There are few secrets here for raising a genius, or for being one. That’s good news. Instead, Ann Hulbert...delivers something infinitely richer — a nuanced study of the lives of 15 child prodigies, as well as the parents and mentors who shaped them, and the theories that (tried to) explain them. Hulbert has chosen her wunderkinds carefully, recognizing them not only for their individual brilliance but also as pint-size portraits of their eras … While Hulbert valiantly offers an epilogue laced with lessons about the importance of patience and resilience and a strong sense of self, the richness of the book, and the pleasure of it, is in the human stories.
Child prodigies are exotic creatures, each unique and inexplicable. But they have a couple of things in common, as Ann Hulbert’s meticulous new book, Off the Charts, makes clear … Hulbert attempts to capture the complicated lives of child prodigies without descending into voyeurism or caricature. She has tried to ‘listen hard for the prodigies’ side of the story,’ to her great credit. This is an arduous task, and it sometimes shows in the writing, which can be stilted in its reliance on quotes and documentation … The most vivid section of the book comes at the end, when Hulbert reunites with the musical prodigy Marc Yu, a decade after first interviewing him at age 6...Yu’s story reinforces one of Hulbert’s central, if unsatisfying, findings: Children’s needs change.
…[an] engaging and insightful account of American childhood prodigies … The sample size of super-talented children who achieve mass recognition is vanishingly small, so Off the Charts could never be a data-driven book. That is fortunate, however, because Ms. Hulbert approaches her dozen or so subjects not as a social scientist but as biographer and essayist, where her skills are superlative … Ms. Hulbert sees the urge to dissect as one among many misguided responses to these children and their talent. Never did the simple thought arise to let these kids be kids...But then the kids grow up. That’s when it becomes evident that prodigy status comes with an expiration date.