Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Should Children's Books be Content-Rated Like Movies and Video Games?

In the comments section of the August 28th This Week in Publishing, a few people were discussing whether children's books should be rated for sexual and/or violent content in the same way as movies and video games in order to help parents decide what is appropriate for their kids to read.

And while I wasn't able to participate, this subject also came up in the weekly #kidlitchat on Twitter.

What do you think: should children's book publishers rate the content in their books so that parents can determine which books are age-appropriate? Is this censorship or at the very least, could it aid censorship?

And, also importantly: would this help sales? Would a publisher who voluntarily rated the content of their books see a sales bump or would there be an outcry?

If you're reading via e-mail or in a blog reader, click through for a poll.


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Heather Sunseri said...

As a mother of a ten-year-old who wants to read anything and everything she can get her hands on, I'm finding myself not able to check out every book she comes across before she starts reading it. There are many young adult books out there that are okay for her to read, but many, many more that are not. I think a rating system is a great idea!

Imagyst said...

I'm first? Nifty!

I don't see it as 'censorship' I see it more as determining the appropriate grade level reading. I mean, children's books are now stamped with "this is a ___ grade reading level book" what's the difference? It helps parents & children easily identify what they do and do not want to read.

My biggest qualm is the book banning list that libraries and schools have. I dont think its right to 'ban' a book.

When I was in elementary school, both the harry potter books and shel silverstein books were 'banned' because they were of questionable content. Funny thing was, in that time, we were still saying 'in god we trust' in the pledge of allegiance.

Crystal said...

I'm the first to comment? Woohoo!

I voted good idea. Not because I think books should be sensored, but because of content reasons. The way I see it is, if there's a childrens book about say, a gay couple, or children visiting their parents in jail, there should be some sort of rating to warn parents if they don't want their children exposed to that content. I don't see ratings as sensorship at all; let's just face it, if a parent sees a rating on a book/video game that is Mature or teen, then they would be hesitant to get that book/game for their children. If it could help parents with choosing the proper content for their kids then it is a good idea in my opinion.

Alicia Walker said...

I was in that kidlitchat room the night that topic was hotly debated. I thought everyone made valid statements and concerns for and against it. As a writer of MG/YA and a mother of MG/YA kids, I don't think adding content advisories on the back of the book jacket would hurt sales or detract from a book cover.

I know there was slight outcry that parents should know what there kids are reading, but I can tell you that won't happen. With four kids, I cannot possibly read every book they get their hands on. I pretty much know the subject matter of most books since I'm in the industry, but for most parents, a little tag on the back jacket would give them piece of mind.

I don't think it's a form of censorship. It's just more information. Do with it what you will.

JohnO said...

I'm a parent, so I sympathize with those who want to know what their kids are reading.

On other hand, a big part of reading is encountering the world, not some bowlderized version of it. Isn't the point to help them learn how to make decisions and think through things for themselves?

I would much rather have a book raise questions we could discuss than feel like I have to keep shutting doors on the world.

Word Verif: "dring" (Sound of a cheap phone ringing? Sound of the bell signaling cocktail hour?)

Heather Sunseri said...

No, actually, I was the first to comment. Is there some sort of prize or something?

Sorry, couldn't resist after so much excitement over being first.

Marie Lu said...

Totally agree with adding warnings on YA books. But it was a comment from Crystal that stopped me short. A children's book with a gay couple in it is enough to warrant a warning? Wow...really? Unless there is actually graphic sex, what is so inappropriate about that? Surely it doesn't constitute a warning on the same level as a book with violence or crime in it?

lauren said...

I sort of exhausted myself talking about this topic in This Week In Publishing last month, and in a couple of other venues, so I'm not sure how much I'll say about it today, but...

One of the things that came up in the #kidlitchat (brought up by Diana Peterfreund, if I recall correctly) is that the "YA" designation in itself IS a sort of content warning / content rating. YA is more of a content level than it is a reading level. I've read / heard of numerous YA authors who had parents e-mailing them or coming up to them at signings to tell them that something in their books wasn't appropriate for their 7-year-old. "But she reads at a 10th grade level!" Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean that the topics in YA are appropriate for 7-year-olds. There are plenty of "clean" MG and tween books that are written at a high reading level but have content more appropriate for elementary and middle schoolers.

Natalie said...

Ack, I'm so on the fence about this topic.

On the one hand, I understand how marking reading level or ratings would be useful. Even I've come across YA lit that is too dark for me personally as an adult.

But on the other hand, as a writer I worry that I would be pressured to write a "tamer" book or "racier" book to get me into a certain rating. And I'm not comfortable with that.

And from what I've seen of movie ratings (I don't watch R), they don't really help. I'm sometimes appalled at what you an "get away" with in a PG-13. It's no guarantee that something will be clean because everyone has a different idea of what clean is.

It's the same with books—who's going to set these boundaries when each person has a different level of content tolerance?

Cary Kearns said...

This is really a great question, and relates strongly to the revision process. I, personally, find myself getting more and more conservative with each revision. I suppose that it is subconsciously to be more "mainstream".

This is truly a 50/50 proposition.


Rhonda said...

It seems as first thought that some kind of system would be useful. I would mostly like to know if the book has bad language,violence, kissing, intercourse, etc. But then, I really also need to know the context of any of them to make a choice, so maybe a rating wouldn't REALLY be all that helpful. For example, I know many moms who let their girls (11 to 12 year olds) read the first couple of Twilight books, but are making them wait for the last few. These are moms who read them first and made that choice. I'm not sure if a ratings system could have been specific enough to lead to the same decision. Also, if I read a rating for Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles, I would likely think they were way too violent and scary for my (at the time of our first read, 2nd grade)son, but in reality, he loved them and was much less fearful of them than of say Indiana Jones books. So in the end, I would have to conclude that ratings might not be as useful as they sound.

slweippert said...

Information never hurt anybody's sales. Movies, music, and video games all have ratings today. Serious subjects in media still get made & bought, so why not put a "G" rating on "House on Pooh Corner" and a "PG" on "Harry Potter?" (Mur Lafferty) said...

I think it's a bad idea for a number of reasons:

1) It won't work. The ESRB has been rating video games for years and it still comes up in Congress every few years that these games are bad for our children. Even though it's clearly stated on the box that the games debated are *not for kids.* No matter what the games (or books) say on them, people aren't going to pay attention and end up blaming someone else when their kid pops a cap in a hooker's ass.

2) Movies and games are visual and audible, visceral things. Sure, imaginations are powerful, but reading about a man getting shot in the head will likely not be as disturbing as watching it happen in a movie, or *making* it happen in a video game.

3) It does end up being censorship because someone else gets to make the rules about what's objectionable. Eventually something that you don't object to- or actively WANT your kid to learn about (choose whatever you like here- gays, religion, etc) -will be considered objectionable by someone else. And I resent the hell out of someone else telling me that I should be "warned." I keep track of what my kid is doing and reading and playing and am not really keen on another level of censorship.

4) along the same lines, if we get a rating system, some school is going to implement it into their curriculum, for example not letting under 5th graders read "T for teen" books, no matter the maturity level or interest of the kid. I have very clear memories of being in a K-2 classroom (very small school) and getting into trouble for reading the books above my grade level. And that was just because of ... actually I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't cause of objectionable content. I'm already enraged about the whitewashing of literature for kids in the name of "literacy" and don't think we need more.

Mary Campbell said...

I want the rating or at least an idea of content in a book not only for my children, but for myself. I hate reading a book filled with profanity or disturbing violence or graphic sex and I want to know it's there before I choose to read it. Also of course want to know the content before my children read it or I read it to them.

kristycolley said...

I would like to see a content advisory on all books. *ducks from thrown books*.
This is for myself. I'm not a parent. But I am a book buyer that doesn't always have access to sites like Goodreads that can advise me of the book I'm considering purchasing (hello airport bookstores!).
And unfortunately I have put down too many books for numerous reasons.
It would have been nice to see a tab on the back stating "language" or "sexual content" or "drug use" such as they due for movies.
Ratings? Not so much. But content warnings I could live with.
I'm all about authors writing what they please. But I'd like a heads-up before I invest my money and time.

Wilkie said...

I voted No, but I am open to the discussion. I think there needs to be a distinction between "children's books" and YA lit. When I think "children's books" I literally think of something I would read to a 5 year old. YA IS something altogether different, and I could understand parents wanting ratings to know the content of some of these, as some do broach sex in a way that some parents might find inappropriate. I also am very much against banning books, but ratings or some type of informative system for parents and readers could be beneficial.

Susan Quinn said...

I've been a huge advocate for parents knowing the content of their children's books for some time.

As a parent, it is very difficult to know the content without reading the book, although blurbs can give you some idea. Resources like

have started putting Age+ ratings on books, as well as movies, websites, etc. This rating system is great because it gives the reasons why a book is rated a certain way.

As a parent I would preferentially buy books that partnered with Common Sense Media or other rating organizations - and I buy a lot of books! Finding those "clean" MG books is very hard to do, without some guidance.

As a writer working on a Middle Grade novel, I'm very cognizant of the content in my novel and wish I had a way to indicate to parents the expected age-appropriateness of my book.

There shouldn't be censorship with age-tagged books, any more than age-rated movies. Those that want to ignore the ratings, take their little kids to R rated movies. Those that are concerned about the content brought into their kids minds pay heed to the ratings, and then make judgments for their own children.

BTW, I'm a first-time poster, but want to thank you, Nathan, for the huge service you provide with your blog for aspiring writers! (Mur Lafferty) said...

Hm. For the record, my "1)" comment about a kid shooting a hooker is in reference to the game Grand Theft Auto, not implying that children will go around shooting prostitutes.

I hate it when I realize I wasn't clear AFTER I hit "post." (Mur Lafferty) said...

Last comment, I swear. Recent comments have people saying that more info never hurt sales- the video game industry knows that an ESRB rating can make or break a game's sales, depending on what they warn about. Only in recent years has an "M" (mature) rating not meant certain death for a title.

(I used to be in video game marketing.)

CKHB said...

Mur Lafferty just posted EVERYTHING I was thinking. It's a bad idea, because I don't think that text EVER needs content ratings the way that visual images might, and because I don't trust other people to determine what books should or should not qualify for these labels/warnings. Enforcement would likely be ineffective and labeling would be inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe that "YA" in and of itself suggests that the material is mature in nature. Yes, I can see the problems that may arise from classifications. Yes, I understand that the ALA may take my card away for saying this, but...

Why not? Has putting age levels on manga affected the sales or availability of specific titles? I buy all the YA/graphic novel material for my small library where religion reigns supreme, and I don't let a rating deter me from adding a specific title to my collection. It does help, though, when a parent asks me about a series I may not be familiar with. I can look at the back (or front or whatever you want to call it with those "backwards" books) and say, "Well, this one is recommended for older teens because there is some violence and boobies." Makes my job easier.

Eoghann Irving said...

I'm not a fan of rating systems in general. How do you even agree on the grading for such a system. What counts as bad language? What is violent? It's all too vague.

As a child I read "adult" books more than I read "young adult". I don't seem to have come away from this psychologically scarred or more inclined to violence than the next person in a traffic jam.

Mainly I see a lot of headaches for no real gain at all.

Anonymous said...

At 35, I have recently gone back and re-read many books i read a s a teen, and some were on the required reading list in high school. So full of sex, and alrenate lifestyles, especially the a few on the required list that kids and adults should be aware that the stories have these things in them. Personally, I don't want to read about the 60's free love" even desguised as a "classic" science fiction story, and if it is on a required reading list - the kid and parent should be aware of these themes and dicuss them before and after reading.

Will it affect sells? Not really, while some may not be sold to some readers, the books will suddenly be more appealing to those whom the book is actually geared to.

Those who want to ignore the rateings can, and those who want to know, can know.

There are times romance is fine, there are times I don't want to read it. There are times I want to know the characters are happy in there sex life, just don't want the specifics or explicit scenes please. I perfer to know. I also perfer to know iif a book is full of profanity. It's no fun to cross all the profanity out and try to find the story, and I usually won't bother. The occasional word is okay, but I sure don't need more than one or two in a whole book.

Gypsy K said...

I agree very much with JohnO. The point of reading is to get your child to experience things, to get them to open their minds. Granted, yes somethings are inappropriate but as another commenter said, "I'm appalled at what you can get away with in a pg 13 movie." Just because it has a lower rating, doesn't mean you'll approve of the content.

Also, Crystal made the comment about a book with gay couple or children visiting their parents in jail. Those things are situations children deal with everyday. I can hardly deem visiting a parent in jail 'inappropriate' because its a situation I myself live with.

Anyways, this is one of those things that has good points and bad.

Bane of Anubis said...

It's a slippery slope b/c who's doing the rating? I mean, if you're of certain religious persuasions, a gay couple could be offensive to your moral code. Some people believe violence is more harmful than sex; others, vice-versa.

