The Hunger Games – G, PG, PG-13, or R?

by limebirdkate

I recently had a conversation with my sister-in-law, Tara, about the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Tara had never read them, but she told me her friend recommended them for Tara’s 8-year-old son, Tommy.

“What? Why in the world would she do that?” I exclaimed.

“Well, Tommy reads harder books, and my friend has a son who is a fourth grader and supposedly he loved them.”

I replied, “Oh, I’m not surprised because of the reading level, but because of the content.”

“Why? What are they about?”

So, I told her. (For those readers of this post who aren’t aware, The Hunger Games—in a nutshell—is about kids killing kids in the name of survival.) Aside Note: We’re engaged in a fun discussion over at the forums regarding The Hunger Games Series—but beware, there is a spoiler alert attached!

My sister-in-law didn’t respond with the gasp or the hand-to-her-chest that I was expecting, so then I wondered if I overreacted.

I am a mother. My daughter just turned 9 and my son just turned 7. My daughter is a brilliant reader; she is reading books in the sixth-grade reading level. For those of you unfamiliar with the US educational system, 6th grade is comprised of 11-12 year olds.

As advanced as she is in reading, I don’t think I’m about to hand her a copy of The Hunger Games.

Am I being overly cautious? Am I living in a cave? Am I too protective? Are those books appropriate for 8-9 year olds? Do I need to get with the real world?

So, I asked a friend of mine who is a guidance counselor for a middle school (5th -8th grade). Now, I have to put out there that my friend had not actually read the series, but she knew the basic concept. She didn’t think it was a big deal at all. She thought those books are appropriate reading for an 8-year-old.

Have to admit, I’m feeling a little lonely out here on my island. Maybe it does depend on the personality of the 8-year-old and what kinds of material they are already being exposed to. I have to remind myself that kids even younger than 8 are into Star Wars, Harry Potter, and other books/films that lean heavily on violence.

I think I’m resisting because the subject matter is kids killing kids. It is not about robots or wizards—characters that we wouldn’t necessarily meet on our way to the grocery store.

But I’d love to turn this over to all of you. Take the poll. Comment. Tell me what you’d do if you had a 8- or 9-year-old. Help me straighten this out in my head. Would you let him/her read The Hunger Games series, and why?

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46 Comments to “The Hunger Games – G, PG, PG-13, or R?”

  1. Hmm, tricky one. Honestly I have voted for no, but I don’t think it’s completely black and white. I have a 7 year old brother and I don’t think I would comfortable letting him read it. Again, it’s not because he’s not a competent reader (in fact he’s a good one) but like you, I don’t think the subject matter is appropriate. Simply because it could actually happen. I know it’s a futuristic view, but kids killing kids, it’s a bit too much.

    My sister is 10, and I think maybe I’d consider it a bit more, but I still think it’s too young. This is definitely a YA book, not a tween (or younger)!

    • Hi Beth,

      Yes, that’s exactly my problem too. Language-wise it is super easy to read, but content-wise I think some younger children would really take it to heart and may even scare them.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I think the Hunger Games are written for an older kid in mind – teenagers really.

    I have a 7 year old sister (who will be 8 next month) and I wouldn’t let her read these books. She’s also an advanced reader, and even though she’s in the 2nd grade, she reads at a 4th grade level.

    I like to look up books/movies that I recommend or give to her because she does love to read so much, I’m always giving her books. So I went to look up the “common sense” rating of the Hunger Games, and the rating says 12 year olds — http://www.commonsensemedia.org/search/hunger%20games

    I think 12 would be around the age I’d give this to a kid. I know I’m not a mom myself and so I don’t have that protective maternal instinct or anything, but I am a big sister and I’d cringe thinking about my little sis reading this. I think gore and violence aside, the story itself might not even be relateable to an 8 year old, no matter how great they can read and comprehend. So if you are alone on that island, I’ll swim right over and hope that Beth brings us some brownies!

