little twist at the send of the story adds an extra dose of sweetness to this old story.

Understood Betsy is a family favorite in our house. Elizabeth Ann is a little girl taken in by an aunt. Although they are kind to her, they coddle her to the point where she becomes very fearful of the world. She eventually moves to the country to live with her Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, and Cousin Ann. There, with the practical encouragement from her family, she blossoms into a confident child.

The Birds' Christmas Carol is one story included in a book of Christmas stories, poems, and songs. The Birds are a close family, brought even closer together by the birth of the youngest Bird, Carol. A sweet child who is full of love, she teaches her family, and members of the community what it is to truly live, and love. This is a bittersweet tale, more so than the other three. The other short stories tell stories of faith, self sacrifice, and personal character in the face of adversity.

Each book offers notes relating to the stories, as well as applicable Scripture verses, and sometimes, discussion questions.

I read Understood Betsy and The Little Princess with the original books, so that I could reference what was removed in this new version. I was impressed with the seamless flow that Lisa E. Beal was able to achieve in this series. Had I not read the originals, I would not have missed what was taken away. Those things removed were details that I could see possibly upsetting or offending certain readers, particularly younger ones. In Understood Betsy for example, they remove references to some recurring nightmares that the young girl has. For the books where I do not have the original stories, I was able to find what was removed by checking the website for this series. They provide general information regarding what was altered. Overall, the editing author, Lisa E. Beal did a good job in filtering the content.

That being said, I'm not sure how I feel about the decision to alter these classic stories. I can honestly see both sides, and the reasons to make changes. Certainly, these new versions offer a safe copy for all ages to read. When considering large families with children ranging in ages, who might enjoy reading out loud together, then yes, it is nice to read without fear of offensive messages. On the other hand, I wonder how an author might feel, having their work so changed? These stories are from a completely different generation, and that is felt even from the first pages. To have some scenes and details removed does take away from the essence of the story. While our culture may take offense at particular phrases or experiences, the fact remains that those things are a part of history. Interestingly enough, that was exactly the sentiment that my thirteen year old had to say about this series. In her words, she said "Those experiences happened, and they are our history, and it is important to understand where we came from. We need to read about their hardships, they were a huge part of their lives." She's right. 

The way that our family has always approached the decision of what to read, or watch, is that I, and/or my husband would first check out a book in order to know what was in it. Then, assuming it was approved for their level of maturity, we would read it, and discuss themes as they came up. Our feeling is that they will come upon certain experiences, and we would prefer to discuss it within the protection of our family, in order to discuss good and bad behavior, character, etc. Every family decides what is and is not acceptable regarding this, that is simply the way that we have chosen to approach the matter. Whatever the case, it certainly provided for some interesting discussions between my two teen daughters and me, about the differences in the versions, and should they be changed. I think that this series is one that anyone can feel good about giving to the children in their lives, knowing that the content is safe, and I do like these books for that reason. 

-Product review by Laurie Gauger, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2018