A twitter storm erupted and blew around the blogsphere the past couple days after The New York Times published the article To Lure Young Readers, Nonfiction Writers Sanitize and Simplify, by Alexandra Alter.
At issue is Laura Hillenbrand’s new edition of her best seller UNBROKEN and a scene where a Japanese guard tortured and killed an injured duck.
"I know that if I were 12 and reading it, that would upset me," Ms. Hillenbrand said in the Times article.
A growing number of adult writers are writing cut down versions of their books for this market. Alter wrote “these slimmed-down, simplified and sometimes sanitized editions of popular nonfiction titles are fast becoming a vibrant, growing and lucrative niche”
The words “simplified and sometimes sanitized” caused much of the flack.
YA Author Beth Kephart blogged:
Let's first acknowledge what many young readers are capable of, which is to say, books rich with moral dilemma and emboldened by ideas. Let's next acknowledge what young readers need, which is to say the facts of then and now.
You can already get that sort of thing in novels written for younger readers. Certainly Patricia McCormick is not writing down, making it easy, simplifying when she writes about the sex trade or the Cambodian war….And certainly I, writing novels for young adults, am not setting history down in burnished, skip-over-it slices.
Librarian Liz Burns, who blogs for School Library Journal wrote: In a nutshell, my response: There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)
In her longer response Liz Burns drew the distinction between books for children under 13, and books for teenagers. She also pointed to what I see as the more fundamental and important issue—getting appropriate books to readers no matter what their age, and our lack of commitment to that end.
Schools are increasing their purchasing of nonfiction at a time when the resources to do so have been reduced. Funding for books is decreased; and professional librarians, who evaluate and find books, have reduced hours, increased responsibilities, or have been eliminated all together.
Perhaps this is all just a flap over a few sensational words in the news, but even so, it’s an opportunity to ask ourselves if we really mean it when we say we want kids to read more, and if they deserve quality books, and librarians to get the right book, at right time, into a child’s hands.
I can't close without sharing the Washington Post's words about PURE GRIT.
Farrell doesn’t spare her young readers any grim details . . . She includes the challenges these women faced and the joy they felt on returning home. As awful as history can be, now might be the right time to introduce the next generation to this important period.
--The Washington Post
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.