    • Haha, I’ll be on that island too, so I’ll bring the brownies!

    • Yay! Thanks Laura, I’m so glad you’re an early commenter actually because of our conversation over at the forums, so I knew you’d have some great input.

      Wonderful to know that there is a common sense rating–I did not know that. Thank you for the great tip.

      Glad to have the company on my island. *Waiting patiently for brownies*

    • Just bookmarked that site, Laura. Thanks!

  3. Okay, I haven’t read these books because the premise doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy, but I keep hearing such good things about them I think I’m going to have to give them a go!

    • Definitely have a go Sally! They are so good. It’s a shame you’re not closer as I’d say you could borrow mine! Make sure you don’t buy the £11 boxset from Amazon though, as that’s the one with the dodgy third book!

    • Hi Sally,

      Admittedly, I thought the same thing as you and I decided to try them because a friend of mine recommended them. The subject matter does take a little getting used to, but the protag is so likeable that you can’t help but root her on.

      When you do try them, be sure to visit us at the Forums! 🙂

  4. I guess, like the others say, that it’s not very black and white. At 8 myself I was a very advanced reader and Lord of the Flies and the Hobbit etc were my kinda thing, and watching zombie movies – so for me at that age Hunger Games would’ve been fine (and I LOVED them when I read them a few weeks ago, can’t wait for the movie!). But my 9 year old step daughter is an average reader, but a bit of a scaredy cat and easily upset, to be honest I can’t imagine her ever reading something that isn’t about cute fluffy animals until she is an adult (and maybe not even then, she is that bad on the wimpy side!). I also suspect that some people would be more inclined to let boys read this kind of material at a younger age than they would girls – unfair but the old stereotypes and behaviours of parents haven’t lessened as much as we would have hoped given society today, and as such boys are still considered ‘tougher’ at a younger age than girls. Most of all though it’s about having the sense (and knowledge of a books contents!) to now whether or not your child is mature enough to handle the contents or not, personal judgement in the circumstances is the key! 🙂

    • Hello, Hello!

      Yes, I agree we need to take into consideration a child’s personality and what he/she might already be exposed to in day-to-day life. Zombies at age 8! My goodness, you were a brave child!

      I don’t necessarily think my daughter is a scaredy-cat–right now she’s reading Harry Potter–and she’s seen all the movies. She was very pulled together when Dumbledore died while I was bawling. 🙂

      She asks questions and I make sure I know what she’s watching/reading so I can answer her questions. However, she does get upset when animals/children die (the scene in Star Wars Clone Wars when Annakin kills all the younglings really did her in; the movie Marley & Me–forget it). That’s one of the reasons I think she’d have a tough time with these books.

      I never thought about it being a gender issue, though. That’s an interesting point. *Mulling it over*

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. I would not let my child read anything like that at so young an age. Yes, she Could, but that doesn’t mean she Should. Part of the problem today is that we are bombarding our children left and right with video games, movies, tv and books – containing violence for the sake of violence. It has become commonplace and that’s wrong on so many levels.

    • Hiya Neeks,

      I’m glad to hear you say that. I’ve been very concerned about what kids are exposed to and it’s only getting worse and more intense. I just have to compare what I knew about at age 8 compared to what my kids and their friends know, and my jaw drops.

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. This is something to think about, however you have to also think about what this generation kids are exposed to. Video games and TV series – even cartoons – that have heavy violence. While I do not have any kids, I would much rather my child be reading a semi-violent book than watching a graphic, gory movie or playing a shooting game.

    I don’t know. Like you said, it all depends on the maturity of the child. Maybe if you talked with your child first, let her know what it’s about, and make sure that she knows it’s fiction. Maybe she wouldn’t even want to read it after she knew it was about kids killing kids! The thing I would be most worried about would that she may have nightmares. I’m an adult, and I remember when I read The Hunger Games before going to bed, I had quite a few bad/weird dreams during the course of my reading!