Ultimately, I like the idea of ratings, but the metrics would have to be involved, IMO (not just PG, PG-13)... you'd have to have a scoring system (sex: 1/10, violence: 8/10, language: 3/10), but the problem with this (as w/ movie ratings) is that, over time, the metrics change (e.g., Huck Finn would have been rated much more strictly back in the day).

Given the amount of info out there (internet book reviews, etc.), you can do the research prior to buying, but that's not easy and 'easy' is what makes the world go round.

As far as book sales -- it could be like the 'explicit lyrics' warning on music -- if a kid's browsing, a harsher rating might encourage them to dig up some coin, whereas the parent's buying factory might shutdown.

Anthony said...

"You Tell Me: Should Children's Books be Content-Rated Like Movies and Video Games?"

The snark in me wants to answer "Only in the US."

But I admit, struggled with this one as a parent. It is better for my wife and I to engage our sons when they are reading. We encourage them to talk about the books they read, and at a certain point, we have to trust that if they read something they think they shouldn't, they would come to us.

As an author, I would be annoyed to have my book "rated." As a parent, I would never use such a system. There are already a million ways I can get a feel for what's in a book, starting with (gasp) reading the thing for myself.

Bottom line: book ratings are like DRM. It only serves to make the content provide feel good.


Word Verification: bucin

Usage: "I am looking for a man named "Bucin." But you had to do it the hard way."

Liesl said...

This is a fascinating topic and I have to say I'm with Natalie, a bit on the fence.

There are some books out there that I would definitely not want my kid to read and it would be nice to have a warning if the book contained graphic sex, violence or highly controversial topics that I wouldn't want my child forming their opinion based on the book (or having their first introduction to the topic from the book.) Not that I wouldn't let my kid read books that have controversy. I would just want to be warned so we could talk about it, and see how they feel about it. But if it's a big deal in the book then hopefully I could get an idea from reading the jacket blurb.

On the other hand, what's the rating system going to be? Who will decide what kind of content deserves a warning? Because that can be very subjective and as an aspiring YA author I wouldn't want parents to get the wrong idea about my book because of a warning label that says "controversial thematic elements." I'm not sure there is a worthy book that doesn't have those, children or adult.

Marc said...

Hello everyone,

This is my first post. I always read the blog (thanks Nathan for an incredible source of information) and the comments but have never felt compelled to add one myself...until now.

I would like to respond to Crystal's comment: "...a gay couple, or children visiting their parents in jail..". First of all, to include both examples in the same sentence suggests a commonality between the two which I don't believe exists. Secondly, I believe it is important that children are exposed to all types of family structures and be able to form their own conclusions/opinions about various aspects of our society.

As a gay man I encounter much homophobia and heterosexism on a daily basis that could be challenged by increased access to information about the gay and lesbian community. By 'censoring' such content, we are only contributing to a society that continues to devalue the experiences of others and increases the discrimination encountered by marginalized groups.

Sorry...just felt it needed to be said.

Thanks once again for a wonderful blog Nathan. As an aspiring author I appreciate all that I have learned from your words.

Marc said...

Wow. A terrible, terrible idea.

Children are naturally going to read up to their limits, if they are already readers. They will only 'get' what they are ready to 'get' and with any luck the parents have cultivated a relationship with their children where the kids feel comfortable asking questions and sharing what they read.

With a ratings system, who gets to decide what's appropriate and what's not? And who will end up using it to restrict what your kids have access to? And what about the kids that need access to books that their parents or an anonymous gatekeeping system would keep out of their hands?

I was never told what I could or couldn't read as a child or a teen -- whatever I wanted to read, I read. Simple as that.

We have enough genre ghettos, do we really need subject ghettos too?

susiej said...

This is a tuff one.

But I keep thinking about Jerry Seinfeld who said his goal was to be funny without having to use to foul language.

Is it easier to throw in those words and get a shock laugh- sure. Is it easier to through in some f-boms and say, but this is how people (teens) really talk- sure. But aren't there lots of other ways to sound like a teen, to get their cadence, their slang, their mannerism, etc?

As for sales, here's my experience-

My 12 year old was obsessed with Twilight- had read the entire series 3 times.

I found another, more obscure, author who also had vampire, werewolf clans in his work, teens- its YA. I love to support new/less well known authors, so I happily bought his book. If my daughter liked it, I would have bought many and given them as birthday presents for all her friends, also avid readers.

She likes them OK. She tells me there's "a lot of cussing." I say, what a few damns, hells? No, its fuck this and fuck that. Well, I sure wasn't buying that for bday gifts.

And then she uses the word in a fight with her little brother a week later. So, I'm kicking myself and not buying anymore of that series.

I actually spoke with the author at a conference and told him all this. He said he was trying to show that bad kids use bad language. I'm wondering, would it have been enough that they were bullies, that they called other kids rude names, vandalized,etc. I think, kids are smart enough to get it without the overt clues.

Mira said...

First of all, I think that we should agree that we all posted first on this discussion.

What is 'first,' really? Why should we let some silly concept of linear time define us. Nay, I say - let's break free of such restrictions! We're all first here on Nathan's blog!

That said, I like the idea of posting content, but not rating it. Posting content is objective. The idea of subjective rating systems makes me nervous.

Books have been banned and destroyed throughout history, more so than most other art forms. (I think that's true. I might have made it up.) I think it's good to be careful around books and ratings, whatever we do.

Linda Godfrey said...

I voted "bad." Ratings are rather subjective things; two different authors could write about someone's head being crushed by a gorilla with entirely different results -- ranging from gruesome to cartoonish. Also, authors would be tempted or perhaps even forced to write to the rating the same way teachers now teach to the test. Besides, isn't this what book reviews are for?

Rick Daley said...

I voted yes. As a parent, I can't pre-screen every movie, video game, and book. I do want to know what my kids are getting into, though. I appreciate a "Content Advisory."

Sometimes a PG-13 movie is way over the top for an 8-year old, and sometimes it is something he can handle. Same with a plain PG, for that matter. The rating is a caution sign for us to evaluate it further.

I don't think a rating system is censorship, but it can aid censorship. Like the R-rated movie that is edited to gain a PG-13 rating and thus a wider audience, books may be toned down to earn comparable ratings. This should be an editing decision between the author and the editor, IMHO, and it should probably take place in lieu of a rating system if the content is questionable for the intended audience.

Dan said...

There haven't been ratings on books since before Gutenberg, why start now? This would be a horrible idea.

Parents should be more involved (and not necessarily by checking the books out first) by talking to their kids about what they read.

You can't shield them from the world, but you can help them understand it.

Dana Fredsti said...

I am totally on the fence on this subject. I come at it from a child-free point of view, and recognize I might feel differently if I was raising a child.

To me, it would entirely depend on what the content warning covered. The MPAA raises a huge fuss over nudity, but violence is condoned with a PG rating. Who will decide what warrants content that needs a warning?

When I was a kid (old curmudgeon talking here), I had total access to the entire library and read a huge variety of fiction and non-fiction in various age ranges. I don't feel it skewed or hurt me in any way. Reading and questions were encouraged in my family and I'm grateful no one told me I couldn't read something. But again, I don't have children and am not going to try and put myself in the shoes of a concerned parent.

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of the above commenter, from what I understand a "PG" rating can hurt a movie's box office, too--in the opposite way that you might think. Younger teens who might go see a PG-13 movie don't want to see something rated PG or G. I didn't even think they paid attention to ratings, but apparently they do. PG means "lame," I guess. Like slapping "E" on a video game. Unfortunate, I think, but true.

A rating system certainly labels your book as being for "them" and not "us." Ask any parent of a beginning reader if their child wants to read something labeled "PreK-K" if they are in first grade or "Grade 1" if they are in second?

Books are for everybody. I knew what I liked and I read children's books (along with everything else that interested me) all the way through grad school.

My parents, who were politically conservative and fairly square, were also readers and intelligent people. They wisely let me read just about anything and though I got a hold of a few things before I probably should have (Jaws, VC Andrews, Stephen King come to mind) that taught me new words, new perspectives, or made my eyes just go really wide. I survived.

My parents gave me the values they though were important and I carried whatever "character" I had gained from them through reading, watching movies, playing games, etc. In the end, I made up my own mind about what I believed, what was right and wrong, and what I wanted to enjoy for entertainment. I may differ from them now in some respects, but I believe that's what they expected because--hey, I grew up and I'm my own person.

If a parent is into monitoring book content but too busy to thoroughly check out what their kid is reading, I think that's too bad for them. I guess they need to get better organized in their Uber-Protective Sheltering Agenda. Or how about parenting their child, imparting their beliefs, and then letting them experience the world (probably better through books than through TV/movies, huh?) a bit and see how that parenting holds up? Your kids may surprise you--you may find your parenting worked. Don't confuse soul-building with wall-building.

Labels--I can't see it happening. As other commenters pointed out, what exactly are we labeling? Anything that may offend someone? Some kids have parents that are in prison. Not those kids' fault, obviously. But another commenter feels we should label those books in case parents don't want their kids exposed to such a thing. Parents who don't want your children exposed to reality--you're going to have to draw up a pretty big list of Things We Don't Mention!

That said, even without the labels, libraries in certain places are already doing this sort of content-censoring. Where I used to live, picture books such as Visiting Day (kid's point of view, Dad is in prison) were shelved in the middle grade section. When I asked why, I was told that the librarian had deemed that "younger kids wouldn't be interested in that topic."


Matilda McCloud said...

As a former librarian and someone who worked in children's book publishing, I am against this. Who is going to decide what it and isn't appropriate, what's too violent? I never monitored my sons' reading and viewing habits after a certain age. The whole point of YA books is that they are supposed to choose books for themselves. If the books come with ratings, that's going to be a turn off (and, of course, the ones with the sex and violence ratings will become forbidden for some kids and thus more attractive). Dumb idea.

Nikki Hootman said...

I'm on the edge here. On one hand, parents really can't read every single thing their kids do, especially if the kid is an avid reader. However, I hate letting someone else's ratings system dictate my choices. For me, it's never simply about adding up the number of swear words, or sex scenes, or whatever. It's about how that content is presented, and you can't put a rating on that. I might object far more to my kid reading a shallow, idiotic "G" book than a thoughtful, intelligent "R."

I also feel like a ratings system would start pigeonholing authors - "Oh gosh, should I put this swear word in? What if it gets my rating bumped up?" Or, conversely, "I need to pack as much sex in here as I can so I can get that enticing R rating!" I don't think those are things authors should be worrying about when they write.

I think the best solution is for parents to teach their children to be self-censoring. (Or, in other words, to have something called "DISCERNMENT.") This is a learned skill based on experience and trust. If you guide your child and show them how to make good choices when they are young, odds are you'll have a kid that will choose to put a book down when he/she encounters something inappropriate.

Bane of Anubis said...

Logistically, though, it would be fairly difficult -- there are way more books than movies and they cross far more boundaries than movies, IMO.

To put a positive spin on the issue, it would create more jobs... and more watchdog groups :)

What's your take, Nathan?

Kristi said...

I have several problems with this. One is that you can have the same controversial subject matter (e.g. drugs) and it could be portrayed in either a gratuitous, glorifying manner or in a hard-hitting, realistic manner that is good for kids to read or see (a la The Basketball Diaries). What would happen is that any book containing drugs could then be given a certain "rating" and parents may not let their kids read it. So would the ratings reflect content or the execution of that content?

Also, who would make up the rating system? Why would these people know any better what your child should read than you would? I am a parent and no one knows my children better than me. There are plenty of PG movies I have not let my 5-year old watch, even though "they" think it's okay. The rating system for movies and games is flawed because NOTHING can replace good, old-fashioned parenting. It's a slippery slope when you begin giving that power to others. I realize you can't read every book before they do, but if you've done a decent job raising them, they'll come to you with questions about what they've read. Sorry, but as a child psychologist, this is something I feel strongly about.

Bishop[Neo] said...

It's censorship pure and simple, no matter how you try to argue it. Why? Because *someone else* gets to decide whats appropriate for you and your kids. Who says that having circumstance X and Y in a book means it's PG-14 or whatever. I know some very mature 12 year olds that can handle certain things like violence and drug abuse in a book or movie better than some 20 year olds I know.

It all smacks of the games where no kid loses. Guess what, those kids will be ill equipped for dealing with real life where there are winners and losers.

The the person that wanted a warning about 'gay couples' and their kid being exposed to that, are you going to tell me your kid is being raised in a bubble? I can almost promise you they already know. It's not a disease. Even if it were reading about it won't make them gay.

Anonymous said...

P.S.--Sorry the above rant of mine is so long. Perhaps I should've blogged instead.

Hollie Sessoms said...

As a parent of three kids, let me just say that it's really hard to raise your kids with traditional values these days, so a rating system would be useful on that hand.

However, parents today are micro-managing their children to death! I went to my son's first grade orientation the other day and they gave instructions on how we can check their grades on-line daily! In first grade!

Kids need to grow up without someone looking over their shoulder every minute to make sure that they're always doing what they need to be doing. How else will they learn to make good decisions?

