by Jessica Harrington
Rating systems are nothing new in our country. We have explicit lyric warnings on CD’s, age ratings on T.V. shows, video games, and movies. But what about books? Christian Science Monitor covered the most recent debate in an article titled, “Should young adult books have age ratings?” by Husna Haq.
On BBC Breakfast, author G.P. Taylor (Shadowmancer, Wormwood, and the dark YA series Vampire Labyrinth), proposed that young adult literature be rated for age appropriateness. His Vampire Labyrinth series was being reviewed as one of the most horrifying things written for children, which made him step back and re-evaluate his stance on how dark YA lit should be. He had a change of heart and now “thinks children’s literature has gone too far.” Other authors disagree.
Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls) rejected Taylor’s proposal and welcomed darkness in YA, noting that dark topics is exactly what teenagers themselves are writing about. He also makes the point that children have access to the internet to view things society has deemed inappropriate, books are not the only source of “adult topics” in a young person’s life.
This is not the first time we have seen the topic of ratings systems for books- Haq’s article recalls, in 2008, a similar proposal from the publisher Scholastic. That proposal was met with a petition against it signed by over 700 authors, including J.K. Rowling.
Taylor suggests that a rating system similar to the one used for video games and movies be set in place for YA literature so parents have some guidance. With that type of rating system, the same questions that are raised about the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are raised for this book rating: Who gets to decide what is appropriate for what age?
Will it be a mirror of the MPAA and have a top secret rating committee and an impossible to win appeal process (See the documentary “This Film in Not Yet Rated” for more on that side of the MPAA debate)? Or will it be a government agency? And if it is, doesn’t that sound a little like censorship?
Associations like the American Library Association (ALA) fight this type of censorship and ultimate banning of books. Every year they sponsor Banned Book Week to put banned books in the hands of those who want to read them. A simple Google search of “banned books” will provide you with numerous lists of books that have been banned in the U.S. for a time or banned in certain schools, and the reasons vary. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was banned for a rape-scene and being “anti-white”. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has been banned for profanity. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck was banned for the depiction of pigs mating and being slaughtered. Are those good enough reasons to deny children the chance to read those great literary works?
If books such as the above, and many others, get banned for profanity or depictions of images other than rainbows, then what will happen to all the wonderful YA series that have been written in the past 10 years? Think Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series. Both have come under scrutiny, the former for violence, the later for idealizing witchcraft. Is it necessary to be this protective our children?
So, I will end with a question: is a rating system a good or bad idea and why? Read Husna Haq’s article for Christian Science Monitor, do some Google research, and weigh in on the debate- we want to hear what you have to say!
For more on this topic:
2011 ALA banned book list (.pdf)
*Quotes pulled from Husna Haq’s article, “Should young adult books have age ratings?” for Christian Science Monitor.