    Good luck with your decision! 🙂

    • Hi Palm,

      Oh gosh, yes. When I was reading the books I started having very disturbed dreams. Even during the day I got strange, creepy feelings about smelling roses everywhere!!

      It’s true what you say–there are different levels and modes of violence. And those books weren’t gory, at least, not to the point where I couldn’t read them–and I have a very sensitive stomach!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  7. I went to a Suzanne Collins reading, and there were kids who were younger than I thought would be reading the Hunger Games. (Although I don’t think anyone was as young as 8.) I think a lot of it depends on the emotional maturity of the child. Even though I was an advanced reader, I’m not sure I would have been ready for a book about kids killing each other until at least 10 or so. But some kids are more able to separate violence in a book from violence in real life, and it may help them understand early on why war is bad. Excellent question though!

    • Hi Annie,

      Ooh, I bet that was fun! What’s Suzanne Collins like? I love going to author readings, I always learn something incredibly valuable.

      Yep, sounds like that could be a huge part of making this decision–the emotional maturity of the child.

      I hear you. I was reading independently at the age of 4–in fact, my mother had no clue I could read until I went to first grade. The teacher discovered I was already reading at the fifth grade level. So, say The Hunger Games was around then? I can tell you for sure my mother would have never considered it, and I would have hated them. And that’s simply because I loved books like Nancy Drew mysteries. I was not into violent books.

      I like your idea that some kids can make that separation between fiction and reality. And those are the kids who would get the most out of the books.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  8. I don’t want to vote because I really feel it depends on the child themselves. I was reading Stephen King and Gone with the Wind in the 6th grade. Obviously they had mature topics and gore and violence and cursing, but my folks were okay with it and I just kept devouring books.

    As far as Hunger Games goes, it can be depressing and it is definitely violent although not overly graphic about it. I think if the child can handle the reading aspect of it and the parent is willing to sit down after and discuss the book with them, how it made them feel, were they bothered by any of it, did they have questions, etc. I think it would be okay. The reader has been a mature 8 though.

    • Hi there,

      Really good point. Parents need to communicate with their child about the content. They need to prep the child for what they’re about to read, and they need to follow up and answer questions. That surely would make a difference between a positive and a negative reading experience.

      Thank you for your honest comment.

  9. Please, please don’t let anyone sway you from your best instincts as regards what’s appropriate for your children. I’m sure the counselor is saying the books are alright because so many other parents of 8-year-olds are letting them read the books. One of the worst parts of what U.S. society has become has to do with responsibility for raising children, which is so often left up to someone else besides the parents. When I was a child….remember how often we’ve made a joke of those words? But I wasn’t allowed to read or see The Exorcist until I was 16. And my younger sister is raising her two girls with limits on their TV and computer time, and helping them become more rounded kids. Don’t be swayed! You’ve made the right decision!!!

    • Hi Judith!

      You know, that’s so true. We lean on the “professionals” when really, we are our own best judges. We have to trust our instincts and know our children inside out to be able to determine the best, safest course of action.

      Awesome response, thanks Judith!

  10. I agree with @mbm8377 … I’d just be restating what she said.

  11. Just to add on to my original comment, I think the best way to know if something is suitable for your child is to read it yourself first. I know my folks wouldn’t let me watch certain shows or movies without them viewing them first (not since dad accidentally brought home some movie for us kids he didn’t realize was rated R until after we watched it 😛 )

    I get a bit annoyed when parents get all up in arms “This book isn’t proper for my child!” well perhaps it’s not, but if you monitor what they watch and listen to, then why not what they read? Then you’d know and hold off on letting them read it.

    • Yup, good point. Books are getting more risque and we need to monitor those as well as other modes of media. Hopefully my sister-in-law will read the books first before she makes a final decision. Maybe I’ll pass your advice on to her…! 🙂

  12. I’m an over-protective parent of a one-year-old. She’s obviously not old enough yet, but I honestly think that limiting what she reads isn’t in the realm of my over-protectiveness. A book with a hugely sexual theme, absolutely not. A book with a murder plot, I think I could handle. That said, I’d want to read it first if there were any question.