Bane of Anubis said...

PS - what's the difference between movies and books (other than medium)? For everyone adamantly opposed to rating books, are you equally opposed to movie ratings?

RCWriterGirl said...

I'm less inclined to have a rating system. Reading is a good thing, and should be encouraged, even if the content is a bit mature.

The nice thing about reading is every image conjured up is in your head. You are never going to conjure up something you can't imagine. The problem with movies and TV is the images are there. They can be incredibly scary or confusing, and they have to be explained once you're exposed to them. There is no turning back once you've let that genie out of that bottle. Reading is different, though. While literature is descriptive, you take out of it what you bring in. Kids are going to imagine a passionate kiss different from adults. A scary monster is going to be different for kids than adults. Kids don't bring the same baggage into a book as adults, and while they may learn a few more things than they did before, I don't think it's as dramatic as being exposed to images that really aren't appropriate.

Lastly, I think a rating system would just result in fewer books bieng purchased by parents and libaries and more self censorship by publishers to get the rating they feel they need to get people to buy their books.

There are a lot of sensitive issues that young adults need help understanding, and I think in some communities, libraries aren't going to buy books that have ratings expressing the content may be of a controversial nature. And parents aren't going to buy those books either. The kids who most need those books and don't really have the means to get them other than the library and their parents, won't get a chance to read those books (if publishers publish them, even).

I grew up in a small town that prides itself on family values and being the quintessential "All American City" (there is such an award--given annually--and my city received it on more than one occassion). So, I think in places like that, it's best not to have ratings, because it's going to result in librarians and parents going on the safe side and purchasing books that don't necessarily talk about the hard subjects that maybe kids need to deal with.

MattDel said...

I agree with Mur's points about the ESRB and their rating system. Unfortunately (and I've seen this having worked in retail), any ratings system WILL NOT WORK unless it is explained to the purchasers in useful detail.

Many parents (that I've witnessed, none of the fine folks on this here blog) purchase M-rated games for their kids because they don't make the jump to it being like an R rating for a movie.

Even then, I was at Avenue Q last year on Broadway and saw a pair of grandparents sitting in the audience with their 13-year-old grandson. Now, Avenue Q is not the type of musical you want anyone younger than 18 seeing (lots of cursing and Muppet-esque puppets having sex on stage). And this is clear in any of the press you read about the show. They still took him to see it.

So I guess my main point is this: If you can make an intuitive content-rating system that can be implemented across all media, then yes it's a good idea so parents can make their own choices if they want their kid to read the book.

The only censorship this amounts to is censorship of the wallet. Which is the most powerful kind.

Jennifer Spiller said...

I don't think it is a good idea. I think it will give parents a false sense of security and limit the growth of discussion. I'd rather keep up with what my daughter is reading and be able to ask questions and talk to her about what she thinks. The world is not "rated." I want to be able to guide her through her own thought processes on difficult subjects. I mean, imagine of Bridge To Terabithia was suddenly considered to serious or upsetting for kid?

Ulysses said...

"Should children's book publishers rate the content in their books so that parents can determine which books are age-appropriate?"

That brings up the question of "Who decides what's appropriate?" and to date I'm not aware that there's been an answer to that question that is not seriously flawed. So I say: sure, if they can guaratee that their ratings system is agreed to by everyone who might make use of it. (Odds of that happening: 0).

"Is this censorship or at the very least, could it aid censorship?"

I don't think it is censorship. It's just advisory, and consumers can attend to or ignore it as they see fit. However, it could aid censorship because it allows a line to be drawn for others. I think that, as parents, we have the right to act as censors for our children. However, we do NOT have the right to act as censors for other people's children.

"And, also importantly: would this help sales? Would a publisher who voluntarily rated the content of their books see a sales bump or would there be an outcry?"

Sales bump? Is there any force on earth (shy of another Harry Potter, or a global internet/television outage) that could create a book sales bump? I don't think it would increase sales. I think it would decrease sales as those who consider buying a book without an advisory reconsider their decision.

Bishop[Neo] said...

Let me clarify, screw the ratings. Others have pointed out (Including Mur) that the ratings on games simply don't work. Instead put content labels on the back cover.
For example if a movie has a content label of 'Graphic Violence and Excessive Bloodshed' chances are I'm not going to see it. But if all the movie had was an PG-17 rating it doesn't tell you anything.

kyred said...

This is a tough question. As a parent, I think that parents should be responsible, and help their children to make reasonable choices. However, I also know that I don't have time to look over my kids shoulder at every book, video game and music CD. While there are always people who would misuse any system, the warnings on video games have been really helpful for me. When my children were younger, it helped me to know what games I needed to check out before they started playing. With movies an "R" rating often meant that I watched the movie with them and we discussed material, this was actually a great way to get them to understand my values.

I think the same would be helpful with books. Maybe not a rating system that gives an age limit, but something that says the book contains violence, sex, or adult situations.

Moreover, in my job I have found that its not the ratings that matter, but the content, and knowing what type of violence is in a movie before showing it to 15 abused children can be priceless. I think the same would be helpful with books.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid that ratings could result in censorship that could inhibit the magic and freedom of children's literature. It could become too much like book burning.
I think parents and teachers and school librarians should make judgment calls on which books children are allowed to read.

Susan Quinn said...

The need for ratings on books vs. movies is demonstrated by the difference between a 10 year old's imagination while reading a book and a 35 year old movie producer's vision for his movie.

Movie ratings are more important. Still, I'm in favor of ratings on books, as guidance for parents.

Heather B. Moore said...

There are some review sites that already do this--you just have to know where to look.

I think it would increase sales for the more edgy books because the kids would be scrambling to read them. LOL. Maybe the utopian answer would be to have the children's publishers actually put out books that had appropriate content for children.

A rating wouldn't be nearly as effective as a content description.

Renee Pinner said...

Scary idea. I wonder if parents who don't have the time to flip through a book, or do a web search to see what their child is reading will even be bothered to review a content rating?
If parents aren't taking their time to talk to their children about what they're reading, they're missing a golden opportunity for teaching and bonding.
I don't think the parents who would use a content rating system are the ones we need worry most about.

Anonymous said...

I can just picture A Little Princess with that lovely Tasha Tudor illustration on the cover and a label on the back.

Emotional and Physical Abuse of Children
Pain and Grief--Child Suffers Alone
Death of a Loved One--Child Loses Parent
Hunger/Starvation by Children
Blatant Classism
Violation of Child Labor Laws
Flagrant Disregard of Zero Population Growth

Anonymous said...

The Simpsons on TV were very controversial when they first appeared. A LOT of parents thought "NO WAY" would they let their kids watch it. It was interesting to see that sentiment shift.
Harry Potter was considered anti-Christian by some.
In the end, I think it should be the parents' choice. Some parents read very sophisticated material to their kids. Others not so.
I read everything until a day when I was about ten and the local store owner called my mom and said I'd bought a certain book. Well, she immediately got it out of my hands and the house. I can't say I understood the first chapter that I read of it very well, but it sort of had disturbed me and *later* I got why. I'm glad she didn't let me read further.
But, in truth, she also exposed me to some other kinds of emotionally upsetting books that were pretty hard on a little kid that I wished she had pulled too.

Anonymous said...

Let's go at this from a different direction than just for kids. I personally like knowing what kind of stuff I'm getting into before I buy a book. Me, an adult wants to know.

As an author of edgy YA, I want my readers to know what they are buying.

I have never, and will never stop my thirteen and eighteen year old daughters from watching, playing, or reading what they want to.

However, I do not want them to waste their money on things they do not want to read because hidden between some Twilight knock off's pages some vamp is getting the inside of his upper thigh sucked on by another vamp.

Would my daughters like to know what they are buying as far as content? Yes!

J. Jones said...

Understandably, parents have a strong need to police what material is placed before their children. This is ideal, and should be encouraged.

However, it is simply impractical for a parent to pre-read every book her child might read to determine its appropriateness. Therefore, a rating system would greatly benefit that parent.

However, rating systems are largely subjective and subject to emotional tide. The classic example is that of the F.C.C., which occasionally decides cases one way then the opposite a year later.

As a result, any book rating system, while providing such an invaluable benefit to parents everywhere, would most likely result in ambiguity in the rating process, preventing authors from producing their best work, due to second-guessing the rating system. That's not conducive to the industry.

While no reasonable person would support the idea of putting inappropriate material - which is defined parent to parent - into the hands of children, it would take only one offense by an author to permanently remove her work from that home.

Therefore, due to market pressures, it's on the author's honor to produce work that doesn't push the envelope when it comes to children's books. There is a great degree of trust granted to authors of such books, and that trust mustn't be abused, or the penalties could be severe.

Nathan said...

I like what Mira said about posting content rather than a rating. I get more useful information about movies from their content advisories than from their specific rating.

Authors who feel to inject such subject matter into their novels shouldn't be afraid of their own content. A simple listing of such content should serve to support their intended theme, rather than oppose it.

It isn't about what is too violent, or too racy. It's a simple statement that this book does contain elements of violence, or of a sexual nature, or whatever. Leave the "too" to the parents. They'll determine what's appropriate or not, and to what degree for their own children. As parents, that is their right.

Just content, not rating or censorship.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Books provide a really safe environment for kids to grow and explore. Films put it all in your head for you, but books allow a reader to digest what they can at their own rate. It's also easier to shut a book than to turn off a movie.

Jen P said...

Content labels rather than ratings - I wonder if there is more graphic violence and overt sexual content in books which are considered mainstream YA reading today, than in the past? But violence, bad language and sex are not all equal in their portrayal.

There is a certainly a fine difference between content rating and age banding. The latter is clearly wrong beacuse it puts off 'slow' readers from books which are labelled below their age, yet may be ideal reading matter. In the UK, the age banding has been a hotly debated subject decried by authors and librarians alike. Philip Pullman was heavily involved amongst others, in the anti-age banding campaign

As a parent, I automatically jump to say yes to anything I think will protect my children from 'bad' encounters of violence, language and behaviour, but content labeling might have put me off buying books such as Lord of the Rings or Lord of the Flies which I had read as a very young, young adult. Yet, the violence in TLOTR comes across as somewhat less nasty than say in The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Perhaps the types of content which are considered acceptable by publishers for YA / Children's books today warrant more guidance than in the past?

Although I voted yes, I am actually ending to no, after more consideration.

:)Ash said...

Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. BAD!

That is going to automatically lead to censorship, because schools and libraries will choose the G-rated novels to be on the safe side.

And that will cause publishers to stop acquiring novels that are not G-rated.

I truly hope this never happens; it will be a sad day for children's literature.

Thermocline said...

The way libraries classify and shelve juvenile books is a de facto rating system that’s been in place forever and no one seems to have any issues with it. Granted, this is more about readability but it’s still useful when trying to find books appropriate for various ages of kids.

I’d rather see content labels than ratings. Not only can they guide people away from content they don’t want but they would be better than a rating at helping people find elements that interest them – Intense Horror Sequences versus Descriptions of Risqué Encounters

Ashley said...

I generally disagree with any kind of formal rating system. I do sympathize with parents, and understand it's hard to be ontop of everything with your kids. I feel, however, that informal systems (read: websites made by parents, for parents) are a better idea.

I have found, while reasearching film ratings, that many parents (yes, overgeneralization, forgive me), want it spelled out for them. They don't want to put in any effort, and so when they child is exhausted to naughtymedia, they scream and holler about it.

If you have time to check a rating, you have time to ask a librarian or bookseller, or google the title online for a review (of which there will be plenty).

The simple truth of the matter is each parent knows their own child, and what that child is mature enough to read/see/play; a little rating symbol can't tell you that.

Mark Brockman said...

My WIP has the F word twice. I don't want it pushed into YA with a warning label. Or maybe I do. Hmm.

Cheryl said...

I'm totally opposed to the ratings systems on the books because it is too subjective. If people want a rating system, let someone set up a website, allow parents to give feedback and reviews. Then those who want to research the book as opposed to reading it themselves can go to site and see the evaluations.

SeaHayes said...

Content advisories would be helpful for parents. Our school librarian recently cautioned me to look closely at the content of books that are popular among young kids. Many times their reading level far exceeds their experience level and can present a problem for parents who want to limit what their children are exposed to.

Anonymous said...

"hidden between some Twilight knock off's pages some vamp is getting the inside of his upper thigh sucked on by another vamp."

Do we really think it's bad not to warn some unsuspecting person that kind of content is being aim at young teens?

MBA Jenna said...

Great question, I can't decide.

As a parent: yes, certainly. It is part of my job to shelter them while they are unable to process the flaws of humanity in a safe manner. Discussion is wonderful, but screaming nightmares are not an acceptable consequence. And yet I don't have time to prescreen all of their media. So more info. = better.

That's part of why the "classics" sell so well, they are prescreened.

But the logistical problems inherent in determining the criteria, enforcement, and the inevitable gaming of the system pretty much negate the value.

Anonymous said...

Who gets to say what's appropriate and what isn't?

