An eight year old asked me the other day for the latest Pretty Little Liars book, #10 Ruthless. She had read the other nine in the YA series by Sara Shepard and was eagerly awaiting the latest installment. The series, however, is recommended for ages 14 and up and the content is very much suited to teens meaning that the subject matter relates to teen issues such as teen dating & relationship issues. When tweens ask for teen books, how do you recommend which teen books are appropriate for tweens, especially since the content of YA books may be too mature or simply not suitable for younger readers?
In this particular scenario described above, the parent of the eight year old wanted to know if the series her daughter had been reading was appropriate, even though the daughter had read nine books of the series already. In response, I first explained how the teen books range in content level from ages 12-18 and that every reader is different when it comes to their own reading level. Normally, parents should read these books ahead of time or at least read reviews of the books to determine what is best for their child. In this case, the 8 year old watched the television series based off the books and said she liked the books. However, the general age recommendation for this series is 14 & up. Without reading the series, one way to check why a book series has a certain age is to use a site called Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media is a site that rates books, tv, movies and highlights why a book or movie is given a certain rating. It criticizes the educational value of material, lists positive messages, highlights where there is violence, sex, language, consumerism and drugs/drinking. I always give a general disclaimer about the website, that I am not endorsing the site and/or agreeing with its reviews. I use it as a tool that helps some parents and tweens determine if a book is appropriate for them. The Pretty Little Liars book series was recommended overall for ages 14 & up, and scored ratings of 3 out of 5 in the categories of violence, sex, language, consumerism and drugs. Audience reviews of the series ranged in ages 12-18, so you will see a variety of opinions that may or may not agree with the average age recommendation.
There are other similar sites out there such as Novel Book Ratings, which a website that tracks the use of profanity, violence and sexual content in novels. The Literate Mother is another rating site geared toward youth and young adult content at http://www.theliteratemother.org/. The Literate Mother rating system has a basic rating rubric system like Common Sense media, rating from 0-5 in the categories of language, violence, sexual content and adult theme. Their rating scale is as follows:
0= No content
1= Minimal content
2= Moderate content – A level of content acceptable for most children/youth in the recommended age group
3= Moderately High content – May be unsuitable for some children/youth in recommended age group
4= High level of content
5= Excessive or disturbing level of content
Using the Literate Mother scale above, Pretty Little Liars might be considered unsuitable for some youth. Every reader is different in terms of maturity and what teen content is most suitable for them. Some teen books are fairly ‘safe’ in terms content but then the reading level may be too high. It’s a fine balancing act and by no means easy to find the right teen book for a tween.