    • Hi Every,

      Yes, I agree that we all have our own varying degrees of over-protectiveness. What’s out of the question for one might be deemed acceptable by another. Again, I’m finding that it comes down to the individual child and what we think he/she is ready for.

      Thanks for your comment.

  13. Kate, I’m on your side here. I wouldn’t want anyone under 12 reading Lord of The Flies and this sounds so similar. BTW I never read Hunger Games. This is not just about reading ability but maturity. Understanding the concepts and being able to process the meaning of what you are reading. I wouldn’t expose an 8-9 year old to this book unless I felt they were as emotionally mature as a teen.

    That being said, if my kid was dying to read it, I’d read it first and have a frank discussion before and after with them about the book. To make sure they got what they read and thought about what it meant.

  14. Hi Kourtney,

    Funny isn’t it that I have never read Lord of the Flies. It’s been mentioned a few times on this post, so now I’m thinking maybe I need to revise my reading list!

    Maturity seems to be key here, as many commenters have mentioned. And I have to admit that’s true. Some kids are more emotionally equipped to handle violence than others.

    Yes, absolutely, we must take responsibility for what our children read. Read it first, discuss it with the child, and be available to answer questions along the way. And a definite must–check in with your child after he/she has completed the book and make sure there aren’t any outstanding questions.

    Thanks for chiming in!

  15. For those who want to challenge their kids a little but don’t want them reading the hunger games yet, introduce them to Suzanne Collin’s middle grade series, Gregor the Overlander. Super fun 5 book series somewhat Harry Potter-ish (no magic per se but a young boy who’s destined to save people etc). It might be a good compromise if they really want to read hunger games and you dont feel they’re ready, you can offer them other books by the same author.

    • Great info, thanks! Yes, I am familiar with the Gregor series, although I have not read them. I’m sure they’re great if Collins wrote them.

  16. I’m not a parent. but there’s no way if I was that I would let my children touch The Hunger Games before they were teenagers. They’re young adult books, and even then I think there’s a lot that needs to be understood about the circumstances and violence taking place. This isn’t just about 24 children in a fight to the death–it’s about society, it’s about social control, it’s about ignorance and the destruction that can come from it. Even without the violence–which, I’m sorry, no way should an eight year old be reading about what is, at the bare bones of it, a reality show depicting cold-blooded murders–there’s absolutely no way that a child could appreciate–or should be expected to–what’s happening in these books! Crazy!

    • Hi Verified,

      I agree with you, eight-year-olds can’t appreciate topics like murder and how it is considered acceptable by society. I think that’s part of the reason I shuddered at the subject matter–that there was that sense of disdain for human life. If I have trouble with that at my age, how can I expect my 8-year-old to deal with it appropriately?

      Thanks so much for a strong comment.

  17. Kate: I totally agree that parents should read the books first, any books that they’re nor sure about.

    My stepson was already just turned 13 when I first met him, and already into the “I don’t read books” phase (although he did come out of it… I’m not wishing for him to settle down too soon but I am looking forward to teaching my grandchildren to read and sitting down with them discussing books…

    • Hi Dennis,

      Yes, parents need to be on top of these issues so that we know what our kids are into and we can deal with it accordingly.

      One of the best parts about being a parents (I find) is sharing books and discussing them, especially books that I read as a child. Young kids interpret books with such a sweet, basic sense of values that I dread them growing up 🙂

  18. I think – in general – 8 years old is too emotionally immature to grasp the concept of what war can do to kids – not just from the standpoint of the violence, but in particular the “why” aspects of it. For a preteen/teen, I think they’re an excellent read to get kids who are verging on adulthood to consider the true price of war and repression.