This is censorship, plain and simple, and will have a chilling effect on children's boook authors.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

The designations of "middle grade" and "young adult" are themselves a kind of rating system, especially when many young adult novels are designated as "14 and up." However, the MG/YA/YA 14 and up don't quite correspond to the movie rankings, as I'd consider most YA 14's to be somewhere between a PG-13 and an R.

As the author of a YA novel designated 14 and up, I don't object to a more explicit YA-14 designation that parents and teens, as well as readers of trade reviews, can see. But one should realize that not all books with that designation have it due to sex and profanity. I took most of the profanity out of my novel in the final revision, and the sex is not at all explicit. However, the novel portrays a 17-year-old and his family dealing with the aftermath of repression and violence during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and there are things that younger children who don't have the life experience or knowledge of history would find disturbing.

Anonymous said...

My daughter read like crazy and I preread every single thing through age sixteen and we talked about books all throughout. I never gave a child a book ever that I didn't read first.
As an older teenager, she wanted to privately read some books and I didn't censor those, but kept the conversation open to talking about them if she wanted to. Usually she did, but sometimes not.
I have never had a problem pre-reading. It comes with the territory of parenthood.
But if I had had a problem, I would have turned to a trusted website that offered opinions, talking points, etc. That would be helpful to non-reading parents (hopefully not too many of them here on this blog).

JES said...

I've got no business voting on this, let alone commenting, because I'm not a parent (or a kid, for that matter, except in the loosest sense :), not a librarian, not a kidlit author, and otherwise not in The Business. I suspect I'd have stronger opinions and more to say if I fell into any of those categories.

But man, I gotta say, just as a reading citizen: content ratings give me the heebie-jeebies -- especially if instituted for convenience.

Anonymous said...

I also know enough to walk out of a bad movie.
Now that is an important conversation and example to show your kids too.
Some material is just not for people, period.
But I like my discretion and freedom as a parent.

Travener said...

Nathan -- Your poll should have more options for answers, such as "Don't Give a Hoot"...

Anonymous said...

I think if you love good literature and a good story, you help your kids to too.
But likewise, if you watch or read in the gutter, they will probably follow you in.
Parenting is the ultimate moral and ethical defining place.

It is also my humble opinion that teachers need to be bold and brave and enlightened enough to do more than just expose kids to material; they need to talk about serious issues in books.
My biggest problem with some reading material for kids is no one helping them to understand the material.

Anonymous said...

I am imagining that Nathan's future kids will have the best reading rainbow world.

bethanyintexas said...

After reading the post and a few of the comments written here, my take is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with a rating system. Shoot, we have them for movies.

Growing up, my mother made a point of seeing the covers of what I was checking out. She made sure I was reading age-appropriate material. She took a look at what I had (especially if I wasn't sure about something). My mother is a mother of 8 kids, so it can be done. (I'm the second-to-the-youngest, by the way, she also had to make sure my younger brother wasn't being overly ambitious. I mean the kid was reading Encylopedias for FUN at like the age of 12! Believe me, censorship didn't harm him any or me for that matter).

I started off with things like "The Betsy-Tacy" books by Maud Hart Lovelace, "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" by Betty MacDonald, "B Is For Betsy" (can't remember the author's name) and several same sort of books. Besides, what about the classics? CS Lewis' "Narnia" series, "The Hobbit", Mark Twain's work...?

Now that I'm an adult I make my own decisions, but I absolutely agree with a rating system. I'm a mother and I think kids don't have to know about the "real world" when they're 10 or even 13. They'll find out about the "real world" soon enough.

reader said...

They already have a rating system for YA:

On the jacketflap of each book there is a statement reading the book is meant for ages 12+ or 14+.

That means an innocent 12 year-old can steer clear of racier themes they don't care about or understand and a 15 year-old won't necessarily be bored to death reading something that is so scrubbed clean that it holds no resonance for him or her.

Are people really suggesting we do more than that? If parents are too stupid to read the 12+ or 14+ on the book and not know what that means, then that is their problem, not the book industrys.

Dick Margulis said...

I voted no.

I have never seen evidence that a normal, healthy child's reading or viewing something caused harm beyond, perhaps, some vivid and disturbing dreams for a week or so. (Even kids know bad dreams aren't real.)

The major "harm" when a kid reads something the parent thinks is inappropriate is that the parent is discomfited by the child's ensuing questions. If parents are going to be uncomfortable in answering a question from a child, then the parents have to get their heads screwed on straight. If that sounds like more work than they want to do, then they'll just have to monitor what the kid is reading/viewing/playing.

Yes, I'm a parent. No, I never censored my kids' reading or viewing matter. Yes, they've both grown into healthy, productive citizens. (And my parents didn't believe in censorship either.)

Now if a kid is running around the neighborhood torturing animals, then yes, you do have to get help for that kid; and if the person providing the help suggests a censorship regime in the home, go for it. But don't encourage parents of healthy kids to do the same.

Nick said...

I believe ratings to be so subjective that integrating them with the publishers would probably not be the best idea. However, third-party rating websites would probably be a nice tool for the concerned. It's not really fair to label a book and an author a concise rating, books and authors deserve a lengthier explanation. I do agree with the sentiment that YA is a pretty wide genre, encompassing books written for an older crowd who likes to read about YA age characters to actual young adults reading about YA characters.

Robert McGuire said...

In theory, maybe, but in practice, we've yet to see this done well. I recommend the film "This Film Is Not Yet Rated." It does a great job of showing how the rationale for the movie rating system and the actual consequence of it are miles apart. The rationale sounds sensible enough, but the result is inane. As a culture, we haven't yet demonstrated that we are mature enough to actually handle a rating system responsibly. Maybe when we grow up a little.

M said...

I just finished reading Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels.

I voted "No."

The book was simply gorgeous. Gorgeously written. Gorgeously narrated. Just beautiful.

But if the content of the book had been displayed on the spine, what words would have been used to describe it to wary parents? "This book contains detailed descriptions of miscarriages, incest, gang rape, and suggestions of bestiality?"

That kind of copy inherently stacks the deck.

The idea that a brief content description could be somehow less biased than a rating system is illusory. It will always depend on who is doing the rating or describing. Let's just call a spade a spade.


Anonymous said...

"PG" according to what standards? "R" according to whose standards?

Go on goodreads. There are reviews there where one person is offended because a character used the Lord's name in vain -- for them that would be an "R" book. For someone else, a character would have to have graphic sex described to get that rating. The YA, "Inexcusible," is about date rape. It was a finalist for the National Book award. Would that be an "R" even though it contained very limited "bad" language, and didn't use graphic language or images for the date rape scene?

Who gets to decide?

I'd rather see a rating system that says, "Stephenie Meyer knockoff, don't bother." Or, "This cover is butt-ugly, but this book will change your life, read it." Or, "The publisher is pushing this crappy book because they paid a lot of money for it, don't be fooled --it's derivitive as hell."

One can hope, right? :)

Laura Martone said...

I agree with Natalie... I thought long and hard about my answer before voting.

I don't have children, so I admit I'm not looking at this issue from a parent's point of view. I'm looking at it from a reader/writer's point of view... and from the perspective of someone who's already annoyed with TV and film ratings.

Who will decide the rating? And based on what criteria? For example, I would be appalled if a book garnered a mature rating for tackling gay/lesbian issues.

Movies are already a prime example - the MPAA really has no set standard. Some things get by the censors and some don't. How many curse words is too many? How racy can a sex scene get? How violent is too violent?

I understand the need to rate things so that parents can monitor their children's exposure to mature content, but on the other hand, I do consider it a form of censorship, if only because someone else is deciding what is and isn't too mature.

I like the way my mom handled it. When I was a child, she would let me read mature books and watch rated-R films as long as we could discuss them afterward. And I seemed to turn out okay. :-)

lauren said...

Ha ha, Anon 12:28, I was just thinking about what my own personal "rating system" would be! I think it would include:

rated Pr for "Prada" -- excessive descriptions of characters' designer clothes, with gratuitous brand-dropping

rated DP! for "dead pets warning!" - see that nice dog on the first page, reader? He will be dead for Meaningful Reasons by page 233. Tissues included on inside back cover.

rated To for "token" - a single ethnic character shows up to teach the nondescript white characters about his/her culture.


I'm optimistic that a ratings system will never happen. For one thing, who on Earth would PAY for the enormous research costs involved in such an endeavor? Certainly not the already cash-strapped publishers. And even if a system were developed by an outside group (thought I can't see a group like ALA wanting to do something like this), would all the publishers agree to use it / conform to it? I doubt it.

Robert McGuire mentioned the "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" documentary. I recommend that one, too. It's quite eye-opening.

AM said...

I think the voting might line up along the same lines as the number of blog followers who are parents with young children versus those who are not.

As a parent, I would want to know the age suitability of books' contents so I can help guide my children’s development.

I don't believe rating books should be considered censorship unless the ratings were used to block the sales or the offering of certain books. In fact, in some cases, rating may improve some books sales because parents could feel more comfortable with their suitability beyond the many times over dramatized covers.

Anonymous said...

The kinds of people most attracted to censoring things for their children are also the kinds of people least likely to buy anything for their kids but "Bill O'Reilly's Bedtime Stories" and "The Bad Little Liberal."

jimnduncan said...

While it's certainly difficult if not impossible to control what books one's kids have access to, I can certainly see the point of having content labels. The biggest thing for me, is not so much being able to limit what gets read, but just knowing that what I buy would have sexual content in it. Then of course comes the difficulty in exactly how you rate that. The range for 'sexual' is all over the place. I'd want to know if there is sexual intercourse involved, but would I care if there is lesser content? Probly not. This is a hard one. I like the idea, but not so sure implementation is feasible in a workable way.

K said...

Can I speak for the YA readers here? I'm fresh out of the YA range (20, but it's not like I've stopped reading them), and I think censorship is a terrible idea. Like some of the comments before me, a lot of teens don't like to go see a PG movie, just because of its rating.

But more importantly, there are some crazy parents out there. Many of my friends would have missed out on some great literature had their parents checked out the "rating" before hand.

I understand that each parent has different levels of comfort with what their children read, but at the same time, literature exposes us to the world in a way video games and movies can't. If they want to censor books, why not censor the basic human experience as well? Impossible, and bad idea.

JJ said...

I think content rating on children's books is a terrible, terrible idea. TERRIBLE.

I'm less concerned with what children are exposed to than the fact that less-than-enlightened parents might keep important things from their children. I grew up in a household that strictly held to the movie ratings rule. I was 12 years old when TITANIC was released in theatres. I was never allowed to watch it because I was not yet 13. By the time I turned 13, it was already out.

It may sound like a silly story, but the truth is, my parents didn't prevent from watching TITANIC because they didn't think I was ready for the mild nudity and discreet sex scene---they didn't even bother to check it out themselves. They made no qualitative judgment about the film and just blindly agreed with the rating.

Now, I was fortunate in that I was allowed to read anything I wanted, but my younger brother (who is 10 years younger than I) was not so lucky. My parents prevented him from reading Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS because they had heard the series was about "killing God". No, the books are about the rightness and sweetness of losing innocence and "growing up". My parents did not bother to read the series themselves to determine whether or not the OTHER content might have been objectionable: the violence, the severing of Will's fingers, the underage smoking, etc.

I agree with someone's comment above me in that you can't shield children from the world; you can only help them understand it. I probably learned the most objectionable things from my own peers (really, does anyone remember being a kid? How the naughtiest things made us giggle with guilt?), not the books I read.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think content rating children's books would be the beginning of a new era and we could call it Censorship Gone Wild.

At some point we have to actually parent and keep an eye on what our kids are exposed to instead of letting someone else do it for us. Who would decide the rating system? Someone who thinks if you like Harry Potter then you must worship Satan? I don't think so.

Reading broadens the mind, stretches the imagination. Its discovery and its different for each person. I want my son to feel that and not be restricted by what someone else thinks.

Etiquette Bitch said...

we're already turning into way too much of a nanny/police state. kids always want to "read up," and I applaud kids like in Heahter Sunseri's post, want to read ANYTHING.

It's bad enough that we have parents who don't want their kids to hear our most historic president (or any president, for that matter) speak -- let's not give them any more ammo or excuses to censor what the kids see.

Other Lisa said...

I vote "no." The arguments against such a system have been well-articulated here, I think, but I'll reiterate the difference between written and visual content.

I'm not a parent, and I was raised in a different era of child-rearing. We just weren't micro-managed the way most kids seem to be today. We read what we wanted (though I did have to search the house pretty thoroughly to uncover that copy of "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex...").

Any kind of ratings system is at best a shorthand for real information. I can only say that parents who are concerned about their kids' reading habits would be better served by taking the time to look through books rather than depending on a system that is essentially arbitrary. I think the censorship such a system would inevitably bring outweighs any virtues it might have as a convenience for parents.

I'm not a parent, but if I were, I'd think two things: I'd be glad that my kids were reading, and I'd hope they were reading good quality writing as opposed to junk, regardless of content.

