A few years ago I asked our elementary school librarian for a read-aloud suggestion for my two oldest children, then 10 and 8 years old. After asking me a few questions, he suggested a medieval story about a boy living a parallel life to King Arthur. The story was moving along nicely and everyone was enjoying it, but then the story line of a teenage romance and an unwed, expectant mother surfaced. This was my first experience with what I deemed age-inappropriate material in children’s literature. I edited on the fly for the rest of the book, but was disappointed to find this subplot in a book aimed at fairly young children.
As parents we are responsible for much of what our children experience in their young lives. We are often very vigilant about the movies our children watch and the video games they play, but when we go to the library or order a book from the book order, we are far less attentive to the content that will be presented to our children.
In the defense of parents, it is much more difficult to ascertain the content of a book. Movies and video games have ratings, even music CDs bear warning labels for explicit lyrics, but dust jackets and synopses rarely alert parents to any questionable content. Many parents try to pre-read their children’s books, but keeping a step ahead of young readers is often impossible for parents with limited reading time. Even scouring book review sites may not render useful content information for parents because each reviewer has a different level of comfort with adult or offensive material aimed at young readers.
Nearly three years ago, a friend and I found ourselves in this exact situation. Unable to keep ahead of our young readers at home and frustrated we could not find the content information we were looking for online, we decided to start The Literate Mother.
The Literate Mother provides reliable content ratings for youth and young adult literature, focusing on books 4th – 12th grade. We feel it is important for parents, teachers, librarians and concerned adults to be informed about the subject matter children encounter in books. Every book posted on our site is personally read and objectively rated in four categories: language, violence, sexual content and adult themes. Each of these categories is given a rating between zero (no objectionable content) and five (an excessive or disturbing level of content). We then explain, with examples from the book, the reasons behind the rating, and add our personal opinion of the book. This information helps parents and concerned adults suggest or discourage certain books, discuss sensitive material or simply strike up a conversation with a child about the book he or she is reading.
At TheLiterateMother.org it is our belief that there is so much age-appropriate, quality youth and young adult literature available, that our children need not waste their time on inappropriate or shoddy writing. We love books and agree with Mr. Thomas Jefferson that we cannot live without them. We would never want to discourage anyone from reading; on the contrary, it is our hope that with the information available on our website, parents will become more involved in the selection and discussion of literature in their homes. Whether you have a sensitive child you want to steer away from certain topics, a voracious reader you would like to guide toward more appropriate books, or just want to be informed on the subject matter to which your young reader is exposed, we hope you will find help at TheLiterateMother.org.
Jennifer Hafen Stevenson is the mother of 4 young readers. She enjoys life in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and family where they love to ski, hike and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Books are one of her favorite pastimes, especially reading aloud with the family. Jennifer is the co-founder of www.theliteratemother.org.
Annette W says
THank you! I’m always looking for rated books for me and the kids!
Jennifer (5 Minutes for Books) says
So glad you could post this! I appreciate that you have the ratings, but also describe what the content is, letting parents decide for themselves what is okay and not okay for their kids. I don’t like being surprised!
Carrie, Reading to Know says
I think this is a valuable resource! I had heard of your blog but didn’t understand the purpose behind it so I’m VERY glad you wrote up this post! I “get it” now and, again, I think this is a much needed resource.
I also think that’s why book blogs in general are helpful. You get to know certain blogger’s personalities and can predict what they’ll like and not like and find your comfort areas which match theirs. This community is valuable on the whole and I LOVE being a part of it!
Well, I’m seventeen, not a mother, but I really like this site. I’m generally leery of stepping into the YA section of the library or bookstore just because I never know what to expect. This is definitely a site that I will use, just because I’d rather spend my time reading good literature and not trashy, un-edifying books.
What a fabulous idea! I use websites to help determine which movies we allow our kids to watch, and my son certainly reads more books than he sees movie so this will be most useful! Thanks so much!
What a great idea! I became frustrated when I could no longer keep up with all my son’s reading. Since he is only eight, however, I wanted to keep tabs on it as much as possible. Your site is a much needed resource!
Brilliant! I can’t keep up with my nonstop reader (also I have my own books I want to read) and I will definitely use this resource. Thanks so much!