For the past several years, publishers have been releasing “Young Readers” editions of their most popular nonfiction titles. The first ones I remember purchasing for my middle school library collection were Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea. (Remember that scandal?) Since then, it seem like any time a nonfiction title hits the bestseller list, an adapted version for young readers isn’t far behind (ahem, Mr. Chernow, my Hamilfans are waiting!). I’ve generally found these adapted editions to be a great way for my middle school readers to access compelling stories – like that of Louis Zamperini, told in Unbroken – while leaving out the strong language and violence and taking a less detailed dive into some of the more complex history, science or other academic content that makes the material more accessible. As a middle school librarian within a JK-12 school, I’ve particularly found these adaptations for younger readers helpful in opening up the possibilities for an all-school read. Nonfiction adaptations are old-hat.
But over the past few months there seems to be a new twist on the adaptations. Penguin Random House has released a “Classroom Edition” of Andy Weir’s sci-fi space survival tale, The Martian, and a “Young Adult” edition of Dan Brown’s 2003 hit The Da Vinci Code. From what I can gather on the internet, the response has been markedly negative. I haven’t read either, but Susan Ohanian’s review of the “classroom edition” of The Martian (with excerpts!) was enough to convince me that I’m not missing anything (though I did go ahead and buy a copy for my collection, which has yet to circ). And though I can’t seem to find anyone on the internet who has read the YA adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, this Bustle post pulls together the general public reaction to the publication announcement quite well. There is one Amazon review that, while 4-star, doesn’t show any indication that the reviewer actually read the book and isn’t terribly likely to drive sales.
I can’t imagine that Penguin Random House didn’t foresee these strong negative reactions. So why publish these editions? For The Martian, I can understand the desire for teachers and librarians to have an adaptation that eliminates the many (many, many) f-bombs that (quite understandably) are sprinkled generously throughout the novel as Mark Watney chronicles being left behind on Mars to fend for himself. I’ve had many teachers say to me that they loved the book and would encourage their students to read it – “if only the word f*ck wasn’t used so often.” I imagine that parents feel similarly. As for The Da Vinci Code, there’s a video in which author Dan Brown speaks to his personal desire to create an edition for younger readers:
I kind of get the feeling that he too was thinking about the market in schools and wanted to find an “in” that wouldn’t get his book splashed all over the media for parental protests that the book was included in the curriculum. And is it just me, or would it be less offensive if it was “adapted for younger readers” rather than “adapted for young adults”? It seems like the adaptation is geared more toward 5th-8th graders, not high schoolers.
For better or worse, I imagine that these fiction adaptations will find homes in middle school libraries and conservative high school libraries. Well meaning aunts and uncles are also likely to purchase these as gifts for their teenaged nieces and nephews. And it’ll pretty much stop there.
What’s your take?