Clarity said...

The question is choice. Parents should have the option in a world were "appropriate" lines are growing more obscure - to vet.

THEN again, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson's words:

"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books shall be sold and what we may buy?"
He continued,
"Maybe so".

Hannah said...

90 comments as of this moment and not a single person has mentioned this already being broached and argued about in the UK?

A whole bunch of publishers decided they were going to put age recommendations on their books - 5+, 7+, 13+ etc. And promptly a whole bunch of children's authors screamed with outrage that anyone felt they had the right to deem at what age a child was ready for a book. I think I was about elven or twelve when I read my first sex scene, in Malorie Blackman's 'Noughts and Crosses'. I thought it was a fantastic book and I wasn't remotely scarred by it, or traumatised. The book said 'not suitable for younger readers' on the back, I felt I wasn't a young reader, and I made my own decision about it. That or 'Teen' is what is written on any UK book with more 'mature' content, and I think that's enough. It means parents won't buy the books for small children and people can read it without feeling they're showing the world they're reading a book containing 'Graphic violence and scenes of a sexual nature.'

Quite often, kids know when they're ready for something. I wanted to read Jeffrey Archer's 'Kane and Abel' from about the age of nine. My parents refused because there's a graphic rape scene in it, which they told me about when I was around eleven and wanted to know why I couldn't read it. I decided I could deal with it so I 'borrowed' it from their bookshelf and read it. And it was graphic but then it was over and I dealt with it, as I knew I'd be able to. Alternately a friend of mine put off reading it until she was about 15 because she thought it would give her nightmares.

Children are quite often more sensible than we give them credit for.

Marilyn Peake said...

I think it would be a great idea; and, if the movies are any indication, rating for content does not lead to censorship. Movies run the gamut from G movies suitable for everyone to PG where parents should decide for their own individual child to PG-13 to R, and brief explanations are given in movie reviews for why each movie earned its rating. R movies include a great deal of adult content; but, hello, those movies are not suitable for young children. For example, I recently saw DISTRICT 9, thought it was one of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen, but do not feel it’s at all suitable for young children.

Laura Martone said...

Bane - It took me a while to read through the comments, so I just found your question at 10:42 am -

For everyone adamantly opposed to rating books, are you equally opposed to movie ratings?

Heck, yeah, I'm opposed! Go rent This Film Is Not Yet Rated - and you'll see why. The MPAA is filled to the brim with judgmental hypocrits - with no real criteria on which to base their ratings. I'm still pissed off, and it's been months since I watched it.

Karla Doyle said...

I agree with Nathan completely:
Content - yes
Rating - no
It's not censorship, just an advisory.

Heck,I'd like to see it on adult books as well, but not because I want to be 'warned' about naughty books - I happen to like my reads a little bit (or a lot) on the gritty side.

A couple of commenters said that a book isn't the same as tv or a movie because it isn't visual. I completely disagree. A well-written book is far more visual than half the stuff we view onscreen.

Nathan Bransford said...


Hold on there, pardner. How can you agree with me, I haven't ventured an opinion?

MJ said...

When I was in high school, I wished for a content advisory. I remember picking things off the list, mainly Ordinary People and thankfully reading the first few pages and realizing I wouldn't want this because of the language. That one showed up right away. But I loved historicals, so my teacher suggested The French Lieutenant's Woman call me naive that I didn't catch from the title that sexual explicitness would be involved, but a teacher had recommended it, that would make it PG right? I vividly remember reading in the middle of the book on my couch with my mother vacuuming next to me, hoping she wouldn't look up at me and see how red my face was, that I was reading such explicitness right in front of her. But I couldn't back out cuz I had locked the title in for the quarter. It was so bad, I thought, "If they made a movie out of this it would be rated R" and sure enough, it was.

So, I am all for giving a Mature rating for books for children (I understand that the books in the above examples are not YA lit), just like video games. You can choose to ignore them or not, but to not put them on there because you don't want the reader to censor it before he picks it up in ludicrous. We all censor things, whether we think it's boring, unbelievable, etc. we stop reading it if its bad. But if someone wants to avoid certain things, that's his prerogative, help your reader get what they want.

Maybe an advisory for what its for: Mature for Language, Mature for Sexual Description, etc. Of course, sometimes that may make the teen want to read it when parents may be hoping it keeps them away. But let the reader make an informed decision and not stuck trying to hide in the couch cushions because you had to read something you didn't want to in front of your mother to pass the Book Essay looming next week.

T. Anne said...

I thought it was a bad idea when I was a teen. Now that I have kids I'd like to know what's lurking between the covers. Don't some romance novel's include a spice level? if it's appropriate for adults, why not kids?

Karla Doyle said...

I obviously didn't read your last line correctly. I thought that was your opinion being stated:

"Just content, not rating or censorship."

My apologies.

Vacuum Queen said...

I haven't read the comments, so sorry if I'm repetitive with others.
I think that it doesn't need to be required, but as a parent, I would sure appreciate it. Helps to scan through quicker.
My oldest could read very early and I had to work hard to find him a CLEAN book at a good enough reading level. He wanted to read 250 page books in the 2nd grade, but certainly couldn't understand the topics of girlfriends, cheating in school, vampires, being mad a parents, etc. I had to search long and hard for more Henry Huggins type of stuff. Not easy.
Now my second child is the same, but a girl...searching for clean books with lots of words and big words, but not grown up themes. A little sticker with an age rating would be helpful.

Of requires that people rate appropriately AND it also requires that publishers pick up some books with youthful topics that have more than 64 pages. PLEASE somebody do that!!!

Scott said...

I'm torn on this one. Aren't kids more likely to want to read something they're not supposed to read?

The big controversy (and I'm dating myself as I type this) when I was in junior high school was Judy Blume's book 'Wifey' which contained strong sexual content. Bookstores were told not to sell the book to anyone under 15. I was 14 at the time. Did that stop me from getting the book? Heck, no. A friend of my older brother worked at a 7-11 and let me buy the book. Why did I buy it? Uh, 14, strong sexual content . . . Why did I really buy it? Well, because I was told I couldn't, so I did . . . and that's pretty much the mentality of most kids: tell me no, and I'll do it, tell me yes and I probably won't.

On the other hand, most toys have age limits on them (Age 3 and up, etc), so why not books?

On the other hand, I really resist - TV Watchdog groups, etc. - determining what is best for me to watch. I'm an adult capable of rational thought, therefore, I can decide whether I want to watch something or not.

On the other hand . . . who decides what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate? Should total control of a rating system be given to, perhaps, narrow-minded individuals with their own personal agenda? Who is going to police the rating committee so that personal bias doesn't come into play?

On the other hand . . .

Well, I've run out of hands. I just think this is a very slippery slope and one that should be approached cautiously. A system is only as good as the people running the system, and human history has shown that the people running the system have no clue what they are doing.


Anonymous said...

"kids know when they're ready for something."
"I decided I could deal with it so I 'borrowed' it from their bookshelf and read it. And it was graphic but then it was over and I dealt with it, as I knew I'd be able to."
"Children are quite often more sensible than we give them credit for."

You're right kids will ultimately find a way to read and watch what they want.

But that's the key-what better way for them to know what they want if they can read what kind of content is in a book, right on the cover.

Someone else mentioned not be able to read Puhlman because of someone else's opinion. They are already being censored by their parents, how is a rating system like those on movies any different? Puhlman would probably be PG-13. That parent is already extreme. Is seeing PG-13 for violence going to make them worse?

Literary Cowgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Literary Cowgirl said...

Oh, heck, let's just censor it all. You wouldn't want your child to watch a movie about a mother involved in the murder of her husband, and a young woman who gives herself to a guy, only to be betrayed and eventually kill herself. Oh yeah. That one was mandatory reading when I was in grade 9.

But, seriously, a rating system would most certainly enable censorship. Librarians would be pressured from PTAs and school boards.

What would be the means for qualifying these ratings? Based on content. I think all of us writers know that it isn't what happens, but how it is presented, which just might be a little too subjective. On the screen sex and violence means you will actually see that. On paper, it means you will be led to imagine it. There is a big difference.

Meanwhile, the Pussy Cat Dolls are marketed to preteens, and it's ok, because they're only mock strippers, not real ones. They don't drop f bombs and are not overtly graphic, so everything is all right.

I read THE WHITE HOTEL at 15 or 16 and was far less corrupted by that, than the young women of today who have become part of a new surge in teen pregnancy, due to celebs (especially young ones) having babies at a higher rate.

I'm just not sure that proper ratings can be qualified in literature (though any art form is hard to judge). There are far more powerful negative influences slipping through the cracks and not only making it to our youth, but being marketed to them.

I think it is a parent's responsibility. I get that you can't monitor every single thing they are exposed to, but by the time they are teens, one would hope you've helped your child build a strong enough foundation that they can differentiate between the types of influences they are under. You can't keep them in a bubble, and I think that at least books invite more interactive thought, as opposed to just being shown and told.

I also worry about books like THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK FOR GIRLZ (Annick Press). It is a sex education book for teen girls and by teen girls on their sexuality. There are no holds barred. The girls talk about everything, but the content is presented in an educational manner. A ratings system could kill such a book. And, it is an important one.

Karla Doyle said...

Hey, it was just a different Nathan, Nathan.

I'm not as mixed up as I thought!

Nathan Bransford said...


Ha -- that explains it!

Icy Roses said...

I don't believe content rating is a good idea. For one, who is to decide what content is appropriate and what is not? I'm pretty sure not all parents have the same point of view on this. For one, I know one of Maureen Johnson's book was labeled "adult" at a library because there was a gay relationship in it. Is that adult? Are you only capable of declaring homosexuality over the age of eighteen?

Personally, my parents let me read whatever I wanted when I was young, and I happen to think I'm still okay. Reading is about exploring. One person's caution is another person's censorship. There's no way to make a rating system and have the "levels of appropriateness" be agreeable for everyone.

Dominique said...

I think where the book is shelved in the library or bookstore is the first good indicator of how graphic the book will be. Also, there are usually hints on the back of whether or not the book is violent (the words war and sword, for example, are tip offs) or highly sexual.

If parents are concerned, then they should do what parents are advised to do about PG-13 movies: Read the book before handing it to your kid.

Nathan said...

Maybe I need a pseudonym when I comment on this blog. Just call me "The other Nathan".

Marilyn Peake said...

Bethanyintexas –

I agree with you. Everybody only gets one childhood. Being a child without having to worry about the adult world actually allows a person to become a stronger adult. During childhood, a great deal of development takes place, one stage at a time; and imagination and idealism thrive when there isn’t too much pressure to get ready for the adult world. Being forced to grow up too soon often backfires, for example child stars out of control as adults trying to reclaim the freedom they missed in childhood.

Hannah said...

"They are already being censored by their parents, how is a rating system like those on movies any different?"

The thing is, when a lot of people talk about parents censoring what their kids are reading it's generally in that kind of context - the Harry Potter/Dark Materials sorts of books which some people believe are 'irreligious' or 'dangerous'. And I think that's wicked and reminds me horribly of Nazi book burnings.

Actually, if I'm being honest, I loathe censorship of any kind. Yes, I know it's not a good idea to expose small children to scenes of violence and gore and sex so I understand the need for film ratings, but I wish we didn't have to have them.

But then I don't think you can compare books to films. Films are graphic and obvious - if you're sitting in a cinema and someone's being brutally murdered, it's right there in front of you. The image is completely impressed upon you and short of walking out of the cinema there's no way to avoid it. Whereas with a book things aren't so graphic. Seeing someone get killed on-screen is far more intense and disturbing than reading a description - it's illegal for a 7 year old to buy, say, The Shining on DVD. As a bookseller, legally there's no reason not to sell a 7 year old the novel. I might advise them not to and could probably get away with refusing the sale, but if their parents came and got angry with me I'd have to sell it to the child because books are typically not as disturbing and scarring.

Of course I don't want 7 year olds to read the Shining. I don't want them to read graphic sex scenes or books full of swearing and violence. But I equally don't think I should have the right to stop them, or that we should write on the books that they shouldn't. Nobody I know has ever had nightmares from reading a book (I'm sure some people do, but I expect it's a minority.) Millions of people have them after seeing films. They're completely different mediums and to try and compare them like this is too hard.

Literary Cowgirl said...


I agree with you. When I had my ms posted on Authonomy, my biggest pet peeve was having my work referred to as erotica. All because the protag is an exotic dancer who falls into bed with the wrong guys, a little too ofetn. However, the thoughts of the character are all that is really explored in any given sex scene, and body parts are not mentioned in descriptive detail or by cheesy names. All I'd need is a few stuffy types on a bad day, and... ok, I guess I could be an overnight success in that case. But, I have worked very hard to flesh out a scene (pun intended) without being Harlequin, and haven't included anything that isn't imporatnt to character development. But, if you went down a checklist saying, is their violence-yes, sex-yes, drug and alcohol abuse- yes.

If people who are writing really miss the difference, people I assume are well read, forgive me if I don't trust a censor to be cultured enough to make a correct distinction.

