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.