“What Makes a Good Nonfiction Adaptation?”

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For many years, adaptations for younger readers basically meant that adult classics that were thought to be too difficult for younger audiences would be abridged, cleansed of inappropriate language or amended in some other way.

In 1998, Jennifer Armstrong in collaboration with the authors of “The Century” created an adapted version of this book.  She retained the “you-were-there tone” and the many illustrations, but reduced its length.  The reason why this project was a ground-breaker is because it dealt with nonfiction.  Sentences were not cut, or was vocabulary altered.  What was changed was that complicated political and social history were reworked and important background information was added.  This undertaking marked the beginning of a trend to adapt adult books for younger readers which continues today.

Many of these adapted versions have become very popular with younger readers.  Laura Hillenbrand’s adapted version of her popular work “Unbroken” eliminated some details about Louis Zamperini’s early life, and his trials at sea and in a POW camp.  She instead  emphasized what happened to Zamperini in later life and included an interview with her subject composed of questions submitted by teenagers.

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Another example of a well-received adaptation is “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.  The book details Kamkwamba’s attempt to bring electricity to his African village.  There are three versions of this book: adult nonfiction, a version for middle school, and even a picture book of the same title by Elizabeth Zunon.  An entire family can, therefore, share this reading experience.

 

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These are only two examples of many titles adapted for young readers.

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