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Adult Nonfiction Books Repackaged for Teens

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

I’ve noticed a big increase in nonfiction adult books being adapted for teen readers. I wonder if publishers think repurposing adult books for younger readers is like film producers who think if a film does well the first time, it should be remade. That doesn’t always work, but I think that adapting popular nonfiction adult titles for teens can be a great way to attract them to books they might not otherwise pick up. The pared down versions retain all of the pertinent information that the adult versions do without lots of extraneous detail. The adult titles selected to be adapted for younger readers encompass a wide range of topics from murdered presidents, to the dangers of global warming and fast food, to inspiring stories of individuals overcoming tremendous odds.

I first noticed this trend with Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food by Charles Wilson and Eric Schlosser (2006), the adaption of Schlosser’s 2001 adult book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Both the adult book and the shorter teen version are persuasive exposes of the far-reaching negative effects of the fast-food industry.

Another older book that had an even bigger impact on teens when it came out was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming (2007). This book, adapted from his documentary film and adult book of the same name from 2006, outlines the present effects of global warming on the planet and predicts dire future effects. The photos and illustrations graphically show, even more than the text, the dramatic results of global warming such as the rapid decline of glaciers.

Not to be outdone by Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan’s adult book about fast food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals was also adapted by Richie Chevat as The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat (2009), a slightly shortened version for teens. It examines the origins of the different food chains that have sustained humans throughout history, discussing how certain foods and cuisines have become a popular part of people’s daily diets. The teen version contains all-new visuals, including diagrams, sidebars, and an ending chapter with tips on conscious eating.

For teens interested in bloody history, Billy O’Reilly’s 2012 book Lincoln’s Last Days is based on his adult book,
Killing Lincoln (2011). The teen version covers just what the title says. It traces Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth’s lives in the five days leading up to Lincoln’s assassination by Booth; the funeral, Booth’s escape; and his and his co-conspirators’ fates. The story is told in the present tense, giving it an appealing immediacy for readers, as it shifts between the characters.

Teens who read O’Reilly’s book might also want to check out Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis by James L. Swanson (2011) — the same author of the YA nonfiction book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer (2009), in turn based on his adult book Manhunt (2006). Bloody Times is Swanson’s adaptation for teens of his adult book Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse (2010). This adaptation for young readers alternates passages following Jefferson Davis’s six-week flight in the wake of General Lee’s surrender, his attempts to rally the South and his eventual capture with Abraham Lincoln’s impromptu visit to newly occupied Richmond, Lincoln’s assassination, and the elaborate mourning ceremonies held over his body as it was carried by train back to Springfield. Teens who read these will then be more than ready to see Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film on Lincoln.

Discovering Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2012) is his adaptation of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates (2010). Through telling events from his own life, Wes Moore explores the issues that separate success and failure. He counterpoints his life with that of a man with the same name, almost the same age, who grew up in Baltimore but is serving a life sentence for murder. They get to know one another after he started corresponding with the other Wes and each shared their very different lives.

Teens who are more into sports and stories about people overcoming adversity might want to try several books featuring sports figures or teams that came out in September. One is Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town by Warren St. John, which is his adaption of his adult book Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference (2009). (Another trend: long book titles?).

This book blends exciting youth soccer action with politics in this story of refugee kids from Kosovo, Mozambique, Liberia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Sudan, who find home in the small town of Clarkston, Georgia. There, a tough volunteer coach, Luma Mufleh from Jordan, organizes three youth soccer teams that take on other local players and sometimes win. Unlike the home teams, with their benches of supporters, the refugee teams have parents who are too busy holding multiple jobs to attend games. Despite challenges to locate a practice field, minimal funding for uniforms and equipment, and zero fans on the sidelines, the Fugees practiced hard and demonstrated a team spirit that drew admiration from referees and even their competitors.

Hope Solo: My Story by Hope Solo (2012) is the author’s adaptation for younger readers of her adult book Solo: a Memoir of Hope, about an Olympic gold medalist and starting goalkeeper for the US Women’s National soccer team. She tells the exciting insider details of her life on and off the field, in her own words for teens, including her difficult relationship with her father, who taught her to love soccer but disappeared from her life for a time when he was convicted of embezzlement.

The other sports-related book is one I’m particularly interested to read because it’s a local story to me,  as a New Jersey resident and Rutgers University grad. It’s an inspiring story and is called Believe: The Victorious Story of Eric LeGrand (Young Readers Edition), written by Eric LeGrand, and is the teen version of his simultaneously published adult book Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life. It’s the memoir of LeGrand, the Rutgers football defensive tackle left paralyzed in a game against Army on October 16, 2010. This moving memoir shows how he’s overcoming all odds and rebuilding his future in the face of hardship.

These are only a few of the many popular adult nonfiction books being adapted for teens. I think we’re going to be seeing even more adaptations like these coming out, and that’s a good thing (and I didn’t even cover adult fiction adaptations for teens!). Which other nonfiction ones did I miss?

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Railsea by China Mieville

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Sharon Rawlins

Sharon is the Youth Services Specialist at the NJ State Library in Trenton, NJ

5 Comments

  1. Two versions of one adult non-fiction book for the adult audience and young adult audience respectively will deprive young adults of the dynamics of daily personal experiences, indigenous to this environment, the inducement to encourage reading has limited merit at best.

    Young adults will eventually have to navigate the adult nebular, hence the reason why exposure within reason will actually equip them for the unknown that lies ahead.

    Primary and Secondary Schools for instance are facilities designed to equip children with skills generally designed for interaction in this arena, same applies to Univeersities and thus far these environments have not been modified to accommodate children and young adult perspectives, so why should adult non-fiction books be adapted, especially generally when the same messages are being conveyed subject to relevant book thenes?

    Authors that see merit in the adaptation are in no way being criticised, as this platform is subjective, on the other hand for the purposes of balance and realism, other authors shouldn’t be held hostage by the trend highlighted above either.

  2. Thank you! These are great selections, Sharon. One book that I was happy to see repackaged for younger audiences was James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers. Bradley’s father was one of the men in the famous photo of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII. The story is not only about that singular event, but the details of that battle and its place in the greater story of the war. Perhaps most interesting are the feelings of the men who were part of that photograph as they became regarded as war heroes. The revised book is titled, Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima, by James Bradley and Ron Powers, published by Delacorte Press in 2001.

  3. I am glad to see these gathered into one list — I usually notice them in a scattered way — thanks for the post!

  4. Sharon Rawlins Sharon Rawlins

    @Diane Thank you for the suggestion! I’d forgotten about that one.
    @ Becky You’re welcome. I’m going to try to keep adding titles to my list. Now with the emphasis on Common Core State Standards, I think there is an increased focus on more accessible nonfiction for younger readers.

  5. Robyn Robyn

    Thanks for the list! There are some great ones on it! I just finished a really good book called, “Up From Corinth: Book 2 of Journey Into Darkness” by author J. Arthur Moore. This a fiction novel, which is part two of a four part series, that follows a boy’s search for his father during the Civil War. http://www.upfromcorinth.com/

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