Ratings, Scales and the Way the World Works

We were sitting around after eating some Rosh Hashanah roast chicken when I was waylaid by my nephew, age 5. "Read this," he said.

This is what he wanted to read:

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But he didn't just want to read it, he wanted to point out the very special awesome excellent feature that was in the book: the part where they indicated the danger to humans of the reptile or amphibian by giving it a rating of anywhere from zero to five skull and crossbones.

Can I possibly convey how cool they thought this was? The whole period before I actually read the book involved his going over it with his three-year-old brother and Chestnut and pointing to each animal and saying "Dangerous. Not very dangerous. REALLY dangerous," etc etc.

It made me think. Because it's not just the skull and crossbones, though we must all admit those are pretty bad-ass. It's the whole idea of rating something. Why do people respond as they do? I guess because it makes it seem like the world is in some way comprehensible. I mean, for the small people it's also being able to read something. Even if they can't really read, this is something they can decode and that has to be pretty gratifying. And it's not just skull and crossbones. For instance, this strange and beloved book:

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My kids LOVE this book. They read it over and over. Why? Well sure, strange pets are great. But the genius of this book is also that it grades the pets in a variety of areas: easy to care for etc. The weird joy they get from reading a pet's grade—is it about being graded so often themselves? I don't know. Maybe it really does go back to just wishing things could be so easily contained and comprehended. But they really dig it.

So there you go: two excellent and beloved books (first one is for littler kids, second one for more like 8 and up) that appeal to this (universal?) penchant. Or are my kids (and my nephews!) alone in this? What say you?

4 thoughts on “Ratings, Scales and the Way the World Works

  1. My kids (usually found reading “How to Train Your Dragon” or “Little Women”) can be completely derailed by the Guinness Book of World Records. For hours (or even days) on end, they will endlessly flip the pages, alternately astounded and grossed out/awed by the various and sundry records in the book. So, I’m thinking…you are not alone. 🙂

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  2. I had a book of dog breeds when I was little (lol, I don’t know) which would have different symbols for different types of dogs – “good with children,” “requires exercise,” “good for apartments” etc…I would just PORE over it until eventually the spine came unglued. I asked my grandparents to give me “challenges” like “what’s a dog that’s good for an apartment and good with kids” and I would scope it out. I think maybe it’s because it’s similar to solving a puzzle, like “ooh let’s see how dangerous THIS one is…”. So yes, you’re not alone! Good observation! 🙂

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  3. I think you’re right on that the appeal of such books relates to their simplification of the world. My son at four and a half seems to just be beginning to understand some of the complexities and complications of life. Ratings and systems make it all seem a little easier again. Even as an adult I have much the same impulse–it’s one of the major reasons I love genre fiction.

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  4. I was also a Guinness Book reader (and almanac reader — do almanacs even exist anymore?). And we’re always telling my daughter “It’s not a contest” because she grades and rates and ranks things all the frigging time. So maybe it is a kid thing, but adults are the same way. The 100 Best Movies, restaurant reviews, Rate My Professor, etc. It’s human nature? Or particular to our culture? But those reptile books sound awesome.

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