I just read a thought-provoking article in Discovery News called “Hunger Games: Confronting Violence in Tween Books” written by Emily Sohn. Interestingly, the word tween is not used at all in the article, well, except for in the title. Ms. Sohn doesn’t exactly confront the topic of violence in tween literature head on, using the example of Hunger Games and more teenage aimed books; however, she does raise several points about the exposure of violence in books that could readily distributed to tween readers. The Hunger Games is recommended for ages 13 or 14 and up, begging the question: “Should we at all be concerned about tweens reading ‘teen’ books with content perhaps more suited for an older audience?”
I’ve said this before and I’ll type it again, every reader is different in terms of his or her maturity level, including what they can handle in terms of content & context. A handful of authors agree that exposing young readers to violence in literature is dependent on a number of factors, one being that the parent understands what their child is reading and be available to talk to their child about the darker parts of the book. In defense of exposing ‘kids’ to novels like the Hunger Games, Ms. Sohn pulls quotes from several Wall Street Journal contributors & authors, including Meghan Cox Gurdon, Christopher John Farley and Sherman Alexie.
While I feel that the presence of violence in teen books is related to its counterpart in tween literature, we are still left with a separate and different need for its own discussion. Books aimed at 8 to 12 year olds (or up to 14 depending on your definition of tween) will for the most part be very different from teens books in terms of their violent content. Are there lines to be crossed and does the topic of the book matter when presenting images and actions deemed dark, grim and gruesome?
Some might say, truth be told, as plainly as it is, that some tween books do contain violence and that is OK. Others might disagree, pointing out that books are labeled YA for a reason, and that exposing an 8 year old to content more suited for a 15 year old is alarming. Where do you stand on this issue, or do you think this is an issue worth discussing at all?
While writing this post, I stumbled upon a blog post called “Violence in Tween Literature” by Sarah Elwell, in which the blogger disagrees with the notion that books aimed at tweens should contain violence at all. She writes, “I have been reading about violence in tween novels, and am appalled by the theory that children as young as twelve face real monsters in their lives… None of the several children of my acquaintance suffer miserable lives teeming with dangers, heavy sorrows, or even lesser monsters of the domestic kind.” I can see where Ms. Elwell is coming from, that promoting more positive books with less of a focus on doom and gloom, benefits those tweens who do not relate to books containing more darker images. Yet, this is where our views differ.
I usually do not write about my own stance on topics such as these, referring to other articles and positions to bring light to a new, blog worthy discussion. Yet, I will do so on this topic. To me, limiting what types of books are available to any reader is in itself a form of censorship- a role that every parent has the right to fulfill for their children, deeming what they think is appropriate for their child to read. But in my opinion, that is not the right of librarians. If a 10 year old wants to read the Hunger Games, and their parent is not sure if they want their tween reading the material, I am happy to provide the parent or guardian tools that help determine if they believe the book is appropriate for their child- yet, I will never refuse a book to a tween based on my own opinion that they may need more uplifting reads. I provide access to information, tools and books of all sorts. I will not restrict who gets what type of book, even if that YA novel does contain violence in it. I will offer disclaimers, in case there is a concern about this topic, and try to be as familiar as possible with popular tween books with perhaps questionable content. Access to books on a variety of topics, whether dark, dim and grim or warm, sunny and cheerful, is vital for readers with different needs and interests.