Monday, May 17, 2021

The Young Readers Edition Of A "Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark"

Years ago, The Horn Book did a special issue on history books for children, describing how in days of old, such books were often children's versions of adult books while these days original historical
research and writing is being done for the children's audience. I can find neither my blog post on the subject nor links to The Horn Book articles I recall. Hey, but it happened.

My recollection of that Horn Book material lead me to pick up The Radium Girls: Young Readers' Edition, The Scary But True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark by Kate Moore. It's the 'young readers' edition of her book, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. Both books might be described as horror history about the horrendous illnesses and early deaths among women painting clock faces with radium so their numbers would glow in the dark. They died or lived, some of them, seriously compromised lives so people could read a clock without turning on a light.

This is an important story not just because of the misery endured, but because of the impact these women's experience had on labor law. And because many of these women were, indeed, adolescent girls when they began working in the factory that's practices killed them, you can definitely see why this story would be of interest to younger readers.

I read the YA version and skimmed sections of the adult version, trying to determine how the two books are different. 

  • I had trouble keeping the different women covered in this work apart. The things that happened to them were terrible, but they tended to be a blur of terribleness for this reader. In skimming the adult version, I think there was more detail, something that would have helped with my reading problem.
  • Some of these women had children over the course of the period covered. A couple of times I did briefly wonder when that happened or how, given their illnesses. While skimming the adult version I came upon a woman suffering severe gynecological problems. It came up in another area, as well. I don't believe any of that made it into the young readers' version. So could we say sex was cut for the young?
  • In the adult version, a major player's wake and funeral are covered quite extensively, including a painful scene involving her young children. That doesn't appear in the young readers' version. Death certainly isn't left out of this book, as one woman after another dies. But what might be described as the survivors' experience of death was.
  • The young readers' version had photographs. I didn't see any in the adult version. 
  • The title change is interesting. The adult book is called  The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women, suggesting the women involved will be the focus of the story. The young readers' version is called The Radium Girls: Young Readers' Edition, The Scary But True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark, suggesting the radium will be the focus of the story. I didn't notice the subtitle until after I read the book. I definitely didn't feel it had been about radium, and my skimming of the adult book suggests that the major difference between the two is material that was dropped, not a shift in subject matter. What was the purpose of the title switch? To try to make the book less threatening by trying to put the burden of the story on the radium rather than the women whose lives it destroyed?

The writing style isn't difficult, so if I were a teacher, I'd recommend teenagers just go ahead and read the adult book. I don't know at what point even younger readers start reading material like this, though I saw a couple of reviews at Amazon that said children as young as 8 and 9 have read the young readers' version.

While reading The Radium Girls, I began to wonder if it was history or a journalistic treatment of an event that occurred in the past. Sadly, I am not knowledgeable enough to answer the question.

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