In fifth grade I read Forever by Judy Blume. It’s often challenged by parents and even banned because it’s packed with sensitive subjects, such as the loss of virginity, birth control, teen pregnancy, drinking and marijuana. When I checked out Forever the librarian didn’t ask if I had my parents’ permission or warn me that the mature themes could influence my impressionable mind. How did I react to reading such material at ten years-old? I thought the ending was sad and I went on to read Blubber.
When I became a parent I was nervous about my fifth grade daughter wanting to read Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. Although Bella and Edward marry and consummate their relationship, it’s modest prose compared to Forever. Not surprisingly, it’s novels like this that cause parents to consider the idea of movie-style ratings for young adult books. Perhaps partly because I survived reading Blume’s bawdy teenage novel unscathed, I’m apprehensive about the idea of such a system. Rating literature is a slippery slope to censorship; an author’s creativity may be compromised since the rating may affect the marketing of their book and as a result how many copies they sell. Consider what ratings J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which captivate children and adults alike, would receive for its depictions of violence and death.
However, as a parent I understand the need to be comfortable with what kids are reading. One option is to look up the book on Amazon. The reading level is listed and the customer reviews give a hint about the content. A more comprehensive tool is Common Sense Media, a review and rating database of books, movies, television, music, video games, and websites. Their reviewers give a thorough analysis of age appropriateness, content, and quality. Parents and children are encouraged to submit their own reviews. Become a Facebook fan of Common Sense Media and follow them on Twitter.
Encourage your teen to read this summer by enrolling them in the Phoenix Public Library Summer Reading Program. Prizes are awarded for every two books or one hour read and a new book is given for completing the program. While supplies last, receive a free Harkins cup for enrolling and a free ticket for finishing.