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Seminar on Lit for Youth: Innovative Approaches

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The past several years have been exciting times for librarians who enjoy nonfiction for youth. The introduction of narrative nonfiction, innovative visual designs, and exciting new authors have exploded onto the literary scene. These fresh, new approaches involve much more than cool cover art. They bring new readers.

Read Aronson, Marc (January 2006). Originality in nonfiction. School Library Journal, 52(1), 42-43. IUPUI students can view the article online. This article was written almost a decade ago. The changes that Aronson identified in 2006 continue today. Can you think of some recently published works that reflect originality in nonfiction?

Adult-Teen Cross Over Books and Authors

There are many great books written for adults that are practical for young people. Letters to a Young Scientist (2013) by E.O. Wilson is an example of a cross-over book. This autobiography for both young adults and adults weave together twenty-one illustrated letters that explore Wilson's career as a scientist.


audibleSome books like Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (2012) by Austin Bleon are written for a general audience with natural appeal for teens. Many of the books by Workman Publishing easily make this transition.

Many books designed for adults are effective audiobooks for teens. Seek out award winners.

For instance, Audie winner American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America was written by Michelle Obama and read by Obama along with a cast of others.

The multiple voices add interest to the story. The book is available both as a CD and audible book.

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Where do you go to begin looking for adult books for teen?

Start by browsing the Adult Books 4 Teens blog at School Library Journal. While many of their suggestions are for fiction books, they often post nonfiction works.

Booklist publishes its Editor's Choice each year in the categories of Adult Books for Young Adults. Browse the lists.

What makes an effective adult-teen crossover book?

Biography and Autobiography

Although not written specifically for teens, Elie Wiesel's Night is a memoir commonly read by high school students. Works of biography and autobiography that explore the teen years of an individual are particularly popular with youth. In addition, look for popular figures in the news like the autobiography of Steve Jobs.

tycoomSocial Sciences

From Malcolm Gladwell's books like Tipping Point to Stephen Ambrose's works such as Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, teens are attracted to works of nonfiction in the social sciences.

Recently, a number of authors have begun to write engaging nonfiction narratives focusing on specific individuals and events in history. Mitchell Zuckoff, Jon Krakauer, and Erik Larson are three excellent examples of authors that appeal to teen readers.

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures (2013) by Edward Ball combines the history of photography and film with an exploration of money and murder.


lacksMany teens are drawn to nonfiction science topics. To engage a broad range of readers, look for authors that can write about popular science in conversational language.

One of the most popular science works of recent years was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010) by Rebecca Skloot. By combining cultural and medical journalism with a engaging writing style, Skloot's book is an excellent example of a great adult book for teens. The author's website even provides resources for those interested in integrating the book into the high school or college classroom.

Although some authors are thought of as adult authors, their works are very popular with youth. Scientific journalist Mary Roach has been a hit with teens for the past decade with titles including Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2006), and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010). Her latest work Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013) will keep youth reading.


The following science authors make great author-teen connections.

Adult vs Young Readers Editions

An increasing number of publishers are introducing "young readers editions" or "youth adaptations" of popular adult books. For example, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot (2013) by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb is a memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The young reader edition is titled I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (2014) is by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick. Notice the title was changed for the youth audience. Generally, both the cover art and titles are revised for the young reader's edition.

It's possible to find these adaptations across genre. For instance, Our Choice by Al Gore focuses on climate change and has a young readers edition aimed at 8 to 14 year old youth.


This approach has been taken recently with two adult books related to Abraham Lincoln. Chasing Lincoln's Killer (2009) is a young adult version of James L. Swanson's bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (2007). Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis (2010) is the adapted version of Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis (2010). In the same vein is Lincoln's Last Days: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever (2012) by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman an abridged and adapted version of Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

Another history-related example is The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World (2009) by Nathaniel Philbrick adapted from Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and the War (2007). The adapted version includes additional illustrations including maps, artwork, and archival photos.


Three versions of the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are available including an adult version, young reader's edition, and a children's book.

ireneBook Spotlight

by Tilar J. Mazzeo is a young reader’s edition of a true story about life in the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II.

A young Polish public health worker named Irena Sendler smuggled thousands of children out of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. Children snuck through sewers, hid in coffins, and were concealed under overcoats in daring attempts to escape death.

Librarians will find this story of survival during the Holocaust an appealing alternative to standard Holocaust offerings. The focus on a heroic female will draw the interest of girls.

The author’s website contains information and videos about Irena Sendler. Go to

Focusing on fast-food production and marketing, Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know about Fast Food (2007) is an adaptation of Fast Food Nation (2001) by Eric Schlosser.


Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals has been a hit with teens and adults alike. In 2009, Pollan adapted his book for the young adult audience. Titled The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, Young Readers Edition, this is a shortened version of the original designed specifically for teens.


Sometimes the versions are aimed at the younger students. For instance, Jon Zimmerman's Saga of the Sioux is an adaptation of Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for middle school aged youth. In many cases the young reader editions are written by the original author, however in other instances children/ya authors are selected to write the adaptation.

Another example for younger students is the adaptation of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded (2003) by Simon Winchester titled The Day the World Exploded: The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa (2008). This highly illustrated book is highly abridged by Dwight Jon Zimmerman is designed for ages 10-14.

