Books, Kids, Parents and Graphic Content

A discussion about violence in fiction (specifically YA and Middle-grade) in the comments section of a post by agent Nathan Bransford has left me with the need toss my two cents out there.  Perhaps more than two cents.  I don’t often pull out a soap box, but this might be one of the times I do.  Consider yourself forewarned.

The thing is, while people’s comments came down in just about every possible position on censorship and what is or isn’t appropriate levels of violence in kids’ novels, one common assumption was that it’s the parents job to pick out appropriate books and watch over their kids’ reading.  And I heartily agree, so no problems there.

The difficulty is that some commenters strongly implied that if a parent isn’t reading all their kids’ fiction books before they can fall into the child’s grubby little paws, they’re a bad parent.  Or, at least, not terribly involved and perhaps a tad irresponsible.


As a parent, I know my kids’ interests, discuss books with them, and chat over life, the universe and everything.  It would be easy to argue that my greatest challenges as a mother is stepping back and allow my kids space, to let them grow in independence.  But I haven’t the chance of an ice cube in the Sahara at noon of pre-reading every one of the books my kids read.  I’m sure with kids that read a book every other week, that could be done.  Maybe if they read a book or two a week.  But it’s not unusual for a child of mine on a reading kick to consume four or five books in a week.  Often big fat books, mind.

Uhm, folks, they’ve got more free time than me–I can’t keep up with that!

And what about families with a wondrous, reading child plunked down in the midst of non-readers, or casual readers?  Who is going to guide that child’s fiction consumption?  To assume that every reading child is followed around by a parent with the time and energy to pre-read or read in tandem every book consumed by that child is just naive.

Now, as I writer, I don’t want anyone censoring me.  I believe in being true to the story, and those story truths might/will offend some parents’ sensibilities and could expose the reading child to everything from bad grammar to weird world views to, yes, violence that is not helpful or healthy for that child.  Kids develop at different rates, and also go through stages of their life–while dealing with grief, for example–when some otherwise appropriate and true to story content isn’t going to be right for them.

But, there’s an easy fix!  If people would be honest in reviews, and discuss the nitty-gritty of fiction, that would help.  Even better would be the publishing world adopting a simple content guidance system, so parents and children would have more to guide reading selection.  Kids could still read books that push their boundaries, but parents would know which books really needed that pre-read and plenty of in-depth discussion.  Teachers could better inform parents of the content in books kids were reading in school.  This would also help parents know how to guide children through a series which gets progressively more mature in content.

There wouldn’t be any need for spoilers, either.  Just a general guide that would supplement reading categories–like Young Adult–which don’t necessarily give any clue to the appropriate audience.  After all, my understanding is that “YA” includes everyone from age 13 to 26, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty broad category.  I’m not sure why books don’t come with a content guide, but it seems to me that putting information into the hands of the prospective readers is a win-win.  And that doesn’t seem so bad.

8 comments to Books, Kids, Parents and Graphic Content

  • Just read this and I agree with you completely. Not to mention, some of the books that my kids like to read aren’t genres that I’m really excited to read myself. One resource we use in the middle school library to determine if books are appropriate or not is the School Library Journal. At Barnes and, often you can find the reviews for books from SLJ and most of the time, they are right on. Hope this helps when determining appropriate books! 🙂

    • ok il faut s’indigner et discuter mais attention à l’usage excessif du « tous poqrsis&nbrp;&rauuo; … c’est un propos un peu simpliste at dangereux .. on sait où cela mène .. à l’extrême droite

  • Thanks, Leah! Whenever I see reviews by School Library Journal they’ve been really helpful, but I didn’t know where to find the source. Also, sometimes they could still stand to be just a bit more explicit about stuff like violence. You know, are we talking run-of-the-mill vampire dustings or something darker? ‘Cause violence can really run the gamut.

  • You are absolutely right! And even more right about young adult fiction…the age range is huge!! But at least with SLJ, their reviews are a little more accurate than some.

  • Cindy

    I remember when Cindy Lynn got to the point where I could no longer pre-read her books. This was a very stressful thing to me, because I was exposed to things in my elementary school reading that were highly inappropriate and caused me problems later on. (My parents were clueless, I think.) Anyway, Cindy Lynn & I had a big talk then about things that were appropriate and not, and the importance of listening to the spirit and putting something down that wasn’t ok.

    I do wish there was some kind of rating system. There seems to be so much more “content” that gets into YA and even juvenile books now…. I’ll have to check the SLJ reviews…

  • This is exactly why I started with two other moms! We offer children’s book reviews from a parent’s perspective, with easy-to-use search tools that guide parents and their readers to fiction that resonates with their specific interests and experiences, while encouraging informed discussions. Our reviews do not place judgment or emphasize either “positive” or “negative” content. Instead, we factually present subject matter and themes, making every effort to include context. Parents and children are also invited to comment and share their thoughts. Ratings are not part of our reviews because we believe that one rating system cannot truly fit all readers. More importantly, ratings can prevent readers from discovering the full range of books that they may enjoy. After reading more than eight hundred books for our website, we have no doubt that there is fiction out there to fit every type of young reader! Ultimately, we hope that our service encourages an enriching and life-long relationship with literature. We read it so parents can be informed about what’s in it.

  • Yeah, SLJ reviews are really the most helpful, and more likely to warn of hot spots. Still, I’ll continue to grumble that there’s such a blind spot when it comes to book content. Maybe if enough of us make noise, eventually it will change. 🙂

  • Jen, your comment went up while my computer was static–thanks for posting! This looks like a great place to check out, and I’m glad you’re here to let us know about it.

    At the risk of sounding stubborn, I’m gonna go on record that the easiest way to find out what a books’ got in it is a small label tucked somewhere on the book itself…but after stating that, I’ll scoot over to your site and take a look around. You know, for the interim time before the book biz people check out my blog and decide they just can’t resist my logic.

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