It’s that time of year again. Booksellers are stocking up for the holiday selling season and publishers’ fall lists are sprinkled with the names of tried-and-true authors. Some of those familiar authors are testing new waters, with children’s adaptations of their successful adult books—often with hefty first printings. Though it is hardly a new phenomenon—back in fall 2001 PW ran a story about the growing trend of adapting adult books for young readers—the adaptation business appears to be thriving in these tight times.
Yet the times obviously dictate prudence, and Beverly Horowitz, v-p and publisher of Bantam Delacorte Dell Books for Young Readers, is quick to respond affirmatively when asked if editors are being more selective about signing up adaptations. Horowitz has acquired a number of adaptations over the years, many of them in the history, science or memoir genres. “Usually the reason we do adaptations is that a book’s content is right and it’s very well done,” she says. “If we think it won’t be that difficult to make the book appropriate for younger readers, it makes perfect sense to adapt it rather than have a writer start all over again on the same subject.”
As an example, Horowitz cites The Century for Young People, an adaptation of The Century by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster. The book was released as a Doubleday Books for Young Readers hardcover in 1999. “The adult book collected first-person accounts of the century and was brilliantly done,” she says. “We thought this was such an engaging manner in which to tell kids about those times that we decided to adapt it for young people.” In September, Delacorte reprinted the book in three paperback volumes with new introductions by Brewster. Breaking the original book’s material into three parts so that each volume is era-specific, says Horowitz, makes the books appealing to the school market and to kids with targeted interests.
Caitlyn Dlouhy, editorial director of Atheneum Books for Young Readers, observes that there are no guarantees when adapting books for children, yet “if a book has done beautifully in the adult world and has content that kids would be fascinated by, it has a better chance of being successfully adapted.” The writing, she says, is also key: “It’s important to consider the author’s writing style, since sometimes books have to be completely rewritten in order to make them accessible to kids, and I prefer to stay closer to the flavor of the original book.”
Such was the case with one book Dlouhy edited, Charles C. Mann’s Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491, adapted from the author’s bestseller from Knopf, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Acquired at auction and published last month by Atheneum, Before Columbus was reshaped for young readers by Mann along with writer Rebecca Stefoff, with help from staffers at packager Downtown Bookworks. The adaptation, which contains many new illustrations, retains Mann’s voice and vision, Dlouhy says. “We ran absolutely everything by him,” she explains. “He was very involved in the photo layout and gave us great suggestions every step of the way.”
There is clearly no formula for the adaptation process. “Each ‘youngification’ is its own case and has its own life,” Horowitz observes. “If the original author doesn’t do the rewriting and other writers are involved, we obviously have to make sure that the author approves the changes. It can be a complicated process.”
And in many cases, well worth the effort. “I always try to be realistic and tell the author and agent that the adaptation may not take off like a rocket ship and become a bestseller, even if the adult book did,” says Horowitz. Pointing out that the hardcover edition of The Century for Young People has sold 235,000 copies over the past decade, she adds, “Still, many adaptations are steady sellers and withstand the test of time.”
Here’s a sampling of new and soon-to-appear young readers’ adaptations:
• The Century for Young People: Becoming Modern America: 1901-1936, Defining America: 1936-1961 and Changing America: 1961-1999 by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster. Delacorte, $12.99 each paper ISBN 978-0-385-73767-8; -73768-5; -73769-2 (Sept.)
Originally published in 1999 in a single hardcover volume, this adaptation of The Century is being released in paperback for the first time and is now presented in three volumes (with a combined 25,000-copy first printing). Featuring new introductions by Brewster, the books compile personal accounts by a range of individuals, providing an overview of key 20th-century events.
• Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491by Charles C. Mann. Atheneum, $24.99 ISBN 978-1-4169-4900-8 (Sept.)
Adapted from Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, this illustrated volume reveals how, before Columbus set sail for the New World, the Indians of North and South America, who had their own governments, trade systems, arts and inventions, were every bit as advanced as their worldwide counterparts. The title had a 35,000-copy first printing.
• It’s All Too Much, So Get It Togetherby Peter Walsh, illus. by John Hendrix. S&S/Beach Lane, $12.99 paper ISBN 978-1-4169-9549-4 (Sept.)
Professional organizer Walsh sets out to help teens declutter various aspects of their lives—internal and external—in his adaptation of his adult book of the same title. The author, who hosted the TLC series Clean Sweep, also includes quizzes and teens’ personal stories. The publisher launched the book with a 100,000-copy first printing and the author is scheduled to appear on Good Morning America on November 5.
• Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library!by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illus. by Steve James. Little, Brown, $16 ISBN 978-0-316-06874-1 (Sept.)
Released with a 150,000-copy first printing, this is a picture-book adaptation of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Myron and Witter, which relays the true story of a cat abandoned in an Iowa library’s book-return slot and adapted by librarian Myron. Two other titles starring Dewey will follow: a middle-grade novel is due in May and a Christmas picture book is planned for fall 2010.
• The Christmas Sweater: A Picture Bookby Glenn Beck, adapted by Chris Schoebinger, illus. by Brandon Dorman. Aladdin, $17.99 ISBN 978-1-4169-9543-2 (Sept.)
Adapted from this radio and TV personality’s bestselling novel of the same title, this picture book centers on a boy who learns the true value of a gift that is given with love, after his mother presents him with a homemade sweater rather than a bicycle on Christmas. The book has a 500,000-copy first printing.
• The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eatby Michael Pollan, adapted by Richie Chevat. Dial, $17.99 ISBN 978-0-8037-3415-9; paper $9.99 ISBN 978-0-8037-3500-2 (Oct.)
This adaptation of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A History of Four Meals explores where our food comes from and encourages readers to think consciously abut their food choices. Due out in paperback with a 100,000-copy first printing, this edition contains a new introduction, afterword and back matter.
• We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Changeby Tim Flannery, adapted by Sally M. Walker. Candlewick, $17.99 ISBN 978-0-7636-3656-2 (Oct.)
Adapted for teens from Flannery’s The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, this book discusses the history and future of climate change and provides kids with tips for living a greener lifestyle.
• A Really Short History of Nearly Everythingby Bill Bryson. Delacorte, $19.99 ISBN 978-0-385-73810-1 (Nov.)
How big is the universe? What happened to the dinosaurs? Why are oceans salty? These are among the questions answered in this illustrated compendium of facts about a wide spectrum of subjects, adapted from Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. The volume has a 35,000-copy first printing.
• Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis, Young Reader’s Editionby Al Gore. Viking, $24.99 ISBN 978-0-670-01248-0; Puffin paperback, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-14-240981-7 (Nov.)
A 50,000-copy first printing is on order for this adaptation of Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Gore’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth. In this volume, the author further explores global warming and its causes and what can be done to alter its effects.