A children's version of Mark Kurlansky's popular book titled Salt was designed for ages 7-10.


You'll find many other examples of books with young reader editions include Tim Tebow biography titled Through My Eyes: A Quarterback's Journey, Hope Solo's autobiography Hope Solo: My Story, and the Victor Cruz autobiography Out of the Blue.

Other examples of young reader editions:

Read Carter, Betty (May 1, 2015). What Makes a Good Nonfiction Adaptation? The Horn Book.
Think about the characteristics of an effective adaptation.

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In many cases, young adults enjoy reading works written for adults. However increasingly, publishers are producing "teen versions" of nonfiction works such as Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Do you see these adaptations as a great way to gear an adult book to teens? Or, do you see them as an unnecessary "watering down" of content?

Locate a book with an adult version and an adaptation for a younger audience. What do you think of the adaptation? Do you think this a valuable way for youth to experience an adult book? Why or why not? Provide specific examples from the books to illustrate your ideas.

Now, read another pair of books with an adult version and youth version. Do you feel the same way about this adaptation? Compare and contrast how the two pairs addressed the issue of developing a youth version.

What guidelines would you suggest for authors adapting these types of works?

sabotageBook Spotlight

by Neal Bascomb is a young adult edition of the best selling adult book “The Winter Fortress”.

This nonfiction narrative tells the true story of a band of young Norwegian commandos who survive in the winter wilderness and execute two dangerous missions to sabotage Nazi plans to build a nuclear bomb. Filled with technical details and vivid descriptions, Bascomb successful brings this historical event to life for readers.

Librarians will find that this fast-paced story of WWII era espionage will be popular among teens who enjoy historical fiction, military works, and narrative nonfiction. The author’s use of primary source documents including many photographs and maps add authenticity and drama to this true story. Add this title to the library’s growing number of quality works of narrative nonfiction for young adults.

Nontraditional Formats

Nonfictional formats such as kits and pop-up books are appealing to youth, however they present unique challenges for librarians. As you consider these alternative books ask yourself:


From books containing LEGO bricks to pot-holder kits, there are many great books connected with activities. However these can also be a problem for librarians.

Klutz is a company known for their great "how to" books with accompanying materials. However before you jump into buying them for your library, think about the contents of the kits.

Juggling for the Complete Klutz is a great example. The book contains three bean bags and a storage bag. Since the bean bags can be reused, it's something you may consider circulating. However think about whether the packing will need to be reinforced before it's used.


Face Painting is a popular topic, but the consumable kit that accompanies the book is a problem. Will you circulate the book with or without the consumables? What happens when the paints run out? Could you keep the book in a "special" area for programs related to face painting?

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Explore the Klutz. Think about how these non-traditional books would be stored and circulated. What are the pros and cons to purchasing these materials?

Fold-outs and Pop-ups

Authors and publishers have explored the idea of nontraditional book formats since the 18th century.

In Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross, readers explore fourteen historic journeys through cross sections with fold-out elements.


The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle by Joe Sacco is a wonderful example of the use of fold-out panels. Subtitled An Illustrated Panorama, the book focuses on a single event in a very visual way by presenting a 24 foot long accordion fold visual in 16 pages.


Pop-up books in history include David Hawcock, Peter Riley, and Thorston Opper (2007) The Pompeii Pop-Up. Hawcock has also produced other pop-up books such as The Pop-up Book of Ships, The Amazing Pop-up Pull-out Space Shuttle, and a series of Amazing Pop-up books for DK.


Kate Petty has produced a series of Amazing Pop-Ups including The Amazing Pop-up Geography Book, The Amazing Pop-Up Music Book, and The Amazing Pop-up Multiplication Book.

Pop-up books related to cities are popular such as Pop-up London by Jennie Maizels.

Animals Upside Down: A Pull, Pop, Life & Learn Book! (2013) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page is a nonfiction pop-up book. Robert Crowther's Pop-Up House of Inventions: Hundreds of Fabulous Facts About Your Home is a recently updated selection.


Some authors specialize in these types of books. For instance, Robert Sabuda is known for his pop-up books. Sabuda's website even shows how to make basic pop-ups. Some examples include:

David A. Carter is another popular pop-up paper engineer. His books works of nonfiction include a series of pop-up books on color such as White Noise, Yellow Square, and One Red Dot.

His Lots of Bots!: A Pop-up Counting Book is a great example of a pop-up book for children. In addition to the book, readers can download the Bot Garage app that allows young designers to create 100,000 different robots.


Get youth excited about reading and writing fold-out and pop-up books by showing examples. Then introduce "how-to" books like The Elements of Pop-Up: A Pop Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers by James Diaz and the Pocket Paper Engineer by Carol Barton. There are lots of others including Paper Engineering and Pop-ups for Dummies by Rob Ives and Pop-Up: Everything You Need to Create Your Own Pop-up Book by Ruth Wickings and Frances Castle.


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Explore pop-up books for youth. Think about the pros and cons of these books in a nonfiction collection.

What's the "real world" of pop-up books in the libraries. Interview at least two librarians regarding their thoughts about purchasing and circulating pop-up books.


Aronson, Marc (January 2006). Originality in nonfiction. School Library Journal, 52(1), 42-43.

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