What We Talk About When We Talk About “Inappropriate” Books for Kids

The Book: Challenged in 2010 for giving an 11-year-old nightmares. The Movie: Comes out March 2012, when it will probably give some more 11-year-olds nightmares. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I’ve been re-reading Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series in preparation for the first movie, which comes out at the end of March.  I’ve also been re-thinking about the challenge that put The Hunger Games on the ALA’s “Books Challenged and/or Banned in 2011” list: a complaint from a New Hampshire mother to the Goffstown School Board in 2010.

This particular mother’s problems with The Hunger Games were, according to the School Library Journal, that the book gave her eleven-year-old daughter nightmares and might numb other children to the effects of violence.  “There is no lesson in this book except if you are a teenager and kill twenty-three other teenagers, you win the game and your family wins.”  So says the school board’s minutes, anyway.

Whether or not one agrees that this is the only possible take-away point from The Hunger Games (spoiler: I don’t), there’s other interesting issues involved in challenging The Hunger Games in particular and books offered for school reading in general:

1.  When we say a certain book is “inappropriate” for children, what do we mean?  

2.  How does our definition of “inappropriate” affect our willingness to call for an outright ban of a book?