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Certificates for YA books? Seriously?

So this article recently published on the Telegraph website got to me. Should kids books come with certificates? Of course they shouldn’t. I think the notion is ridiculous, it’s something that even when put into place is going to cause problems because how is it going to be regulated and what are the punishments that are going to be put into place? Before I even get there though, lets discuss the other factors.

So a book has a 14 rating on it and a 12 year old wants to read it. They aren’t allowed. They have to read for their own age group which in my opinion could limit their maturity growth, it may be that they have exhausted their own age range and want to tackle something more gritty, more intense, more readable for their abilities. Hopefully they’ll have parents happy enough to let them give it a go for themselves, and who understand that if a child starts reading a book they aren’t comfortable with they stop. Hopefully everything will be rosy (as long as there aren’t too serious implications for adults buying these books for their own kids) but what if they don’t have reader parents, or they have strict parents who don’t agree with bending the rules. We’ve all seen Matilda, and whilst her parents are over the top exaggerations of real people (or at least I hope they are) they would never have agreed to getting any 14 rated books for her when she was 12, or any book for that matter!

Then there are the parents who go the opposite way, who see their 14 or 15 year old reading a book with a 12 rating on it and see it as underachieving. Or the 15 year old who thinks a younger book sounds cool and would read it but thinks other people will judge them for reading it – as an adult who reads YA I get judged enough for readings kids books but I can handle it…

The book in question: When Mr Dog
Bites by Brian Conaghan

Handling it is what this debate really comes down to though isn’t it? I honestly believe that books don’t need certifications because if a child or young person starts reading a book and they aren’t comfortable with the concept, the issues the book is tackling or the language the book uses to approach any issues then they obviously can’t handle it, but they are not going to carry on reading. They will put it down and come back to it later, when they are more mature (or older, the two aren’t mutually exclusive) or they will pass it on to a friend/relative/charity shop. I have books even now that I bought when I was a teenager in the hope of reading and at the time wasn’t comfortable with them so I put them down and in some cases still haven’t picked up! People can be their own censors, even kids.

Also going back to the point of maturity. Who decided that maturity in kids equals their age anyway? You can certify a book a 16 but some 16 year olds will not be mature enough to handle it, what do you do then? Its sad to think that we life in a time where people think these things are as black and white but lets face it, my reading changes from day to day and some days I won’t be able to handle certain types of books when I can the next day – and I’m not a hormonal teenager anymore! What about these kinds of things? Are we going to start whacking ‘do not read when feeling down’ stickers on our books too?

I am ranting. I know I am but this is a topic that gets to me a lot. I see no benefits to certifying books. I barely see the benefits in movies and games in all honesty and thats because I had a great upbringing. My parents let me watch, play and read anything I wanted so I got to be my own censor, and I turned out ok! There were some down times in my youth but that wasn’t brought on by my literature at the time. I even smoked and drunk a lot at times but also, my own choice – nothing I saw in movies or read in books influenced me. I think if we start restricting what our children can and can’t read then there is a severe possibility they will stop reading – or stop finding the enjoyment in reading – and that would be a terrible, terrible thing. 

I would also like to focus in on the title of the article in question; “Should potty-mouthed children’s books come with a PG certificate?” This is interesting because it talks about YA books… but the title indicates that they are children’s books. The author, or the newspaper, indicates that these are one in the same, but they are not. We need to remember that Young Adult books are for a different audience. They are for readers who are on that cusp of adulthood. They are no longer children, they are developing their own mind and their own feelings towards things, and no longer need to be looked after to the extent they used to – though don’t need to be completely isolated either. And if you restrict their reading I’m fairly certain they will pick up on it and will not be happy about it. It will just be another thing they are not allowed to decide for themselves in that confusing period when they aren’t allowed to be children and should grow up… but they aren’t allowed to be adults either. 

Finally, to end my rant with a note about this article, the one that popped up the day after the first, from the editor of the book which sparked the debate, When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan. I was going to discuss the fact that I believe sexual content and swearing etc has a place in young adult literature, but only when its needed. I hate it when the swearwords lose meaning and are just there as fillers more than anything else. They have to feel real, and right in the context. The editor from Bloomsbury talks about this kinda aspect of the argument brilliantly in the article though so I’ll leave all that up to her. 

I’d love to know what you think about this debate, even if it goes against what I think. I know that this is all just my opinion and the author of the first article has just as much right to air his opinion as I do mine and I needed to get my feelings out there.

  • It’s funny – I also read and got really annoyed by that article and I’ve just been writing a blog post about my opinion on this issue too. Basically, I totally agree with you that books shouldn’t come with age certificates and people should stop censoring YA lit.

  • I don’t know what their objection to that book really was. It quite clearly comes with warning of strong language (both the quotes on the front and a warning on the back). It’s easy for the reader to make that choice beforehand (or their parents if they’re a bit controlling – though the best parents I know are ones that don’t make a big deal out of language).

    I would warn of excessive strong language, sex or violence in a review, not to put people off but I think that’s the kind of thing some people want to know. Not just for YA. But it’s not a case of saying don’t read this. I don’t mind the idea of *all* books having warning of certain things, bit like they do for films and games, but the age ratings are pointless.

  • This debate flares up every now and again, I imagine when a literary journalist has run out of new ideas to write about…last time it was big was 2012 and I blogged my thoughts then: http://cazapr1.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/age-banding-for-books-my-view.html