Bane of Anubis said...

Laura, I've seen the movie -- very informative and wholly unsurprising. I do think there needs to be some sort of qualification metric (for books, movies, drivers, people, etc. -- stamp 'em all), but unless we do it computationally, it'll always be facocked by us idiot humans ;)

Marsha Sigman said...

Anon 12:52-It does not matter what your political affiliation is. I think this is about haveing less labels, not more. Might want to take that lesson to heart.

~Aimee States said...

I skipped reading the comments because I knew I wouldn't be able to stomach it.


We should start labeling food in the grocery store for potential allergens, too. Right? Oh wait, we do. It's called the fine print.

Like everything else in life, put down whatever idiotic junk you're wasting your time with and KNOW WHAT YOUR KIDS ARE READING. It has fine print, look into it.

The end.

Syphus Circus said...

only if it comes from industry and not from government

Lucy said...

Personally I don't think a book rating system would be censorship, I just think it would be impossible. Trying to assign objective ratings for violence, sexuality, thematic content, language, etc., would be about the biggest can of worms that the publishing industry could open. So, no, I don't believe it's that great of an idea.

Rachel said...

No, no, and hell no.

My mother allowed me to read anything I could get my hands on as a child, therefore I always read above my age level. I am very glad I read books that were for adults and YA because I got to "experience" more mature themes that I otherwise would have been ignorant about, thus it would have hindered my social and economic progress in the real world.

In my opinion, you are hindering your child's education and socialization by not allowing them to read the books that interest them. If you have an issue with the book, always be open to discussion after they have read it. Otherwise you could potentially hurt your child emotionally by making them feel guilty and dirty for secretly reading what you told them not to. "Oh, but my child wouldn't read something I told them not to!" Yeah, and I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.

Literary Cowgirl said...

One more thing.

What are we paying librarians for?

Aren't they there to do more than just catalog books?

Karen Schwabach said...

No, they shouldn't.

Personally I don't like to see kids' books with really explicit sex scenes, but now that YA is more often being shelved with adult books, there's less risk of a small child reading that stuff without expecting to. And most such books don't seem to end up being very popular anyway.

When I see that people would like to have warnings if the book contains gay characters or kids whose parents are in jail, I see that there's no telling where the lines could end up being drawn. What's objectionable about these things? I can't imagine!

As a writer of kids' books I also don't like the idea of having to keep a mental scoresheet of what taboos I'm breaking.

Audrianna said...

I don't really know how to answer this one, for several reasons:

One - I was ten when I first read Dean Koontz, tweleve when I read Stephen King, and fifteen when I read Jude Deveraux. So I never had guidelines put on me.

Two - to me if you really don't want your kid reading books with "mature" or "violent" material, read the dang book yourself. How do the raters know what to deem good and bad? If my parents haven't seen a movie that has a higher rating, they won't let my younger brother see it until after they do.

Three - Ummmm...okay, so I only had two reasons, but I guess that I disagree with the ratings because if the parents want to find a "clean" book, they can pick it up.

Marilyn Peake said...

I just finished reading all the comments. Interesting discussion, especially about whether ot not ratings lead to censorship. Personally, I think ratings along with descriptions of why each rating was applied are simply helpful guides – and, not only for children, as many adults don’t like to see certain types of movies. Censorship of books and other school materials frequently has nothing to do with sex and violence ratings, but is often more political in nature. Think about all the school districts that didn’t allow President Obama’s back-to-school speech to be shown to their students.

Karen Schwabach said...

(PS-- my next book has a gay couple *and* a kid whose parent is in jail.)

lora96 said...

As both a teacher and a former gifted child, we need ratings.

Like heather sunseri said, parents do their best to monitor but it's impractical to screen every book they can lay their eager little hands on. A simple system would be beneficial.

Also, any 2nd grade teacher who snagged Eric Carle's Draw me a Star off the shelf and found an illustration of a naked man and woman halfway through read aloud would REALLY BENEFIT from some judicious guidelines :)


lora96 said...

Also, lack of content ratings may have been an issue in my childhood.

I read waaay above grade level and discovered the Sweet Valley High books at age 9 (inappropriate) and had read Ken Follett by the time I was 14 (BEYOND inappropriate).

Admittedly there were fewer excellent YA books available back in the day, but a simple age appropriateness sticker on the cover would've been helpful.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

More thoughts:

Parents can check out TV shows, websites, and movies for content. In that same vein, they can actually READ the book their children are going to read. Hell, you can even opt your kid out of sex-ed or listening to the President talk. My point? Parents who actually parent their kids have choices.

Labels don't fix these issues. If you don't want your kid to hear some language or see some content, then PARENT THEM. Manage your own family. But don't put constraints on what artists can say or do.

It's already happening, though. Walmart won't sell music with a content warning. Some groups, like Green Day, say fuck 'em. Some are forced to sell out. Honestly, artists already have enough problems getting their work to market without labels.

I say let the marketplace decide.

Kimber An said...

Censorship is an adult thing.

Censoring what children read is called Good Parenting.

No, we can't do everything, but we sure as heck can try. Good parents try their darnedest to do their best the best they know how.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Also, give kids some credit. My 10 year old knows far more about sex and violence and swearing than he lets on to me. He's also sweet and well-adjusted.

Keren David said...

Nathan (the other one!) argued for content descriptions on books and said: 'Leave the "too" to the parents. They'll determine what's appropriate or not, and to what degree for their own children. As parents, that is their right.'

No! It's the child's right to decide what they want to read. The parent may want to read the book too, and discuss it with the child. But it's not a parent's job to impose restrictions and censorship. If a parent tries to control everything about a child's life, including its access to literature, then the parent is far too involved in the child's life. Children need the freedom to learn, think and form their own opinions.

Anyway who would administer the ratings? How would limits be set? Would you ban children from reading un-rated 'adult' books? Or make all adult literature 18? Would bookshops ask children for ID?
I was looking at a book that my 13 year old daughter loves the other day. I didn't really like all the bad language in the book. But I know she hears much worse at school every day, and I know that she knows not to use language like that at home. And the book gives us a different way to discuss these issues.
I also think that Crystal's comments show that there's no way that people could agree on what ratings should rate. Bad language? Sex? Parents in prison? Gay couples? The supernatural? I find the very idea offensive - as a writer and as a mother.

Anonymous said...

I think that as a reader (and when I'm a parent some day), I would welcome content labels (not ratings) like the ones that now show up as extra info with film ratings and tv shows. However, I'm not sure such a thing could be implemented without a hue, a cry, and tons of drama.

A couple of commenters said that a book isn't the same as tv or a movie because it isn't visual. I completely disagree. A well-written book is far more visual than half the stuff we view onscreen.

I do want to agree with this quote though. I strenuously disagree with the assertion that movies or visual images are always more striking or affecting than the written word. A book describing in detail the experience of being tortured or physically injured can be far more disturbing than a movie with cheesy special effects or even more realistic ones. Writing can take the reader into the mind and experience of various things in a different way than movies usually do.

Also, romance novels provide far more info (even for a relatively naive reader) than a rom com with two movie stars under a sheet.

Bane of Anubis said...

For those who think children should be able to decide what they want to read without restriction, should they also be able to decide whether or not to go to school?

Kids need some direction (Hell, adults need direction, too, just, hopefully not as much) and that's what parents are for (and you just hope they don't cock it up too much).

Anonymous said...

When I answered this question, I was imagining my children between the ages of 8 and 12.

What age ranger are people talking about here? I mean, can the kids drive themselves to Borders and buy their own books?

I get the impression that some people are talking about five year olds and others are talking about high school seniors – and some, are talking about themselves.

And I distinctly get the impression that some writers do not want parents to interfere with children buying their books. Which is insane. Who do you think drives the kids to the bookstore or the public library and encourages their children to read?

Whereas, I respect everyone's rights to write and read about anything they want, I personally don't want my children reading a book about a pair of gay, murdering parents that some marketing- ad-employee has cleverly billed as "a charming coming of age novel that explores today's complex social issues." Talk about subjective!

How do parents make decisions about books? We read the very subjective jacket and pray that that ALL of the content is suitable for our children.

For those of you who think there should be no rating, but also think parents should read everything before their children do - do you hear yourselves? You don't want intelligent guidance but you support a dictatorship?

And for those that say - that's just the real world - please . Your children may hear profanity in school, and they may hear about sex from your cool friends' kids - but my children do not.

Some of these comments sound like their coming from writers with no children - or - from parents that have thrown in the towel.

Luisa Perkins said...

As a mother of six children, I'd love it if there were some way to know what kind of "content" is in a book I'm not familiar with. Parents are *supposed* to censor for their children; it's part of our job.

As a writer, why would I have a problem with that? It would avoid receiving a certain amount of unhappy mail from readers or parents of readers.

D. G. Hudson said...

I don't like censorship for adults, but books for children do need some sort of age or content rating.

What one family considers age-appropriate may differ from another family when you consider the other factors like religion, region of the country, rural or urban, etc.

My husband thinks the term 'children's books' should identify what is appropriate, but that means we are expecting that the writer has a certain code of ethics or adhers to some vague code of age-appropriateness.

Each generation has certain expectations of what is appropriate, but as a parent of two daughters I know I always liked some indication of what books and toys were appropriate for the age.

We must remember that these are minors that we are dealing with, at an impressionable age. What damage can be done if there is no monitoring on what they are reading?

Jil said...

I agree with the folks who want to know the content. Each child is different. A "judge" may give a book which contains farm animals mating a bad rating whereas a kid brought up on a farm would think nothing of it. I'd want to know the exact content to choose for my kids (if I had any which I don't).

Actually many of the books hidden from me as a child, when I did get around to reading them, had nothing shocking that I could find. Disappointment!
Bad language should be commented on as kids can easily pick those words up and use them without thinking. If I were a parent I would eschew those books before any other

Literary Cowgirl said...

I do think we need to rely on librarians in this area. I was also labelled gifted, as a child. I attended a school that ran grades 6 through 12. There were two sides to the library. I was allowed to cross to the other side in my first year. The librarian took me straight to a section of classics, and I wondered very little from it. The odd time I did, she would suggest that I try something different. That was the single biggest year of literary discovery for me, and I wouldn't have made it through the next six years, if she hadn't done that for me.

The other major source of books is the bookstore. Mom and Dad are forking the money out there. If you don't know what your children are spending their money on, you have a lot more problems than what books they're reading.

Yes, it's hard to know about every book your child is reading, but there are usually blurbs on the back that can give you a good indication.

As for curiousity, there is no fighting it. Anyone remember the one kid in school who stole a Playboy from his dad and charged the rest of the kids a buck to see it? It happens.

Kids are more influenced by what goes on in the home of their parents and the parents of their friends, than by a peek here and there.

Q said...

I put yes not so that parents could tell their kids what to read, but because I would rather like to know what I'm getting myself into when I start a book. I worry about rating systems, though, and who makes them, and how accurate they are.

Kids should choose what they want to read. Parents should trust them to not choose anything they aren't ready for.

Kristin Laughtin said...

The problem with rating systems is that they're subjective. Even if one board thinks a book is only appropriate for a certain age, other people might disagree. And when it comes to movies and video games, I know a great many kids who want to view/play the more mature titles only because they're more mature and thus "cooler". I don't think a rating system constitutes censorship, but I wonder how it would be set up and enforced. (Would we refuse to sell a nine-year-old a book rated 10 and up, even if it's a mature nine-year-old who would have no problem with the content? What if they try to check out the book at the library?)

If anything, maybe a "mature" label would work for books with graphic sexual and/or violent content that is meant for adult readers would be OK, without too much division below that. I don't think I'd have too much of a problem with a content advisory (say, a warning that a book contains a broad theme that some parents might find objectionable, e.g. sexual content, violence, drug use, etc.), as long as there weren't prohibitions about who could or couldn't purchase a book. They'd have to be more informative than legislative. (Although, working in a library, I can foresee how many more books people would try to ban if we did have such a system...)

katrin said...

I have a thirteen year old, and it's almost impossible for me to figure out what books to buy her. I don't want to INTRODUCE her to ideas if she's not ready for them yet! It would be great to know a little bit more about the kind of content these books have.

Melissa Pearl said...

As a school teacher, I am pro rating books. Some of the material the kids bring to school is way beyond what I think they should be dealing with at the age of 11 and 12. I'm sure half their parents have no idea what they're reading about.
I was teaching narrative writing in a Grade 7 class the other day and one of the students presented me with a story idea that involved a father raping her daughter. Some may disagree with me here, but I don't think a 12 year old should be coming up with ideas like that. She said she had based it on a book she recently read.
Now rating this particular book may not have stopped her from reading it, but it would have given her parents a heads up.
I don't think sales would be drastically affected by rating books. Movies certainly don't suffer.

jmartinlibrarian said...

Rating system for books? Groan. It's bad enough that many schools won't let kids check out books which are not on the "right" lexile or quiz level; let's not stifle the reading experience further by rating content.

