Apr 8, 2010

Content and Age Appropriateness

It seems that everyone is ranting these days, but really I just want to ask a question. How young is too young to read some books? I know that YA is a very broad genre encompassing books that are appropriate for almost any age and maturity level, but where is the line drawn?

As someone who works mostly in YA in the public libraries, I get asked a lot if something is "appropriate" for their children. If I know the book, I'll ask them what they're concerned about and then tell them how this book reflects their concerns or I'll just give them the basic rundown of any "questionable" content. This can be tricky because I don't want to discourage reading and I don't want to lose the trust of either the child or the parent, but I feel that there are somethings that some readers just aren't prepared for yet. Although, as a teen myself, I always found a way around my parents to read what I wanted and I'm sure these kids are doing the same thing.

I really do hate being put in these positions most of the time because I feel it's awkward for everyone involved. Then again, sometimes I think it is warranted and needed. I mean, I had a woman bring in her 8-year-old daughter to get some books and the child wanted: Twilight, The Clique, and The Last Song. She wasn't really worried about the content of the first two (!!) but when I mentioned that the last one is actually an adult book, she looked surprised and asked, "Well do you think it's inappropriate?" I was shocked for about 2 secs as to why the child even wanted the book and how I should respond, until she reminded me "We're going to see the movie with Miley Cyrus this weekend." I told the mother a basic run down and explained that the book really is intended for older teen and adult audiences. What's happened to kids wanting to read what's made for them? I mean, just because Miley Cyrus stars in the movie version of a book, does NOT mean that your Miley fan should read it!! Give her Hannah Montana books, those are on her level. Luckily this mother at least asked and then took my advice by not getting the book for her daughter; but I'm sure there are so many more parents who don't even ask.

This dilemma also extends to my blog as well. I write this blog for my teens, to give them a resource to look to for book related news, reviews, and information. So what should I include? My theory is, if I wouldn't recommend it at the library, then it probably shouldn't go on my blog. I try to have a decent mixture of books ranging from boy-centered to girl-centered, books to graphic novels, fantasy to realistic fiction. There is something for everyone and I hope I am doing a decent job of representing as many as I can. I don't think that there should be warning labels or a rating system on book content, but I try to be open-minded about what should be included so that I don't just shut something out. I believe in the poster that is at the top of this post very much and I really hope that I am keeping in line with it's message.

Thanks for listening and let me know what you think is "appropriate." I mean, where is the line drawn? Drugs, sex, violence, I don't even know. Some of the best books would be tossed if these were taken out, but I think they can serve a purpose if used correctly.


Mardel said...

I work in two schools, one as a library tech with K-8th students and the other as a afterschool program coordinator with 2nd through 6th grades. Most of the kids are reading books that are too young (easy) for them, but I noticed that the 7th and 6th graders at the library job were reading Twilight series. They wanted me to get that series in the library. Then I noticed 6th and 5th graders at both schools reading the Twilight Series. I am a little concerned about the message they're taking away from the books, especially in regards to boyfriend/girlfriend issues and stalker/obssession issues. But the kicker is, at the afterschool program one of the SECOND GRADER GIRLS owns the first book in the Twilight series. Her aunt bought it for her. Her mom is fully aware. I doubt that this child can even grasp some of the concepts in a young adult novel. I'm against censoring, but there does need to be some common sense here. It all boils down to her mom is in charge of her, but wow.

titania86 said...

As a kid, I outgrew the books that were made for my age group very quickly. In elementary school, I was reading teen horror series, such as Fear Street, Christopher Pike, and The Vampire Diaries. I didn't understand everything in them obviously, but I enjoyed them. Books that were for my age group were just boring and I went through them quickly. My parents knew that I loved reading and would buy me any book I wanted, no matter what age group it was meant for. They never censored what I read and would answer my questions about anything. I had a friend whose older teen sister also read Fear Street books. She had one that I wanted to borrow, but her mother said I couldn't read it because it was too adult for me. I was completely shocked because no one had ever said that to me. I couldn't believe it. I know she meant well, but I felt that she was being condescending, telling me what I could or couldn't handle.

I think censoring kids' reading might put them off of it altogether or cause more problems if they try to read the materials anyway. I also think it's wrong to say that children can't handle teen and adult books. It's really a question of the individual child. I think a child should be able to read anything they want as long as they understand that just because it's in a book doesn't mean that it's alright for real life. It's the same as a kid watching TV or movies. At this point, I say it's cause for celebration that kids want to read something with the way society is going. Just my 2 cents.

swiggett said...

I haven't really had reason to think about this much, so I'm not entirely sure where I stand. I do think that if something is YA or adult, it assumes a certain level of maturity and understanding on the part of the reader. Obviously, the parent is the best judge for his or her own child, but beyond that, I'm not sure what the roll of the librarian should be. Resource, reference, advice, sure. But going beyond that, I just don't know.

Thanks for everything you do!

Tara SG (25 Hour Books) said...

I wrote a simliar post recently when trying to decide what was apporpiate to recommend to the teens I tutor. The best suggestion (in my opinion) was to base it on how the content is handled and not the content itself. As in what message is the sex sending and not just whether or not the characters have sex. While I'm not sure that helps with pre-teens, I feel like so much depends on the individual child that it is hard to have a set rule.

Could you just use PG/PG13 or a similar rating system on your blog instead of not including books for older YA?

Momof3 said...

As a Mom, I wanted to say how much I appreciate the work you do on your blog!
My introduction to YA books began with my kids wanting to read Twilight (of course!). From there, two of my resident readers, both in middle school, caught the reading bug & were anxiously looking for more books in the Twilight genre to read. I've found your blog very informative and the reviews very helpful in finding new books to suggest to my kids.
I agree with Tara's comment about "how" the content is presented and the message being sent. I haven't run across a book that my kids have read that had what I would call "gratuitous" violence or sex in it. Some, if they were movies might rate a PG-13, but were presented in a sensitive manner. This is why I rely on blogs such as yours for insight into the content, then I can decide if it is something my kids are ready to read.