Should Children’s Books Have a Rating System?

A recent article has me wondering if we should be taking a closer look at what we qualify as “children’s books.”

A recent article said that a bookstore in Shanghai is pulling the children’s book “Book of Bunny Suicides:  Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore’ after a rash of suicides by children and teens.

I had mixed emotions when I read this article.  In general, I’m against book banning.  Authors should be free to express their opinions.

And I don’t really believe that a normal, healthy kid read this book and then suddenly wanted to commit suicide.  I’m not even sure it even really gives a kid ideas for how to commit suicide since some of these illustrations are unrealistic — head in a DVD player for instance.

But what I am wondering is how this book got classified as a children’s book.  It’s definitely not age appropriate for young kids.

Suicide is a very sensitive subject that kids – and many adults, myself included – don’t entirely understand.  I can understand why there might be a book in the children’s section explaining to a child how to deal with it when a friend, family member or other loved one commits suicide.

But why would a book mocking suicide be considered a children’s book?  Because it has cute little bunnies in it?  If that’s the qualification, then we really need to look at how a book gets classified as a children’s book.

I recently read The Golden Compass.  When I went to buy the book, I found it in the children’s section.  Sure the story deals with the adventure of a little girl, but the book itself is a fantasy that deals with some pretty dark themes. 

While I wouldn’t call the book scary, I did have some very gloomy dreams when I read it.  And I wondered how it would affect a young reader.

After reading this book, I wouldn’t let my child read this book until they were well into their teens.  How did this book get classified in the children’s section?

So my question is do we need to be more diligently in accurately classifying books (i.e just because it had cute little bunnies in it doesn’t mean it’s meant for children) or do we need to take it a step further? Do we need a rating system (like we have for movies, video games, music) for children’s books?

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5 Responses to Should Children’s Books Have a Rating System?

  1. GoldenGait says:

    I agree… The Golden Compass really disturbed me. My uncle recommended it and forewarned me that while the movie (which I also hadn’t seen yet) was marketed as a children’s movie, the book most definitely was NOT for kids. I wouldn’t let my hypothetical kids read it before they were teenagers, either.

    http://thegoldengaitbridge.blogspot.com/2008/08/golden-compass.html

    GG

  2. Tony Sidaway says:

    As a very young child I was introduced by my teachers to a book that dealt with themes of genocide, murder, rape, revenge, and torture. The bible. Stories from this book were read to me almost daily for most of my time at school. What rating do you think it should be given?

  3. vacelts says:

    GoldenGait, I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one wondering how The Golden Compass got in the Children’s Section.

    Tony, I think the bible handles those issues in a very different way that other books that I wouldn’t consider appropriate for children. I don’t think kids need to be sheltered from those topics, just that they need to be introduced in a responsible way.

    And for that matter, I’m reading to my children from a “child’s” version of the bible that waters down some of those theme to make it appropriate for their age.

  4. Tony Sidaway says:

    As a child, I found that my (intelligent, well educated) Christian teachers had to explain a lot of the time why the actions of God seemed to arbitrary and cruel. The explanation was always that Adam and Eve had so angered him. However I observed that the adults around me never behaved in such a cruel manner, no matter how angry they became.

    So in a sense the bible is a useful book for young people to read. It teaches them to think critically and ask careful questions about texts that are presented as containing the unimpeachable truth.

  5. john says:

    My son brought a book home from his school library. The book entitled Bone Meal talks about a man and wife who kidnap boys who come to their door. The couple kill the boys and grind them up into pieces to bury them in their garden. Then their teenage daughter wants to get revenge on a boy she knows, so she tricks him into coming to her house and her father kills him by cutting off his head with a shovel and the daughter then eagerly want to drops his decapitated head into the shredder to “make him suffer”.
    This was in the Elementary school library!

    What we need is a policy of reviewing books prior to school acceptance.

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