Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Content

I am putting this disclaimer up front.
The following is my opinion, and as such, I expect you to respect that it is only my opinion. If you would like to comment with your opinion, I will respectfully read it and not tell you "you are wrong."

So, a subject has come to mind several times recently: Book banning and censorship. As a general rule, I do not believe in censorship. We live in a free country, with freedom of speech, and if we start censoring and banning books, that just starts us down a dark road, with no fine line to walk.

I am an avid reader, and will read just about anything I can get my hands on. There's very little I've read that I wish I hadn't. But I am capable of judging the content of a book much better than a child. I believe some stuff is not worth reading, and I have every right to censor what my kids read if I think it's inappropriate. So, where do I start? A few weeks ago, I was led to and read a list of the top 100 Banned Books, put out by the American Library Association each year. Some books on there are repeats year after year. I've read many (~1/3) of the books on this last list, and most of them are some of the best books I've ever read. If they have questionable topics, I believe they are written in a manner suited to discussing the issue, bringing it to light, and giving me a platform for which to teach my children about the issue.

This does NOT give me a right to censor what someone else reads. I don't have a right to say "this book is bad, so NO ONE should get to read it" or that we should ban a book because it is harmful to children. This is a hot topic, and everyone is going to have their own opinion. I find it hard to put into words exactly what I think and cover all the angles. If you're still interested, author Shannon Hale put it quite elegantly, and I agree with her position, which you can check out here.

This was a topic of discussion in my Media class today, and I believe there is a good solution:


Movies have ratings. TV shows have ratings. Video games have ratings.

Ratings don't = censorship. Ratings don't mean what gets published will change. Ratings will just give us (and by us, I mean primarily, parents) a better chance of knowing what is in a book. For example, YA fiction is probably the fastest growing genre of books, and the most widely read. But YA refers to the age of the characters, and not the content of the story. Studies show that violence, sexual behavior, swearing, etc. in movies or television or video games can be harmful to kids and lead to deviant behavior. Why don't we acknowledge those same issues in books? I might like reading a love story, but I don't think my preteens will understand the relationships. And the issues that a 16-18 year old can understand aren't necessarily appropriate for 11-12 year olds. But the YA genre covers all those ages. My professor has done a few studies (in a field that needs much more attention) that showed some YA books had language that would rate a movie R or worse. But any kid can pick that book up to read it, and the ones she looked at were all bestsellers (top 40 last year). I've read many books on that top 40 list that I LOVE! Some would be okay for a teen to read, some wouldn't. As a parent, I would like to know what is in those books so I can guide my children to read good literature, so I can talk to them about controversial issues, and so I can teach them my values. But unless I read it myself, I won't know what the content of those books are. And my kids are voracious readers as well. My oldest reads faster than I can, so there's no way I can read EVERYTHING they want to read to screen it first. I check reviews. I ask librarians and book salespeople. But wouldn't it be easier if you could turn a book over and see that it is rated __for violence, __for sexual behavior, __for language, etc? I think I may take this issue to some authority, I'd really like to see a rating system on books.


  1. I agree with you. I don't think you should ban books...what we see in the movies can be far worse and they aren't banned.

  2. I think you might like Common Sense Media. They provide detailed content ratings for children's books as well as middle-grade and YA books (and movies, tv, games, & music). Parents and teens can also submit their own reviews and recommendations to that site. Personally, I like the idea of independent rating organizations like Common Sense Media much more than the idea of publishers actually placing ratings or detailed content warnings directly on book covers.

  3. I agree with you. I don't think books should be censored. I do think parents have to right to allow their kids to read only the things they want them to read. But, I don't think they have the right to tell other parents what their kids should or shouldn't read.

    As far as your rating system, I think it would be a good idea. However, I think it could get just as jumbled as the movie rating system. There are R rated movies that I will watch and recommend to others because of the story. There are also PG-13 movies that I won't see because of the story. So, I think books would end up the same way. But, at least it's a start to help people make more informed decisions.