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?

Reading together

Sarah Wilsman, manager of youth services at the , 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 , 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."

Eighth-grade level

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 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 . She organized 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.

Melanie Majikas April 04, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I do not censor what my children read--I think that they will decide whether or not they want to read or finish a particular book. The Hunger Games series is my 13 year old's favorite, and my 11 year old is currently reading the first book. However, I will not allow my 11 year old to see the movie yet. While the movie was well-done, it is still more violent than I think she should see at her age, and there is a PG-13 rating that I would also use as my justification. I think it's easier for a child to put down a book that is disturbing to them, than it is to take back images from a movie once they have been seen. I don't think there's ever a one size fits all answer for when a child is intellectually and emotionally ready to read particular books.
Kristin Leb April 04, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I censor it to the extent that I want to know what they're reading so that I can educate myself on it. That way, if it has subject matter that either of us want to discuss, I'm not in the dark. So far, they've made good choice and know what types of books and media we're not comfortable with.
Colleen Thorndike April 04, 2012 at 05:12 PM
I agree that it depends on the child as far as reading the book goes. I was shocked when I went to see the movie and children as young as 4 were in the theater. The movie is more graphic than the book--as is the nature of visual images over printed text--and there are quite a few intense scenes that I wouldn't want a child younger than 12 or 13 seeing
Megan Rozsa April 04, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Here's what Fairlawn-Bath Patch reader Julia Kantorik had to say about this: "It's a 4th grade reading level book. I haven't read it but it sounds like something that just might spur younger kids into caring about what goes on in our world...in order to keep it from turning into something like that world. There are a lot of people out there who think that kids need to be sheltered from scary or disturbing things but I always wonder, then what are they going to do when at 20 they encounter their first scary or disturbing thing and have never had any practice dealing with it on their own or with an adult or a parent to help them figure out how? So I say, fourth grade. Not that many fourth graders now a days are actually capable of reading and comprehending a fourth grade level book." Do you agree?
Amanda Harnocz April 04, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Kristin Casale said, "As a children's librarian [at the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library], I'd be happy to add my two cents here. The sixth-graders at our intermediate school in Stow read the Hunger Games, and I think it's a very appropriate commentary on violence, the media and vicarious participation that a child can understand. There are a lot of great topics for discussion that this age group is capable of delving into without harm. Yes this book is disturbing, but that is the intent. If the violence seems gratuitous, I think the author wanted readers to think that within the confines of the world she created. I've seen 8-year-olds play Grand Theft Auto on Play Station, and that game rewards you for blowing people's brains out at point-blank range, so I think this book is fine within that context."
amandashaffer April 05, 2012 at 12:38 PM
My daughter read this when she was 10 and ever since we have had long conversations about what might happen in a political system to end up with this kind of oppression. Its an amazing book for engaging students about the rights and responsibilities of citizens. I usually read "controversial" kid books to see what the fuss is about and always read whatever my daughter recommends so we can discuss the content.
tom m April 05, 2012 at 12:51 PM
I think any kid who's parents wrap them in bubble wrap before letting them go outside to play should not ever read these books (they could get a paper cut)
Tristan Robinson April 05, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Does anyone else think it's weird that this is the Cleveland Heights Patch and all of the librarians interviewed are from outside of our city?
Jack Kelly April 05, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Tristan, I believe stories and blogs like this are distributed among the local Patch "network", if you will. For example, Mr. Fredmonsky, one of the authors of this article, is the editor of Kent Patch.
Tristan Robinson April 05, 2012 at 01:30 PM
That explains it. Thanks Jack!
Matt Fredmonsky April 05, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Jack nailed it on the head. This is a talking point for every community, and stories like this we share occasionally across the Patch network.
Emily O'Dell April 06, 2012 at 03:11 AM
There are some other themes out there in the Hunger Games trilogy besides violence that I have concern for our younger readers. The first book doesn't really touch on it, but especially in Mockingjay (the third in the series), there is the subject of forcing the winners of the games into prostitution and one of the characters talking about this. I hope parents and schools are aware of this when they are deciding on whether or not to let children/students read this series.
tom m April 06, 2012 at 03:13 AM
there is always just letting them read Dr Suess till they are 13
Rachael Winters April 06, 2012 at 06:46 PM
They only touch on that for about two paragraphs, they never actually call it prostitution, and they never go in to graphic details. Kids today are way too sheltered....their parents are only setting them up for failure by overprotecting them from every little inconsequential thing.
Annika Speckhart September 17, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I think it is much better for an older child, and do not see the need of anyone letting a child younger than high school read this. the books are almost depicting what our society is coming to and are really dark in my opinion. There is no way a child is going to be able to determined if this is appropriate or not, just like they do not know at all when it is appropriate to drink beer and have sex and smoke. We tell them, we allow them, and it is sad to me that parents let their younger kids read this. It puts a lot of peer pressure on all the others to rad the same. I think it is a very bad trend. i totally disagree that kids today are too sheltered, no way. When I grew up we were outside playing in the woods or games or something, at that age and had no idea of all the media kids get to see these days. Kids are so much more exposed these days and anyone not seeing that are not seeing the reality we live in.


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