Children's literature: What's too mature?

Discussion in 'Tea Room (Book Chat)' started by PageTurner, 9 Jul 2018.

  1. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    I was sort of flummoxed when I was looking over the winners of some children's literature awards (thanks to the thread about Laura Ingalls Wilder). I saw some of the works had some pretty mature themes, at least in my opinion. It made me look up what the official age range was for children's lit, according to the ALSC. They say that it covers material for ages from 0-14. What elements - themes, language, etc. - do you think are too mature for this age group?

    Note: I'm not saying books shouldn't be allowed to have whatever content they want, but perhaps some more mature reads should have their target audience shifted up a notch.

    I feel like this could be a precarious situation for indie authors who do not have a professional who can help them direct their material to the proper age group.
  2. Mine all mine

    Mine all mine Member

    Not really an issue is it? Amazon has its own filters, and if enough readers report a book it'll get moved or removed. No big deal.
  3. Tregaron

    Tregaron Member

    What mature themes do you think should be censored? Old Yeller deals with illness, hard choices, and dying, but it is something I would definitely suggest children read. White Fang and Black Beauty have animal abuse, but again are children's classics.

    Aside from "mature themes" as a euphemism for graphic sex, most books are written in a way that leaves them appealling to those readers capable of understanding the themes. A child asking for vocabulary help every five seconds should probably alert a parent that that book requires a closer eye.
  4. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    @Mine all mine, I wasn't aware that they would actually remove it. I always assumed it would just be moved.

    As much as I would love for children to never know anything about child abuse, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, etc., that's sadly not true for every child. I think presentation is important when dealing with sensitive themes. I know that some teen/YA books have been hammered by critics for glamourizing things like eating disorders, bullying, or even suicide. Of course, some critics will also praise them for opening doors to have conversations about these things. Clearly, it's a tricky balance.

    Ultimately, every kid is different. And at those ages, parents will typically get a say in what they choose to expose their child to. If a parent knows their child is reading something with sensitive/mature themes, they can always have an open discussion with them about them.
  5. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    Reading abilities for children the same age varies so much that this seems like a losing proposition. Aside from avoiding stupid mistakes (e.g. putting porn in the children's section) this isn't a major problem. After all, children already come with gatekeepers, called parents.

    As for judging by age group, my parents ended up raising hell at my primary school because I was getting See Spot Run books and because I showed no interest in them they said I couldn't read. Testing gave me a reading age of 14, and the problem was that I had been bored out of my mind. Holding children back because it is what others deem "age-appropriate" annoys me.
    Honeybee42 likes this.
  6. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    This is rather like asking how important historical accuracy is in children's books. While there's an argument for not sugar-coating the past, children tend to mimic what they see. Should those attitudes be taken out?

    Children became adult much younger in older times. Recently some books have been aging main characters up to get round that, for example a ten-year-old becoming fourteen, but this causes problems. In the book in question, an otherwise hard historical, if she was fourteen in that period, she was old enough to be married off rather than be expensively shipped back to her relatives.
  7. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    I agree, it's dangerous to assume that all readers in an age group are the same. Any child might be more or less mature, or more or less capable of reading more advanced material, than their age group would suggest. Pigeon-holing is never a good idea, and I find this especially true when it comes to education.

    Do you think that it's an author's responsibility to put information in a prominent place (perhaps the back of the book or in their Amazon summary) that lists themes that might be considered "mature"? Perhaps responsibility is a strong word here. I don't know how I feel about this myself, I'm just curious what you all think.
  8. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    I was a voracious reader from an early age. I'll share a couple stories from my childhood that touch on reading and "mature themes".

    First, the story of how my parents learned that I knew how to read. I was four years old, and in the evenings, my parents would share the newspaper (one would read section A, the other section B, switching off until they'd read everything). They thought it was really cute that I was "pretending to read" by sitting there with a section of the newspaper with them. While they had read me stories, there had been no effort to teach me how to read at this point in my life. The headline read "'Baby Doll' [surname] Arrested". So as I'm sitting there with my section, I naturally read that article. Then, they heard me say "Mommy, what's a p-r-o-s-t----" Yeah, try explaining *that* to a four year old.

    Later, I was 10 (nearly 11), and well on my way to reading every book in the town library. Over Thanksgiving, we had been at my grandparents' house, and upstairs was a bookshelf positively crammed with books--popular fiction like best sellers, novels that had been assigned reading in someone's high school or college class (my mom has three siblings). That year, I found Animal Farm and finished it in a day. Coming home, I had noted that the same author had written another book (1984) and I had already learned the trick of looking at the "also by" page to get titles for my next reading. So, my mom took me to the library (I had my own card, so she was able to get books, too--I would max out what I could borrow in a week). I found 1984 in the stacks and put it on my stack of books. Went to check out, and the librarian did not want to allow me to get that book because it was "too old" for me. My mom insisted that I be allowed to check the book out. I read it, didn't really understand what the librarian had been fussed about.