Ratings of content are wildly subjective, anyway. On mommy's PG rating is another's XXX.

If my little darling stumbles upon something too mature, we put the book down and find something else. I don't feel the need to label the book.

No, no, no, please no...I shudder to think of book ratings.

jonas wunderman said...

This has to be a NO. A clear NO. Please don't let go down this road. There is one question which pretty much covers all of it - who decides? Who sits down and decides that 16 year olds can buy this, but 15 year olds cant? This is what parents are supposed to be doing, right? There is so much to be said on this subject, so much, that there is in fact no point even beginning to have a discussion about it. The whole idea should be off limits.

jmartinlibrarian said...

Rating system for books? Groan. It's bad enough that many schools won't let kids check out books which are not on the "right" lexile or quiz level; let's not stifle the reading experience further by rating content.

Ratings of content are wildly subjective, anyway. On mommy's PG rating is another's XXX.

If my little darling stumbles upon something too mature, we put the book down and find something else. I don't feel the need to label the book.

No, no, no, please no...I shudder to think of book ratings.

Shell said...

Rating and censorship are not the same thing at all. One is information, the other is inflicting your judgment on other people. I like to read YA and I have a son who reads YA. We don't have the exact same tastes, which is good, because some of the YA I own I wouldn't want my son to read and some of the YA out there I don't even want me to read. There have been very few times I have told my son I don't want him to read a book, and those times have always been after I've read a book that he has already read and I wasn't comfortable with where I thought the series was going. As a mother, I would like the heads up on explicit content so I could check it out and judge for myself.

Bane of Anubis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karla Doyle said...

Okay, I realize the issue here is BOOKS, but I have to pose a question. To the commenters who believe that a child should be allowed to read whatever they want and be trusted to know when something isn't appropriate....

Are you also opposed to using parental controls on the internet or your cable television box?
Do you call this censorship or responsible parenting?

Let's be realistic. Even the most involved, hands-on parent can't pre-read, pre-watch, and pre-approve every little thing their child ABSORBS. Unless there are more hours in the day than I was aware of...

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan, I think you need to expand the poll and add demographic qualifiers the next time you ask this question :)

Shennandoah Diaz said...

Movies have them, why not books? I have a seven year old and rely on ratings and reviews to tell me whether or not the content is appropriate for her. I am in NO WAY whatsoever supporting censorship. Everyone has the right to be heard, I also have the right not to listen/read and to decide what is appropriate for my child.

robin said...

I review books for my website, and I do add some indicators of sex, violence, or language. Mostly this is for parents who don't have the time to read what their kids are reading -- so they can discuss it afterward. I don't like the idea of keeping kids from reading books, but I do think parents should have an idea of content simply so they can use those books to share their own hearts with their kids. Plus, there are books which I wouldn't let my 7-year old read YET (though his reading level is far above his comprehension level)...he's just too young to get certain things.

Sally V Johnson said...

Not a simple question, but as a mother of 5, 4 and 4 year old kids whose tolerance of various subjects vary greatly, I think such a system is a big fat waste of everyone's time.

I think descriptive synopses, including some bullet points of specific hot button content (sex, violence, language) would be more useful.

But ultimately, my disagreement is with the culture of shielding our children from scary stuff. I disagree with it, but understand why parents want qualitative info. from which to make decisions.

Sam Hranac said...

Someone asked, "PG" according to what standards? "R" according to whose standards?

I have to agree. I mean, I would love a rating system that made sense to me, personally. For instance, could I get one that let's me know which books give my daughter expansive role models as apposed to the choice of geeky brain, slut, bitch or Gidget wanna be?

Lis Garrett said...

Coincidentally, the book I'm currently writing is a YA whose main character is a 15-year-old girl. As with most girls that age, she finds herself exploring "new" feelings for an older boy. Although I could certainly write the story with a sexual slant, that's not what the story is about. And while I'm not ignoring that aspect of their blossoming relationship, I'd give it a PG rating.

Some of my group readers, as well as other mom bloggers, and I, have been discussing this very issue lately. Twilight was used as an example only because most of us have read it. Being the mother of a 10-year-old tween, I would let her read the series, even though it is sexually suggestive in parts (PG-13). However, there is NO way I would let her read another YA vampire series - The House of Night (R). While I very much enjoyed the eroticism mixed in the plot, I'm not ready for her to be reading about certain sexual acts. I recognized, even before reading the series, that it was probably age inappropriate for my daughter, even though she reads at that grade level.

How can any parent know for sure what's in her kids' books unless she first reads them? I don't always have the time to screen my daughter's books (movies, music), so a rating system would be extremely helpful to alert me of any sexually explicit or controversial topics so I could then make more of an informed decision about whether or not to let her read them.

Topaz said...

I think a code system would be so much better than a rating system. And I think it would be helpful in any book. When I worked in a bookstore one day a lady returned a book because she said there was too much sex in it. If there had been an "S" inside the book somewhere indicating that there were sexual scenes she wouldn't have bought something that made her uncomfortable. It would help parents pick appropriate reading material for their kids. When I was an older child my parents were totally okay with us watching violent R movies, but the PG-13s with all the sex were not okay. I think there's a lot of possibility for something like this to be misused, but I can't help but think that if a potential reader could check and make sure that the things that make them (or their parents) uncomfortable aren't in there they might take a chance on more books. I don't like censorship, but a way for readers to make a more informed decision before they buy could definitely be a good thing.

Kate said...

I think that this would be a good thing, because grade level often reflects word complexity not content. There are some books that teens may love, that could be really scary for children, or may simply deal with issues a child isn't ready handle.

I don't think libraries and bookstores should censor readership. If a 10 year old wants to check out a YA book that is rated "teen" that's okay. But if a parent wants to be able to look at the back of a YA book and see "rated teen for graphic violence" maybe they will want to make sure their kid doesn't read it right before bed.

Sissy said...

This is really an interesting discussion as it was in August, and there are so many ways to look at this issue. As a writer, I want the freedom to include what I want. As a librarian, yes, it would be helpful to have more age range information on book jackets, or content information. Even in the YA section, there are books that I can shelve at school and some that I can't. Usually, it's excessive drugs, drinking and sex that get sent back to the bookstore or I hear about it from parents.

The problem is this, for those of us school librarians: if we shelve something, parents assume it is our personal recommendation. It's a wrong assumption. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it will meet with all the moral requirements that parents have for their kids. It's a big responsibility, when parents come back and yell at me for the smut I allowed their children to read. The content information would be helpful, for just that reason.

As a reader of YA and an aspiring writer, I wouldn't care. As a potential parent, I might.

It's really all a big muddle, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

It might be helpful. Here's a few suggestions on particulars.

(1)Strictly voluntary

(2)Up to 2 ratings per book. Can be rated by author and/or publisher, both or neither. Author and publisher ratings need not agree.

(3) Suggested rating categories.

Disgustingly nicey-nice


On the edge

Over the Edge

And an "unrated" rating "Read it and find out".

(4) Readers could post their own ratings, using these categories, on sales and review sites. This would supplement the ratings published with the book.


Chase March said...

I took an online course to upgrade my teaching credentials and we had to make a list of books that we thought would be good to use in the classroom. I searched the library stacks and found a book that jumped out at me. I really loved the style of it since it used poems, journal entries, and SAT words worked directly into the narrative. So I recommended it.

But then I read it and had to withdraw my recommendation. I think parents would've been mad at me if it introduced it to my students because of the mature themes.

I enjoyed the book but as a teacher, I need to be careful of what I bring into my classroom. As such, I would like to see ratings on books. We already have them on TV shows, movies, and video games. So why not books too?

Suzann said...

I'm a grown-up, a mom and a writer, thus a former and perpetual kid. A rating system is just one more shortcut parents can "rely" on rather than be parents, pay attention, even share in what their children read, their likes and dislikes--both content and authors.

Let individual parents judge what's appropriate for their kids by topic and reading level. Do a little homework. Maybe try something rash like reading the jacket copy, perhaps even the book, before accepting or rejecting it.

A Paperback Writer said...

I would be all in favor of a rating system if it had warning categories like:
1) Plotless -- inappropriate for anyone not into post-modernism
2) Helpless/Stupid Female Character Warning -- inappropriate for any teen
3)Living In The Past -- warning: this book has a 16-year-old narrator who speaks as if s/he's 45 OR warning: this book was written by someone who does not know what texting, twitter, and myspace are and contains characters who cheat by passing notes in class and wait by the phone at home for calls.
4) Complete Drivel Warning (self-explanatory)

These categories concern me a great deal more than sex and violence. And to all these parents whining that you don't have time to read what your kids are reading, maybe it's time you made time to have a look at it AND TALK ABOUT IT. Your kids would learn a lot more that way than if you just censor a book in your home. They'll learn analysis, evaluation, and debate skills, as opposed to learning that adults are afraid to talk about some topics.
I teach junior high. I know what happens to the kids whose parents censor their reading material at home; 90% of them read the stuff at school or at a friend's house just to spite their parents -- even when they agree that the book is too violent or too whatever.
Also, banning a book you've never read before is rather cowardly, people. Read it, then decide. Then explain to the kid why it's not going into your home library. Teach your kids to make informed decisions, not ones based on prejudices or phobias.

Laurie said...

It's sad to think we've come to a time when it's even conceiveable that childrens books need to be "rated" for violence, sex, or other content. You should be able to go to the "kids section" in a bookstore and know that whatever you pick up for your child is "safe" in terms of vocabulary, lack of violence, no sexual terms or innuendo, and drugs etc. Authors who rely on these crutches and call themselves "childrens authors" should go peddle their manuscripts elsewhere...there's lot of markets for that kind of writing.

Anonymous said...


I understand your viewpoint. But I thibnk books have changed because life has changed. Many, though by no means all, kids are routinely exposed to sex and violence in their home or being aware of it in the lifestyles of other kids. If they can encounter it in real life, why not in print?


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The movie rating board has been under fire for years by people who disagree with the choices made by the panel (who are for the most part anonymous, by the way). Distribution of films (how many theater screens, etc) is impacted by the ratings, so it matters a lot to the filmmakers.
I don't buy the argument that parents don't have time to check out books their kids read. The internet is so easy and overflowing with reviews, and it doesn't take that long to flip through pages while in a bookstore to see if language or topic disturbs you.
I think publishers should not play down a book that deals with mature topics, though. The bookjacket should make clear where the reader is going.
But no panel should be making rating choices for the rest of us.

Marva said...

Totally against censorship, but have to think underage (14?) should have some control by parents. If they're right-wing ideologues, then God Bless the Child.

Eoghann Irving said...

Hmm, so a number of questions have been raised by those in favor of some rating system.

1) Would those opposed to it have a different view if they were a parent?

Nope, I am a parent.

2) Do you disagree with ratings on movies and games?

Yup, actually I do. In all cases the systems have proved to be ineffective at best and creatively limiting at worst.

3) Do I disagree with parental control systems on the TV and internet?

Yes, actually I do. I don't use parental controls on the TV. I do have a very basic blocker on the computer, but my children are 4 so it's really more about blocking chat rooms etc.

It is a parent's right to raise their children how they see fit, but I'm a little irritated by those who seem to think that by checking every book that goes through their children's hands they are somehow parenting better than those who don't do this.

Once I was old enough to buy books myself (from about age 10 onwards) my parents never once filtered the books I could read. They didn't really filter my tv watching either beyond the most basic level that when young I would be in bed before anything really strong came on tv (pre-VHS days).

I'm confident that I can instill appropriate values in my sons without having to limit what they can read or see.

J.J. Bennett said...

After we had the conversation on your blog Nathan, I used it on my blog last week.

Personally I love the idea. I'm more concerned about sexual content,and violence than anything else. Alot of these "cartoon type" books, and "teen" novels are full of this. It's hard to know what to buy for schools when there's no way to tell the content (unless you read the book before hand or look it up on Amazon). When suppling libraries it's tough. My librarian tends to buy only from certain companies because of this. Is that really fair for others out there trying to sell their books? I don't think so. Students request things... sometimes it's a great book, then sometimes we have to tear it up because of content. A waste of tax payers money if you ask me. Anyways...that's just the way I see it.

As a parent I read what my daughter reads and trust the areas of the library she finds books in, as a way to know if it's for her age group or not.

reader said...

To the people that say: "Movies have them, why not books?"

Movies are VISUAL. Does a seven year old need to watch an R rated movie sex scene? Heck, no.

A seven year old, however, would NOT READ an "adult" book on their own, because they couldn't get through the vocabulary. After you had to sound out fifteen words you didn't know on the first page, you'd give up. The lack of shiny, colorful pictures would also be a great detriment. So, the argument movies have 'em doesn't hold up.

Anonymous said...

Shame on anyone who is "tearing up a book" because there is, gasp, something they don't argee with.

God, that is soooo wrong.

Jen C said...

I voted yes, because I think it might be helpful to parents to know what's actually in the book. If I had children I would want to know. Not that it would necessarily stop me from letting them read the book, just that I would know what they were reading and maybe be able to talk to them about the subjects before they did.

