Are 'The Hunger Games' Appropriate for Your Child?
Librarians, educators weigh in on popular young adult book series turned movie
It's hard not to be aware of The Hunger Games, the popular young-adult novel turned movie, and that goes doubly for youngsters.
Young children — maybe too young — are latching on to the books, which depict violent scenes of teenagers killing other teens. It sounds incredibly violent when taken out of context, but within the pages of the book the imagery is justified and clearly winning praise from readers old and young.
One wonders, though: how young is too young for a child to experience such scenes?
Sarah Wilsman, manager of youth services at the Kent Free Library, read the trilogy before her 15-year-old daughter started the first book, The Hunger Games. Now Wilsman is waiting for her daughter to finish the book before going together to see the movie, which is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Wilsman said she believes the books are most appropriate for kids 12 and older to read on their own.
"Any younger than that I would recommend parents read it together with their kids," she said.
The Kent library last week finished a program aimed at kids in grades six through twelve about the books. Wilsman said The Hunger Games trilogy is comparable to the Twilight and Harry Potter series in terms of themes and violent content.
"Most of the kids who have been through Harry Potter can probably handle it," she said of The Hunger Games. "I think I would go with what most people are saying. It’s not that there’s any content that’s too grown-up sexually, but it’s definitely a violent story line."
Nancy Skonezny, the teen librarian at Solon Public Library, agrees that it's a good idea for parents to read The Hunger Games trilogy before letting children read them. Better still, she likes Wilsman's suggestion that parents read the books along with their children.
"That’s really good because you’re right there and you can explain things and how you feel about some things and your value system," Skonezny said. "What I liked was that they told the story and it was violent, and yet there was so much more to the story than the violence, like friendship, working as a team, not giving in on your principles."
Skonezny says eighth grade is the lowest appropriate age group for the books because those larger themes may be lost on a younger, more inexperienced reader.
"Some (younger) kids may only be interested in the violence," she said. "There’s so much wonderful literature for younger children that you don’t really need to reach up there."
Eighth grade also is where the Kent City Schools draw the line, in terms of curriculum, when it comes to reading and comprehension of The Hunger Games books.
Kent City Schools Superintendent Joseph Giancola said he had a lengthy discussion about the book with his elementary-level principals Tuesday morning, and they agreed elementary school children are too young to understand the syntax and semantics of the books.
Giancola said The Hunger Games is approved by the district for the eighth-grade curriculum, but it's up to parents and their children to determine if it's appropriate for younger students.
"With that said, I am aware that younger students are interested in this book," he said. "A lot of them already have bought and read the book, even down to fifth grade. That’s a lot of years away from eighth grade, but that’s their own personal decision."
Theresa Munka, who works the teen desk at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Summit County Public Library, agrees and would not recommend it for third- or fourth-grade students.
"But I would not stop them from reading it," she said. "That's a parent(al) decision. I've seen kids in fourth and fifth are reading it though. It’s just very popular."
Munka says it's a teen book, and so is appropriate for children 13 or older to read.
Most librarians and adults who have read the books agree they are violent, but the violence is not gratuitous and not used merely for shock value.
'If they can read it...'
Amanda Densmore is a fan of The Hunger Games trilogy in addition to being the young adult librarian at Mentor Public Library. She organized a party at the library when the movie was released in theaters.
Densmore said that, while there is violence in the books, the books do not glorify or revel in it.
"The violence aspect — there are people who die in it, but it's not gratuitous," she said. Densmore added that other teen crazes, such as the Twilight series, also have their macabre elements.
"A vampire — the idea of someone drinking someone else's blood to stay alive — that's pretty grotesque. So if you're OK with vampires, then you can appreciate The Hunger Games.
"My view on it is if they're able to read it, then they can," she said.
Fairlawn-Bath Patch Editor Megan Rozsa contributed to this story.