Somehow I can’t seem to let go of this topic—books adapted for children. The latest is I Am Malala, the Young Readers’ Edition by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick. This is an adaptation of the adult book or the same name, co-written by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. There is no question in my mind that Malala’s story is one of courage and deserves to be shared with children. It’s powerful, inspiring, courageous. But...yet again we have an adaptation of an adult book that is being repackaged for children.
A recent Kirkus review noted that “much is lost in translation from the adult book,” and “most lamentable is [the loss of] the social and political context.” How, I wonder, are readers to understand Malala’s story without understanding the conditions in which she lived? How will readers understand the significance of her decision to oppose the Taliban’s order that girls stay out of school?
Then, in a related article, Vicki Smith—Children’s and Teen Editor at Kirkus—raised a new issue. The reviewer of the Young Readers’ Edition noted that teen writers like Malala lack the artistry of adult writers. In fact, she used the words “goody-two-shoes” and “preachy” to describe Malala’s prose. She noted that teen memoirs lack artfulness, since teens haven’t yet mastered the craft or artistry of adult writers.
So now what? Can’t teens write like teens without feeling ashamed? (Honestly, how can they write like anyone else?) Shouldn’t that be acceptable? Should teens be held to the highest artistic writing standards? I think not.
Here’s my simple solution: Let Malala write her own book for young readers (with perhaps some help from a friendly editor), and let adult authors write their own books too. Then everyone can have a voice and we readers know who is communicating with us.