Saying that, I was reading adult books, unsupervised, in primary school (I mean like Piers Anthony - super adult content!). And I turned out alright... didn't I??

J.J. Bennett said...

reader said,

You're right but teens will. They look for the content...that's why ratings would help those who purchase teen books.

J. L. Bell said...

"Ratings" involve coming up with and applying a shorthand for what kids might find troubling or parents find objectionable. That's bound to be subjective, and history shows it to be discriminatory.

There might be a case for establishing a system of advisories about children's book content (e.g, violence, dying pets, sex talk without any actual sex, dead mothers, etc.). But book covers are usually good guides to maturity level and content already.

Then again, with books going digital, they won't necessarily have covers.

Leigha said...

I don't think it's a bad idea because I am a VPK teacher and I am required to have diversity books in my classroom. These books can range from divorce, having two mommies or 2 daddies, or even books that talk about girls doing what boys do and vice versa. There is always some parent that does not agree with all of the books. Every book is age appropriate however I find for some reason a lot of parents are more satisfied if there is a rating on things. The book that was questioned the most in my room was called "Everybody Poops" Of course this was also the favorite of all the kids.

HWPetty said...

As a YA author and someone who participated in the twitter chat that inspired this, I'm completely against ratings and content warnings. There are two main reasons why I think it'll never work:

1. Who decides what constitutes sexual content? Are fade to black scenes sex content? Heavy kissing? A mere mention of sex?

How much bad language deserves a language warning? Which words are worse than others?

The problem with ratings/warnings is that everyone has their own definition of what is appropriate. And sadly, these "warnings" will FOR SURE be used to censor content from school libraries, which restricts access for all the kids who rely on school libraries to supply them with reading material.

2. It won't work how you want it to.

Looking to the video game industry, the parent who actually uses the rating system to determine whether or not to buy the game... is the extreme exception. Seriously extreme.

But you know who uses ratings and warnings? Kids. They use them to make sure there's plenty of naughty content. As one of the guys in the #kidlit chat said, if TV programs had ratings when he was a kid, he wouldn't have wasted time on anything without nudity.

Paul Äertker said...

I'm just happy that I'm first to comment.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I'd love to see all books with a code of some sort on the cover. My teenager doesn't like to read sex and bad language and has brought books to me, disgusted at the content. To make a blanket statement that all kids will try to find the "naughty" books isn't true. I know many youth who are turned off by explicit sex and vulgar language. Parents do need to be in touch with what the kids are reading, but with three kids who all have very different tastes, plus my reading list, and the books I review, I don't have time to keep up with it all.

I don't even like to read those things myself and wish there were some way that I could find out some of the content of a book before I start reading it. Flipping through the pages before buying doesn't always give enough info.

vacuumqueen said...

OH my gosh, I'm scanning through opinions and I ran across an anonymous comment that said something like, "I can't understand why people don't pre read their kids books."

WTH? My 6th grader reads 200-300 pages a day. I've got 1st grader who reads independently at a quick rate, but she reads Beverly Cleary type of stuff and A-Z Mysteries, so I know it's ok and clean. But add a 3 year old child who requires me to read to him each tell me when I can preread 6 or 7 MG or YA books a week. I try, but geez....I have a house to run too, so it's really not possible to pre read everything.

Bamboo Grovers said...

I voted no. Even a descriptive synopsis is not helpful. I remember checking out the kidsinmind website to see if my son would be okay watching The Incredibles movie. He was about 4 or 5 at the time, and very prone to nightmares and having disturbing images stuck in his mind. I read the synopsis and thought, no way. Then a few months later he saw the movie at his friend's house and laughed his head off. He came home and begged me to watch it with him again. You cannot judge the tone/feel of a book (or movie) by its content.
Becasue ratings and content advisories can so often be misleading in this way, they are hardly worth it. Reading reviews or reading it for yourself are the way to go.

Steph Damore said...

Wow, I'm lovin' all the comments. Especially the ones that compare book ratings with other media such as movies, music and video games.

I for one voted "yes" mainly because I don't think a rating system would hurt. They seem to serve these other industries well. And I agree with others who want to be "informed parents" (even though I'm not a parent).

This comment also got me thinking - Don't publishers already act as a watchdog? Meaning, don't they generally shun YA writing with too mature of content?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'll be one of the only commenters to say that 1) I pretty much read whatever I wanted to as a child and 2) on occasion, it absolutely traumatized me. I was a gifted reader (read college level in 5th grade) with no direction from adults at all. My mom did once discover me reading one of the 'Exorcist' books (at 11) and threw it out the car window, but not before I'd read about anal sex, which I regret learning about at that age. For those who welcome exposing anyone who can read to whatever books they pick up, tell me how in the he** did this knowledge benefit me? Meanwhile, I didn't discover The Chronicles of Narnia or A Wrinkle in Time or any other classic children's books because I was totally on my own.

Yes, children often know what they want to read, but not all of them do. Sometimes they read things without knowing what they're reading and find out something they weren't prepared to know. They're children after all. Many here would say tough cookies or the parents should just do damage control.

Yes, there are already categories to help parents, but YA is just too broad. There's a world of difference between your average 12-year-old and your average 21-year-old, both of whom are targeted as "Young Adult."

Putting out more information about content isn't the slippery slope most worry about. We put ages on everything, from driving a car to drinking, so what's wrong with a finer banding on YA book titles? No one's going to card, so it really only helps those parents who are doing the dance between responsible interaction and letting their children explore on their own.

As a parent, I use a movie review site,, to get more information on PG-13 movies. The site combines 3 separate ratings (sex/nudity, violence/gore, and profanity) with a detailed scene-by-scene synopsis for each category. An overall message for the story is given. This is all done in a non-biased, objective manner. The ratings appear to derive from the number of times events in the movie match a category. I wouldn't mind a review site like this for YA books.

sunnystories said...

I voted good idea. A cover code would allow a choice. One that could easier be made "before" the read not after.

KayKayBe said...

Every time I go to the movies, I see parents with young children (infants and kids 4-5 who are old enough to stay awake in PG-13 movies. Why would they be any more discerning with books?

I'm last to comment? That's awesome! I love getting the final word.

Anonymous said...

@BambooGrovers: No, the movie review site kids-in-mind isn't by itself completely adequate, but it's certainly more information than parents get without pre-screening everything. I've used it to decide whether to watch a movie first, from Elizabeth: The Golden Age (nope, my 10-year-old didn't get to see a movie where someone's tongue is cut out, no matter how brief and out-of-focus the scene was) to Twilight, which sounded scarier in the review than the movie actually was.

I'll take imperfect information to no information any day. I'd rather err on the side of caution than to just throw up my hands. Will I get it for the YA category for my kids? No.

Crystal said...

I think what I said is being taken the wrong way. I'm not saying that a gay couple in a book is inappropriate, or that gays and people in jail are grouped in the same social class. What I was trying to say is, not all parents wish to have their children exposed to those situations in a book. When I think of childrens books, I think of books being read to five and four year olds, not YA novels. If parents don't want their children exposed to any sort of content in a book, and having a rating on that book will help them keep their children away from the content they disapprove of, then I'm all for the ratings systems. Just because one parent is OK with exposing their kid to something (like persay a gay relationship) doesn't mean that another parent would be OK with it. So in my opinion, that is what the rating system would be good for; to help parents keep their children away from topics they don't wish for them to read. I'm sorry if I didn't get that across, or if I offended anyone because of my previous comment.


Maureen said...

As a parent, I really feel that books provide a way for children to explore the world and their emotions from a safe place. I am really against any type of content rating because I believe it will lead to censorship. To me, the YA designation indicates mature content. I feel that by the time kids get to high school, parents should be aware of what they are reading but not censoring them. This is a time to be open and willing to discuss difficult topics. Everyone has their own definition of what is or is not appropriate. The question then becomes, who will decide on content labels or ratings. It's a tricky subject and I hope the publishing industry proceeds very slowly.

Anonymous said...

PS- I would use a site for books like like mad. I use it every single time I get a movie for the kids.

Like an earlier commenter, I read above grade level and read many things that were very troubling to me as a young girl.

I also think that 'inappropriate' books are possibly more damaging (yes, I mean damaging) than similar movies because you create the scene and engage in a way that is more intimate than merely watching it. Ever thought the book was better than the movie? Then you know what I mean.

But, I believe that it should be up to parents to guide their children. I'm not responsible for what other parents do, just what I do, and I'm okay with that.

Donna Hole said...

I voted its a good idea.

I don't think of it as censorship. Parents are constantly reminded that they are "in charge" of the information their children are exposed to. So, putting a rating on a book lets parents (and our older children also) make informed choices. That's not the same as banning a book entirely because of it's content.


redhorse said...

I know I'm late to this commenting party, so I apologize if it appears I've thieved someone's thoughts: but if a book needs a rating, then it's not a book for children.

Anonymous said...

This is to those parents who say that they cannot possibly read all the books that their children want to read before they read them: WHAT???? I am a parent and until my daughter turned thirteen, I read everything or had read everything before she read it. If you cannot be bothered to do this for your children now (afterall, how long does it take to read a third or fourth grade chapter book?) you probably won't read the "warning" label on the book either!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous who was fortunate enough to be able to read every book her daughter read up to the age of 13, good for you. However, for those of us with multiple gifted readers, it really, really is impossible to pre-read everything. We aren't copping out. I did read everything until they got to be 10 or 11 and read voraciously, constantly, like alcoholics and sometimes faster than I could. After all, I don't have the same amount of free time. Count yourself lucky and don't be so sure you're right.

To those who identify "children" only with the ages of 10 and under, some of us are broadening the range to include children who read YA, which is marketed to 12+. If you don't think a 12-year-old, or even 15-year-old, is a child, well then you're right to say that we don't need any labeling on children's books.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:20pm,

Well, good for you.

What a pretentious and sanctimonious post.

Although I am happy for you that your daily schedule is so open that you have time to read every book that your thirteen year old ever thinks about reading, please don’t presume that those of us who don’t have as much free time on our hands don’t care about what our children are reading.

As a more time-challenged parent, I'd appreciate a rating system.

number1prof said...

This would create such a nightmare for schools and school libraries! As it is, any movie above a G rating requires a parent permission slip - since the P in PG is parental. Can you imagine if every book in a Middle School library rated above a G required a written/signed parent permission slip? The kids would never get to use the library!

Jane said...

Deciding my opinion on this has been really hard because of the intelligently formulated arguments for both sides on this comment board. As a 17-year-old, I feel I have to join in somehow.

I believe that the categories already put on books for young people are enough e.g. YA, middle-grade, etc. I agree with a previous commenter that each category has its own connotation. Any further information can be gleaned from the book jacket and maybe scanning a couple of pages.

I feel like the things adults are trying to protect me from content-wise are things I need to exposed to. You're right. There IS more violent and sex-related imagery than ever. But would you rather I be totally encased in a bubble then face the real world as an adult with no idea what I'm dealing with?

I know that parents want some help on deciding what is appropriate, but books are so subjective. Who can know what is better for YOUR children than you? It's going to take a bit more work, but we all agree getting children to read from an early age is tantamount.

A few people have decided that Harry Potter books need to be banned because it teaches Wicca and Satanism. With all due respect, there is no way I'd want those people in charge of any type of book-rating system. Do you?

Linda Austin said...

I vote for content statements as ratings are too vague. Parents have a right to know what their child is reading or watching and control that as necessary - whether anyone else agrees with their standards or not. Content statements would let parents know if a book might not be appropriate for their particular child or may need to be discussed. My gripe is with school libraries where I may never see the books my child checks out - I learned I can't trust our middle school library to keep out what would be R-rated fiction.

Rachel said...

Do you mean children's books or middle grade/young adult? Pardon me if I'm being naive, but children's books shouldn't be rated because they should be appropriate for young children...right?

Anonymous said...


Content is relevant for parents who are deciding what they want their children exposed to. Some parents have no problem with metaphysical or superstitious fiction... while others care very much.

One of the most basic freedoms and yes, responsibilities, that any parent has is deciding how we want to raise our children.

Parents supposedly know their children better than anyone - that is until their children hit fifteen, change overnight, and never share their secrets again until they themselves are parents - and since we are legally responsible for their behavior, well-being and financial care, shouldn’t we be empowered with a little more information that helps us guide our children?

I used to be a ‘let it all hang out’ and ‘to each his own’ teenager, but you’d be amazed at how much you change when you face the responsibility of raising a child in and protecting your child from an ‘in-your-face’ society.

I still marvel at how much I love my children, and I marvel at how much I want them to be free of today’s information overload so that they may have a childhood that many children are deprived of because they are exposed to adult content in almost all mediums.

Icy Roses said...

Here is my detailed answer:

Anonymous said...

"I did read everything until they got to be 10 or 11 and read voraciously, constantly, like alcoholics..." Anon 8:29

Alcoholics read voraciously??

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