While many works of nonfiction, particularly those with beautiful illustrations from trade houses, are resonating with children these days, the bookseller jury is still out on young readers’ adaptations of bestselling adult books, such as The Boys in the Boat (Viking), Hidden Figures (HarperCollins), and Unbroken (Delacorte).
“I’m conflicted about them,” says Kelsy April of Bank Square and Savoy. “I like the option of having them. I always make it clear that it’s not going to be as violent or intense [as the original].” On the other hand, she sells a number of copies to schools.
At Elliott Bay—which has seen its biggest burst in children’s nonfiction sales from middle grade titles such as Winifred Conkling’s Radioactive! (Algonquin) and Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda’s I Will Always Write Back (Little, Brown)—many of the people buying young readers editions are picking them up as ESL titles, notes buyer Holly Myers.
Quail Ridge, which has done particularly well with young readers titles, has also had a number of adult buyers for the book. Not that that’s a problem for Carol Moyer: “A well-written nonfiction book for children can introduce an adult to a topic.”
At Parnassus, Stephanie Appell has gotten a lot of questions from customers about how young readers books are adapted and about whether or not the author is involved. She would like to see more transparency from the publishers about how the books are written.
And some readers would like to know more about how publishers select books and why. Last fall when Delacorte published a YA edition of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, it ran into some blowback on Twitter; one young woman wrote, “I’m an adult now, but I read the original when I was 12 so inner-teen-me is raging.” The decision to create a more kid-friendly version appropriate for younger teens was something that the author, whose parents were teachers, had long wanted to do. He was especially interested in getting young readers interested in digging into history.
As for sales, they can be mixed as well. “[Young readers editions] did well in 2015, but there wasn’t really a big one for us last year,” says Oblong’s Suzanna Hermans. On the other hand 2017 could be better. Now that the movie is in theaters, she is starting to see Hidden Figures move.