Beacon Press has announced the launch of a line of radical history books intended to provide young adult readers with accessible histories written from diverse viewpoints. The series will debut in 2019 and draw from Beacon’s decade-old ReVisioning American History series, bringing forward youth-focused adaptations of titles that emphasize the stories of underrepresented groups in American history.
Senior editor Joanna Green oversaw the launch of the series and said it comes as a direct response to calls from educators, librarians, and parents for resources that more accurately represent the full spectrum of American history than traditional titles. “What we’re doing is following their lead,” Green said.
The first book in the new line will be A Queer History of the United States for Young People, which is being adapted from Michael Bronski’s 2012 Stonewall Book Award winning A Queer History of the United States. The following month, Beacon will publish An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. The book was adapted by Indigenous educator Debbie Reese and curriculum specialist Jean Mendoza.
Green began developing the series after the 2010 passage of the FAIR Education Act in California, which mandated a diversification of the state’s public school history curriculum to include LGBT and disability-focused history units. Working with editorial director Gayatri Patnaik, she set about creating the idea of an in-house YA history division from scratch, building a robust network of educators to help vet the content created for the series along the way.
Patnaik noted that feedback from academic conferences has been consistently positive. “Educators come to our booth saying, ‘I teach at majority-minority institutions and I want books that reflect those students’ experiences.’ ”
In many ways the series formalizes an approach the Boston-based publisher has tested with a handful of other titles. Beacon already has young adult adaptations in print for Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as well as A Time to Break the Silence, which anthologizes writings by Martin Luther King, Jr. for younger readers.
The difference is that the forthcoming books are straight-up YA history texts, rather than narrative biographies or primary source documents. “To have this history available for young readers is powerful,” said Patnaik. Such books are also relatively scarce.
The politics of releasing the books now is not without its potential for controversy. While conservative interpretations of American history in mainstream textbooks have been the subject of intense criticism in recent years, Beacon’s announcement comes at a time when radical interpretations of American history for young adults are also coming under fire from left-leaning academics.
Earlier this year, Sam Wineburg, a Stanford education professor and author of Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) denounced the teaching of Howard Zinn’s popular A People’s History of the United States in schools. Harvard University historian Jill Lepore shared similar criticisms in an interview with PW, discussing her new volume on American history, These Truths.
Patnaik said that the academic debates about radicalism in the curriculum don’t change the needs being expressed by educators or Beacon’s desire to support them, adding that “all of the authors in the series are strong academics coming at this with strong academic backgrounds.”
For Green, reaching new readers with history that includes people like them is the most important point. “I’m inspired by the thought about the experience of the reader—a young person coming to grips with the material that they see themselves in,” Green said.
The publisher is currently looking at other titles in the series for adaptations, and also considering ways to publish forthcoming history titles simultaneously for adult and young adult audiences.