Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Mom,

Well, first of all, on Bomb as a piece of literature: I’m thrilled that you liked it so much.  I am planning on rereading it sometime soon, but it is definitely rising to the very top of my favorite books of the year.  You mentioned my take on Sheinkin’s nonmoralizing–my favorite example of that was Sheinkin’s take on Ted Hall.  He quotes Hall at length on his role as a spy, including an incredibly revealing quotation in which Hall essentially says that he gave atomic secrets to the Russians because he did not trust the idea of a single superpower having such a frightening weapon, and he thought that the world would be safer with a counterbalancing power in Russia.  Historians could obviously debate this proposition forever, but it is essentially the argument of Mutually Assured Destruction, and Hall seems to have hit upon it before the bomb was even completed.  But back to Sheinkin–I was so impressed by him because he allows this quotation (and others) to stand by itself, and allows his readers to make of it what they will, without any commentary or backhanded mention of Hall as a traitor.  Just as in fiction, what the author leaves out can be as important as what he puts in.

So, on to the age question.  We had a long conversation last year over on Someday My Printz Will Come (which of course I can’t find now) about how to define what is a “teen” book and while a lot of people seemed to have very strong views about it, what I took away from the conversation is that it is basically impossible to pin down.  I mean, certainly we can do a good enough job of age suggestions, based on complexity of text, subject matter, length, etc., but there are always going to be slow readers and precocious readers and no two teens, kids, adults out there have the same idea of what is appropriate for a particular age level. 

Which is what makes the Newbery so infuriating. The criteria say that the award is for books aimed at kids 0-14, but it specifically says that “A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age range”, and tells the committee to ask of older books: “Is there any 14-year-old for whom this book is suitable?”*  So, in answer to your question about Bomb:  Sure!  There’s a 14 year old out there who will read it and understand it and love it.  But I do agree with you that it is to my mind more of a YA book than a children’s book.

In my ideal world, this would be solved by making the Newbery match up with the Printz – 1) reduce it’s age range to 0-12, and 2) have the Newbery base its age consideration on the publisher’s listing [plus, 3) have the Newbery consider non-American books!], but none of these things will ever happen in a million years, so forget I mentioned it.  As it stands, I think Bomb is a perfectly reasonably candidate for the Newbery, and I would be thrilled to see it will any or all of the Newbery, Printz, and YALSA Nonfiction Awards.

– Mark

*I’m not being entirely fair to the criteria – there are some caveats.  Read the manual here.

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Filed under Awards, Books, Children, Teens

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