Helping children develop a love of reading can help them to develop a broader vocabulary, improve their imagination, grow their general knowledge, have a better understanding of other cultures and help them to develop their own ideas about the world around them. And there are lots of excellent books out there to grasp their attention, from comic books to classics such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
I love reading. One of the books I had to read at school George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, as I’m sure a lot of you probably did. It is a novel about totalitarianism and Big Brother watching everything you do, a government dictating your thoughts, changing the truth to suit the narrative of the government, and punishing those that didn’t tow the party line – surveillance and control, a nanny state. Is it a book for children? Probably not, as it looks at politics, war, propaganda and misinformation, complicated social themes, violence (including torture), and even sex. It was originally written in 1948 (published in 1949) and was designed to be a dark satire of Stalinism set in England (in the book, England is now known as Airstrip One, part of the totalitarian state of Oceania).
Orwell’s original story is around 350 pages in length and is a very interesting read, but at times it can be heavy going. There have been retellings of the story, including the upcoming feminist version (Julia by Sandra Newman), told from the point of view of Julia. Whilst I have read the original (a long time ago), I have just read the Baker Street Readers retelling of the story by Tony Evans – a concise version with just 64 pages. Whilst it tells the tale very quickly, it is a good read for all age groups (age 8+) and all reading abilities, giving a taste of the classic story and maybe inspiring the reader to try the full novel.
Big Brother is Watching You
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a cautionary tale of a totalitarian government that controls and manipulates its people using mass surveillance and rewriting of history.
The year is 1984 (this book was written in 1948 so is an imagined possible future) and Winston Smith lives in a world where the countries of the world have been replaced by three states: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston lives in Airstrip One, once known as England, which is part of the superstate known as Oceania – and it is perpetually at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia, depending on the “facts” that the government want you to believe.
Oceania is ruled and controlled by the Party and has surveillance everywhere – Big Brother is watching you with mass surveillance and children used as spies that report their parents if they step out of line or have an original thought! Winston is a lowly Party member and works for the Ministry of Truth – a government department that constantly re-edits history (media such as newspapers) to suit their own “truth” – his job is to constantly rewrite history in old newspapers. Party members lives are controlled by Big Brother and the Thought Police, they can’t even fall in love or marry without permission.
Winston is aware of what a good citizen must do: show complete devotion for Big Brother and the Party, abstain from all vices, and most importantly, possess no critical thoughts of their own. But Winston is struggling with this and decides to write his thoughts down in a diary (which is against the rules). As the rebellion takes root within him, he commits a bigger crime and falls in love with Julia. But he and Julia are playing a very dangerous game that could have devastating consequences.
Overall, whilst this is a simple retelling of the classic story Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is an interesting and enjoyable read that delivers the premise of Orwell’s fears about leaving government unchecked and letting them become too powerful and the possibly of war between nations (when originally written, it was the West and Russia, which is still very prevalent today). It tells the main points of the story without too much detail, and still starts with the classic and famous line about the clock striking thirteen, but gives the reader an easy to read taster of the full novel – hopefully inspiring the reader to read the full book.
It explores how the people are manipulated and controlled by an unseen totalitarian government by using cameras, spies, torture, rewriting history and even changing how language is used to control the actions, the thoughts and the emotions of its citizens to benefit itself.
This retelling of the classic story doesn’t tell the full account of Orwell’s story, leaving out subplots and details, but it does give the reader a simplified look and meaning of the work without the heavy reading and allows the reader to get a better understanding and enjoyment of the original story, whilst still keeping the characters and basic premise of the tale.
I think this is a good introduction to get a larger variety of readers to enjoy important classic stories. The language is not complicated and the condensed and concise retelling make it very easy to read and digest and more appropriate for younger readers, especially as the word count is only 5,606 over its 64 pages. It has now made me want to go back and re-read the full novel.
This concise retelling of Nineteen Eighty-Four is an excellent way to garner an interest in classics novels that some readers may be reluctant to pick up. A very interesting and concise read about personal freedom, abuse of power, oppression and quiet rebellion, one that is still very relevant in today’s world as it was back when Orwell wrote it. Suitable for children 8+.
RRP: £7.99 (Hardback)
Available to buy from Amazon here.