Well-read parents are notorious for foisting classic literature on their kids at an early age, whether those kids are really ready for it or not. Not only can the themes be difficult, the words themselves are often incomprehensible, and referencing anything unfamiliar in a dictionary isn't usually high on a young person's list of priorities.
Fortunately, the Educator's Classic Library produced a set of thirty books from 1968-70 (sadly, they're out of print) that paired classic novels with explanatory annotations in a kid-friendly format. Each book is tall, hardcover, and uniquely illustrated, with sidebar notes defining terms, describing flora and fauna, and when appropriate illustrating objects.
Most of the texts are complete and unabridged, so kids get the full experience of reading the book without the headache of being lost half the time. An afterword at the end of every volume (called a "Backword") offers further context for the story, as well as biographical information about the author and notes on his cultural and social environment.
Don't let the somewhat old-fashioned covers (all of them by Don Irwin) fool you: these are fantastic books that are more likely to pique an elementary or middle school student's interest in classic literature than a more bland text-only version. At the same time, you don't have to sacrifice the beauty of the original work, or worry about gaps and holes the author never intended to leave.
Three different publishers (Classic Press, Classic Publishing, and Children's Press) released versions of these books, and the quality is not standard.
Those by Classic Press are the most common, but unfortunately, of the lowest quality. These include the series name on the back covers, and twelve of the thirty titles numbered, with the rest unnumbered. They include only b/w illustrations on relatively cheap paper (often quite tanned and brittle now) and have glued bindings. (These are the versions we list on our site, but we aren't going to add all three versions, so you may get the other publishers when you order.)
The books from Classic Publishing are of nicer quality. The covers are slightly shiny, the books have better quality paper, and the illustrations are two-toned. None are numbered and they are identified as Educator Classic Library on the back covers.
Finally, those by Children's Press are NOT identified with the series name. These are of the best quality, with still nicer paper and sewn bindings (though only b/w illustrations). We rarely see these.
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