Monday, July 15, 2013

Reading, Writing and Ratings

By Pamela

This summer, I put my nine-year-old on a diet. You see, it was necessary. Left to her devices she would overindulge on unhealthy helpings of Minecraft (or Mindcrap, as I call it), Dragonvale and such. I put her on a technology-limited diet, so I was free to go about my summer without constantly badgering her about her screen-time. She agreed to limit technology to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now, on any given day that doesn't start with a T, I'm subjected to moans and groans about dragons hatching without her being able to witness such blessed events, but I'm fine with that. I do give her free reign on her Kindle for reading books and she's been a reading fiend.

Last summer she zipped through the Harry Potter series, twice! And she read The Hunger Games books. This summer she's read some classics: Where the Red Fern Grows and The Witch of Blackbird Pond; plus The Help, The Fault in Our Stars, So B. It, Star Girl and more. My concern has not been finding books she wants to read but deciding if the books are appropriate for a child who reads well above her grade level--like many kids do.

Before you accuse me of being negligent or hypocritical, I realize allowing my girl to read The Hunger Games--or even the later installments of Harry Potter might not have been the most prudent move. A more conservative household might not even have the books on their shelves. But I read them before I let her and handed them to her with a word of caution plus the assurance that if she found them at all disturbing, she should put them down and read them another time. Or, if she wanted to talk about them at any time, I'd be here for her. She was fine with them. In all honesty, she howled the loudest after reading Where the Red Fern Grows, sobbing over her breakfast cereal that, "Both dogs died! Both of theeeemmmmm!"

Last week, she ran out of books to read and really wanted to download one to her Kindle, which meant her reading something I hadn't vetted. I thought The Fault in Our Stars might be okay, but texted my older boy's girlfriend, who had read it, and asked for her input. I knew it would be sad, as teens with cancer undoubtedly is, but I wasn't sure about sexual content or language. Katya wrote me back: "definitely some swearing. Not explicit but they do mention having sex. Probably PG-13. Also the literary references are a bit mature." Hmmm. I decided to let her read it and she didn't seem unsettled by any of it. In fact, it's actually opened some dialog between us and she's eager for me to read it, too.

I'll admit: This is the first time I've wished books came with ratings.

It's a hotly debated topic and I'm not sure why. We have movie and television ratings, even music ratings nowadays. Why not books? A recent article in The Wall Street Journal explored the world of dark YA and US News and World Report wrote about the same. But critics of book ratings worry about censoring and book bannings. I have to disagree.

As a mother, I'd welcome a rating system for books. As a writer, I don't think this bothers me at all, but I'm not sure others agree. Maybe the better alternative is a review site that deals with rating content of books, movies, video games, apps and more. Common Sense Media allows you to search a book title (or game, app, etc.) and view the level of violence, language, sex and such contained within. Had I known about this site earlier (truth is, I found it while researching this blog post) I might not have let my girl read The Fault in Our Stars as it rates it as Age 15, mostly due to the mature subject of teens coping with terminal illness. But I was also unable to find a few titles she's recently read, so their list is not as comprehensive as I'd hoped.

If we ever see the day when books are rated, I'm not sure if it will keep kids from reading mature content. Likely it will cause them to reach for books rated as explicit and possibly hide them from their parents. I know I read Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, John Saul and Robin Cook as a young teen and my mother had no idea what I was exposed to. For that matter, I read Shakespeare, too, and it doesn't get much darker than teens dying in the name of true love!

So, writers and authors: Would it bother you to see a rating system applied to literature? Why or why not?


  1. First let me say, congrats on raising a reader. I wanted to put my Minecraft-addictied 9-yr-old on a tech diet as well, but, I'm failing. While he reads more than his friends and well above grade-level, he's nowhere near your daughter.

    I was a voracious reader at a young age, and my parents pretty much let me read whatever I wanted. They allowed Stephen King to scare the daylights out of me when I was 11 or 12, and I was on a diet of only "adult" books by that age. The only exception was sexual content (I cried when Mom ripped Judy Blume's Forever from my fingers).

    I'd like to think I'll be the same way with my kid. I use Common Sense for movies, because as any parent knows, all PG-13s are not created equal. I don't think a "rating" system would work for books. Luckily, with the plethora of book reviewers out there, we can get a gist of the content. I appreciate when they say if there is sex, language, or disturbing violence.

    Every kid has a different tolerance for what they can process. Some kids can handle the Hunger Games at 8, and I know some adults who would find it too disturbing. I don't care if my kid reads an occasional swear (so long as he doesn't start repeating them), but my MIL will put a book down the second she reads one curse.

    It's all subjective, but a great topic to think about.

    1. Kerry Ann, I agree with you. Subject matter, violence, swear words and such all affect people differently. In fact, when my girl read The Help, she commented about how many 'bad words' were in it; I recalled only a handful. I think the concern is mostly for YA books and the really scary topics handled within. I'm not sure a rating system would work either or, even if one was in place, parents would monitor it.

  2. My dad always encouraged us to read, but I don't recall trips to the library and we certainly couldn't afford to buy whatever books we wanted. The Outsiders for some reason scared me (I'm easily frightened!) I must have found Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins somewhere and remember thinking I'm sure my dad wouldn't want me reading these!

    I'm definitely in the adult camp that wouldn't read Hunger Games because the premise disturbed me. I did end up seeing the movie and, although I thought it was well done, my hunch was confirmed.

    Pamela, I think you've found your answer. As with movies, parents have different hot buttons for what they'll allow their kids to be subjected.

    1. I have hot buttons when it comes to subject matter, too, Joan. Mainly the Holocaust. After Sophie's Choice, I steered clear. I have a hard time reading novels that deal with true, horrible events. I can tell myself it's fiction, but my heart knows there's a whole lot of truth behind it.

  3. Anonymous16 July, 2013

    I wrote an interesting, thought provoking response against this, but after trying to post it three times I will simply say I'm against it.


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