Posts tagged ‘children’

Teen Life Issues: Book Ratings

Movies are rated.  Video games are rated.  But books are not rated.

While a few books might have a “14 and up,” recommendation on the back cover to indicate reading level, nothing indicates whether the actual content of the book is appropriate –or totally inappropriate–  for a given age group.  We all know kids who read at a 14-year-old level when they are eight.

And even these barely-helpful “14 and up” reading-level indicators, if they are used, are almost hidden, on the back of the book, in small type.  Is this responsible publishing?

Whose responsibility should book ratings be:  publishers? parents? public schools? independent reviewers?  Right now, we have nothing.

Unless you are so diligent that you take the time to read multiple reviews (assuming there are some) on the latest book your child’s reading, you will have no clue whether the content of the book is great for your child, or whether the content of the book exposes your child to explicit sexuality, gore, profanity, or political propaganda.  Yikes!

Book ratings are on my mind today because my third grade son brought home a book from school last week.  It was called “The Haunting of Derek Stone.”  My son received the book as a prize for having turned in his homework for twenty days in a row.  We started to read it together.  It was lively, engaging, and a little bit scary, but not too scary, on day one.

The next day, we read on.  Yikes!  The book introduced the young main character to his dead brother’s body, being possessed by a long-dead spirit.  The possessed corpse could not bleed.  It set rats on fire.  It did not recognize its own family.

My son said he didn’t want to keep reading.  Hallelujah!  Me neither!

Out of curiosity, I scanned most of the rest of the book on my own.  I ran into attempted murders, mild gore, lots of fear-of-death stuff, and spirits possessing other bodies, and legions of the dead attempting to kill the living.

I was horrified.   And I’m no third grader.

I threw that book in the trash can.  Not that it wasn’t well written, imaginative, and free of sex, explicit gore and profanity.  It was.  But it was way too scary for a kid.  I don’t want to rush his childhood.  It angers me that some books are marketed as innocent, kid-worthy reading, but they are so scary.

My 12-year-old stepdaughter told me the plot of her favorite book series, the “Hunger Games” series.  I asked her what they were about.  She told me the whole book (okay, the first two books) in great detail. I wanted to stop her after the first five minutes of her narration.  Guess what?  The entire premise of that book is kids killing other kids.  Did you read that?  Killing children!

I don’t care that there’s a noble twist that tries to make the child-killing morally acceptable (the main character enters the killing game to save her sister from entering it).  I don’t care that the main character tries to save another little girl while she’s there, killing others.  I don’t care that the more reprehensible children in the killing contest, lose.  I don’t care that in the second or third book, they kill the president of their country –and thus halt the killing games.  Too little, too late.

The fact remains: children are being depicted killing children, in a book marketed to children.

The time has come for book ratings.  Critics of book ratings will say lots of things, like “literature is complex and cannot be boxed into a “G,” “PG,” “PG-13,” “R,” or “X” rating system.

But a simple rubric could help us navigate better books for kids.  It could include phrases like “contains explicit violence” or “uses more than one burst of profanity” or “depicts sexually active characters.”

Gone are the days when we can assume that the latest Scholastic book your kid brought home is okay.  A book rating system is long overdue.