Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Common Sense Media and Your Local Indie

There has been a bit of an uproar on the blogs the past few days about the fact that Common Sense Media is partnering with Barnes and Noble to give book age ratings and information. I see what they're trying to do - they're trying to be your local, indie bookseller.

Back in the olden days (and in a few lucky places still today), you could walk into your corner bookstore, tell the person behind the counter about your child - their likes and dislikes as well as their maturity level and ask them what they have that might be good. I guarantee you that your bookseller would come up with a fabulous book you'd never heard of every time. All Internet booksellers are trying to come up with better ways to replace your local bookseller - the "people who looked at this book also bought" recommendations from Amazon. The age ratings on CSM. Trouble is, it doesn't work one-way.

I have two boys and while I like to know what they're reading and watching, I try not to censor them. When we finally succumbed to the evil that is XBox, I put my foot down against any games rated M for Mature. They are not mature. They are pre-teens. I'll admit to going to game sites and reading up on the content of games that I don't want to play, and maybe don't want them to play either.

At the same time, I've sat with them to watch episodes of "Sixteen and Pregnant" on MTV and "My Life as Liz" and these have been the most productive times in terms of discussion and opinion-sharing. I'm conflicted. I checked on a few of the ratings - they say that Looking for Alaska doesn't have any graphic sex but have huge red flags about the drugs and drinking - hello? Twilight was recommended for age 13 and up, which seems about right to me on the whole. I go crazy when I hear about second graders reading that book because they're "good readers". It was not written as a picture book for a reason. Yeah, I know, but we're not going to get into that here. The problem with age ratings is that kids aren't "on the whole". What might be right for one 13 year old, is all wrong for another. I guess if you're using it as another tool to talk with your kids, I get it.

Common Sense Media haven't reviewed DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, so I don't have a dog in this fight. I can only imagine what they would say. I would hate to have my book witheld from a kid who really needed to read it because they were "too young" by their standards.

I don't censor my kid's reading. If he's interested enough to read it, fine by me. I hope that he'll talk to me about anything he found troubling or that he didn't understand. He's 12, so that's a crapshoot.

For a great in-depth blogpost on this subject, check out SassyMonkey. She did a much better job than I did here. All I'm saying is that if you are lucky enough to have an independent bookseller near you, ignore all media recommendations, head on over and ask them. Out of everybody in the biz, passionate indie booksellers know more than everyone else put together. You'll get great recommendations for your particular kid and walk out with books they'll probably love.

On this date: In 1978, Fleetwood Mac won the Grammy for Rumors.


Tess said...

Interesting discussion topic. I think it is important to emphasize that a rating does not mean the child can't/won't pick that book up. Man, I see little kids at rated R and PG13 movies all the time. In fact, a higher age rating might make the book more appealing to some pre teens .. kind of like how my daughter doesn't want to shop "inside" the childrens section anymore even if great novels are there (like all the Newberys)

In the end, people still make their own choices. This just offers information to those who are seeking.

good thoughts to mull on.

cynjay said...

You're right of course Tess. It's not about the kids self-censoring (think for a minute about what you read as a teen), but about the adults as gatekeepers.

Hopefully, they'll just do what we did - tear the cover off the front and read it anyway.