In my blog post “Dick and Jane Go to the Homeless Shelter,” I wrote about the methods that educational publishers use to sanitize their books and articles, usually so as to not offend the sensibilities of their largest markets. This same observation seems to be echoed on a larger scale in trade publishing, according to an article in the New York Times on October 7, 2014. In it, Alexandra Alter notes that the new trend in publishing is where adult authors transform their nonfiction books into troublingly simplified works intended for a “juvenile” audience. Kids, especially teens, who might once have read the adult version of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken or Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light in all the rich and often unsettling details of the actual events, can now read an expurgated version marketed to young readers. These version often leave out the unsettling, controversial, or gritty details of the real historical events. In essence, the provocative is dumbed down to acquiesce to what is essentially the political.
It is a growing trend and publishers claim that these books are filling a niche for young readers who are hungry for books about wars or spies but not yet ready for the brutal descriptions that are part of the adult versions. Even more unsettling, publishers also see these as an “easy read” version of popular nonfiction books, for adults who are too busy or too intimidated to read the regular version.
Perhaps there is some argument for making historical events accessible to young readers in a form that they can comprehend. Perhaps. But it makes me nervous to think that these “simplified” versions of serious, detailed, accurate, historical narratives are losing their poignancy in order to satisfy the needs of everyone but the kids.