    • Hi Wren,

      Thank you, yes, I like that. Aside from the bloodshed and violence, we have to be prepared to explain “why” war happens. As an adult, sometimes I can’t even understand why people engage in war, so it could only be that much more difficult for an 8-year-old to grasp such a concept.

      Thank you for chiming in.

  19. A couple things. I am partway through the second book (and I got a kindle set on amazon, so I hope the third isn’t wonky or something, based on what I saw above). I saw a lot of stuff mentioning them on blogs so I decided to try them and just started a couple days ago (I plan on doing a review of the first one in the next few days).

    I have 2 kids, ages 5 and 2. Even if they COULD read it at age 8,9, or 10, I wouldn’t give it to them. For one thing, a lot of the content is the protagonist’s thoughts about how things appear vs. what they are (the games are televised). That’s a tough concept for young kids, and one I wouldn’t want to push too early in a negative way… although I’m ok with the “how do you think your friend views it when you do that” kind of way. She raises some moral questions that are complex and, again, I wouldn’t want to have to have that conversation until they’re a bit older

    I’m not sure exactly at what age I’d be ok with it, because that would depend on the kid and mine aren’t close enough yet to judge their maturity then. However, I can say I definitely would NOT do it by age 10. I’m thinking more 13/14ish… with lots of discussion on morals, etc. I think it raises some good questions that are often ignored but kids should think about (e.g. when is it ok to kill?), but not until they are mature enough to really think about it. So, I would definitely have them read it at some point.

    Anyway, put me on the island…

  20. Hi Shannon,

    I look forward to reading your book review. 🙂

    I like hearing comments from both parents and non-parents because when it comes down to it, this is a question that concerns us all: when is war justified, or is it at all?

    Like I said above, I have a hard time reconciling the ideas of war (much less kids in war) in my own brain, so how can a young child comprehend war?

    As these comments grow, I feel much better about my initial reaction–that 8 and 9 (even 10) are too young for these books. Not only are we dealing with war, we’re dealing with the social acceptance of it, the fact there is a faction of people who disregard these childrens’ lives, and the emotional expense.

    That isn’t to say this isn’t a current world issue. I know there are many cultures, countries, groups who put weapons into kids’ hands and throw them into combat. But I’ll admit, I won’t let my children watch televised news and it’s for the same reason I won’t let them read these books (at this young age). Because they’re simply not ready to deal with these issues, nor should they be.

    Thanks so much for a great comment!

  21. I have to say I would let my 14 yo old read them, yes, but never my 11 yo. 1) he’s sensitive, 2) I was even disturbed by some of the things in the series…mind you I REALLY enjoyed them except for one or two scenes, but I have to agree, going anything younger than the 14 age range should be reserved for very strong children…

    • I read all three books in 5 days….much to my body’s chagrin. I stayed up till 4 am every day reading because I simply could NOT put them down!!

    • Hi Raven,

      Yes, I think a 14-year-old is more equipped to handle the books than an 11-year-old. But even then, as you say, we still have to take into consideration the child’s personality.

      A few things disturbed me, too–which is exactly why I had the initial reaction that I did in regard to letting an 8-year-old read them.

      Thanks for commenting!

  22. Hi, Kate — My parents allowed me to read and watch anything and everything. When I became an adult, and carried disturbing images in my mind (to this day), I blamed them for it. Don’t let that happen to your children. Missing out on a popular book series/movie will not stunt your child’s growth. (Mine is 23 now and he’s six feet tall.) Explain that you don’t think they’re appropriate, and move on. Your children might be angry with you now, if all their friends are reading the series, but they will respect you for this in the future.

    • Hi Darla,

      That’s too bad. But I know what you mean. I watched the Friday the 13th films when I shouldn’t have, and still have trouble with places like empty beach houses!

      Luckily, I haven’t run into any local people who allow their 8-9 year olds read the series, so right now we’re safe! 🙂 I just entice my daughter with Tinkerbell and that’s been all she needs…for now of course.

      Thanks for chiming in!

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