When multi-published YA author Robin McKinley’s novel Deerskin hit shelves in 1994, the story was considered her first foray into adult fiction. Why? The story contained a scene in which a girl is raped and the text contains the F-bomb. At the time, this was not considered appropriate content in the YA market.
Times have changed.
Fast-forward fourteen years to 2008, to Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s novel Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, in which readers encounter graphic sexual content between several characters and, on a single page, the F-bomb is dropped no less than 25 times.
(Side soap box moment: if this had been any other word, the editor would have cut 24 of those occurrences. Seriously. Imagine how boring “very” would be on a page 25 times. Why didn’t it get cut? Two words: Controversy sells.)
So what does this mean for today’s thirteen year-olds? It certainly means that turning them loose in the YA section of the library, which may have been safe the last time you were there, may expose them to more extreme content than you expected.
Reading is as important as ever.
As a Christian parent and an aspiring writer, I believe in the importance of reading and in the value of experiencing stories. We know reading is important academically, and the book industry is happy to provide vast and varied choices for our voracious readers.
While I’m not a proponent of book censorship, as a parent, I’m definitely an advocate for content monitoring. In my house, I read a book first, before turning it over to my daughter. We often read aloud together, too, which provides opportunities for us to discuss the things that happen in the story.
There are books I’ve read that I think, this will be great for her in a few more years. And others which I wouldn’t be comfortable with her reading as a teenager at all. Beyond a certain point, she’ll grow up and those will be her choices. For now, I am the gatekeeper. I want to be sure the content in the books she reads today will both challenge her and support her inner values.
We rate music and movies for content and make judgments about what is appropriate for our children. I believe that as parents, we have a responsibility to do the same with books. Unfortunately, the industry provides little information for us, so we have to be more proactive. And it’s hard. Who has time to keep ahead of the reading interests of multiple teens?
Some parents choose to limit their children to reading only Christian fiction. While there are some amazing authors in the Christian market, there are also some fabulous authors telling clean stories in the mainstream market as well, and those are definitely worth pursuing.
Find like-minded parents and blogs.
Having good resources and being willing to read some YA yourself will go a long way in helping protect and nurture your little and not-so-little ones. My advice? Find blogs that give information about content.
I post reviews here at least once per week and am open to requests for reviews from parents. You can find a list of reviews for novels I’ve rated as clean or preview my reading list with links to available reviews.
You might try blogs like Compass Book Ratings or reviews by Christian author Jill Williamson’s NovelTeen.
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Have a favorite YA review site or resource I haven’t listed? Share it with us!
Can’t agree more, Kasey – my mother gave Huckleberry Finn to my 9-year-old for his birthday and I his that sucker on a shelf right away! Then again, I am such a proud prude. 🙂
I think this should apply to movies, as well – I cannot tell you how often I hear about parents taking their not-even-double-digits child/ren to R-rated movies. Drives. Me. Nuts!!!
Protecting your kids doesn’t make you a prude. 🙂 Huck Finn is a great story, but I understand wanting to wait until he’s old enough to understand the significance of some of the themes about racism. You know your kids best. And I agree with you about movies. Thankfully we have ratings that warn us about content, and I absolutely love http://www.pluggedin.com/movies.aspx for content-specific movie reviews. Great stuff.
I completely agree, Kasey! My son is 7 and has been reading everything he can get his hands on for the past 2 years … but I have quickly discovered what a dangerous thing that can be! We are, as you say, the gatekeepers, whether it’s for movies, books or anything else – and times have definitely changed from when I was a kid reading!
Thanks, Ashlee. 🙂 It’s so validating to find other parents committed to the same principles. We all need that, I think.
This is a great blog post. I talk to clueless parents all the time about the ESRB ratings on video games- it surprises me how little parents know about the media their children consume… Media THEY’ve provided. :/ Anyway HERE HERE!! LIKE! TWITTERFOLLOW, etc. 🙂
Thanks! It surprises me, too, especially since those ratings are available and clear. Good for you for having those conversations! Thanks for supporting my blog. It means so much for you to comment.
Thank you for this post and for the voluminous content on your blog. First, I am surprised that you are a mom. From your photo I thought that you were a 23-year old single woman who just happened to enjoy blogging about YA literature. Seriously. Second, as an anal-retentive, overprotective dad who checks everything my 9-year old daughter reads in some form or fashion, I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestion to follow blogs. I have subscribed to 26 (not exaggerating) RSS feeds that feature book review content in some form or fashion. My daughter finds great amusement in this. Here are some that I have found to be particularly helpful: “Hope is the Word”, “Redeemed Reader”, “Semicolon”, “What my Kids Read”, and “Housewifespice”. My wife thinks I need help.
LOL! Thanks. I think you’re wise to read what your daughter reads. People – parents, authors, publishers – have such a broad range of standards for what kids could be/should be reading. Especially at nine, I agree with your decision to preview her reading selections. Good for you! And thanks for the blog recommendations! I will definitely check those out. 🙂