    Last story before I get to my point. In sixth grade (age 11-12), I had a reading teacher who had a fairly large shelf of books that we were to select from and write a report (one every six weeks). At some point, I found The Scarlet Letter on those shelves and began reading. A few days later, the teacher came around to see what everyone had picked this time, and when she saw what I was reading, she snatched it away from me declaring that I was "much too young" to be reading that book. The book I was allowed to read in its stead was unremarkable. Four years later, in my English class, that novel was one of our required texts. I never did figure out what was so scandalous that it had to be taken from me four years previously.

    I guess after my mom had had to try to get past that experience when I was 4, she figured I could handle pretty much any content.
    I do not think it's the author's responsibility. I am terribly old-fashioned and conservative--it is the responsibility of the parent(s) of the particular child to be sufficiently familiar with the material as to whether to grant or withhold permission for said child to read that material (the same goes for TV shows, video games, movies, etc ... yes, it's tough, but it's all part of the gig known as parenting ... I am now myself a parent of four children--two are adults at 24 and 20, the other two are twins who are 17, so it's not like I lack experience from that side of things).
  9. jessica

    jessica Active Member

  10. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    Looking back, I wrote this in the heat of the moment after seeing children's books out there with themes of child abuse. I know it's unrealistic to want children to maintain their innocence, especially in this day and age. I was utilizing the faulty logic of "these books help normalize these things" rather than facing the fact that children are exposed to an awful lot of "mature" things, regardless of age.

    You all make a lot of excellent points and I agree with them. Children mature at different rates as a reader and a human being.

    While I agree that I don't think it's the author's responsibility, I do think that it would be helpful for parents. I agree that the responsibility falls on the parents, but a parent has so much ground to cover these days. Children are exposed to a lot through various forms of media. It must be very difficult to stay on top of everything, especially when you have multiple kids at different ages. Controlling internet consumption alone must be extremely difficult. It could be nice to know without having to read a book that it deals with content you don't find suitable for your child. There's just only so much time in the day.
  11. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    It seems to be a thing where children can somehow find the most inappropriate things to say, do, or read... School introduction must have been fun: "What's the longest word your daughter knows?"

    Reminds me of the only book my parents ever took away from me, saying I was too young. I was in primary school and it was a Dennis Wheatley novel, specifically "To the Devil, a Daughter". I think they were rather happy when I went back to working my way through Asimov and Clarke.
  12. Terry

    Terry Member

    I always think that most themes can be handled in Children's books if they are well explained and don't necessarily dwell on the gory details. Children are not that stupid and letting them read about something and trying to digest it at their own pace is usually a much better idea than having them watch it on TV, when the pace is set by someone else.
  13. skye

    skye Member

    Excuse me while I channel Jessica: :eek::eek::eek::eek:
  14. Tregaron

    Tregaron Member

    What should they label though? Some parents will think boys and girls playing together is shocking, while others will consider premarital sex bannable, and others only outright explicit adult material. Whith ebooks available world-wide, what some cultures consider acceptable may not be elsewhere so the warning may not translate.
  15. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    It gets better. This was version with the seventies cover: naked woman, goat's head, and fire. See Librarything. She found out I was reading it because I wanted to take it to school with me.
  16. Flash Harry

    Flash Harry Member

    Woulda thought this went the other way:
    "In olden days a glimpse of stocking
    Was looked on as something shocking"
    Odd to think kids now have to be older to do what we used to.
  17. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    You should have quoted the next lines as well.

    "Good authors too who once knew better words
    Now only use four letter words writing prose, anything goes" - Anything Goes
  18. atry

    atry Member

    I think children's books do need to handle hard topics. It's not like children don't have to deal with them. If the summary is clear, then the child and parent can make up their own minds, and there's always Look Inside. Sometimes this warnings thing feels like putting "Warning: may contain peanuts" on a packet of peanuts.

    Now, if only you two had been in the same class. A horror for your teacher, but for the rest of us? ::rofl::
  19. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    As with adult books, it is the approach that matters. As with themes like child abuse, a book may feature a racist or sexist character without endorsing those views, by having it as something for a character to overcome, or having others show it is utterly unacceptable. Glamorising those views or issues, or using them for titillation, is something entirely different and not something I would expect to see in a children's book.
  20. Lynda

    Lynda New Member

    So you think it should be like handling other difficult themes like rape? Amazon allows rape in action stories as something the villains do, but it is absolutely banned in erotica where it could endorse it.

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