Mockingjay Discussion 20: A Children’s Book?

From Hogwarts Professor Louise Freeman in Virginia:

In case anyone’s forgotten, the New York Times gave Hunger Games a “Notable children’s book”  award. Two years and two sequels later, we have Mockingjay, which I speculate will be deemed ineligible in that category. As Elizabeth put it, we have “the biggest body count since Gettysburg,” not to mention Finnick’s description of his sex slavery, brutal slaying of young children and descriptions of battles, killings, war crimes and torture that make even adults cringe, not all of which were committed by the Bad Guys.  Can readers who were put off by Harry’s brief uses of Unforgivable curses stomach this?  Especially in a series welcomed by teens and even pre-teens in midnight release celebrations? 

I began reading the series after my 12-year old daughter discovered it. She just turned 14 and made Hunger Games the theme of her birthday party. A few months ago, my 10 year old son, after hearing us discuss Hunger Games, asked to read the first book.  I was uncomfortable enough with the violence and nudity of the first two that I told him he needed to wait to age 12.  Now, I’m thinking of raising that.  I’ve been wondering how an authentic Hunger Games film could avoid an R-rating; now, I’m thinking Mockingjay could be pushing NC-17.  It’s going to be hard to market Happy Meal toys for something like that.

I know HogPro has both adult and young readers, so I’d like to hear from both. What age is appropriate for this series?

Comments

  1. I think that the age is going to be highly individual and depend on maturity. My 11 year old son is clearly not ready for this third book. I can’t even guess at what his precise age will be before I decide that he is mature enough. I can tell you this, I will insist on discussing it with him when he does finally read it.

  2. I agree with Lynn that this has to vary with the kid in question and that these are books that parents should read and discuss with kids who are between late elementary and early high school.

    I chose Fallen Angels for our free reading period when I was in sixth grade, and I remember needing to ask the teacher if I could just sit silently during the end of the reading period after finishing a particularly brutal scene. But I was able to handle the book at the age and to understand the role the obscenity and violence played in it.

    There’s certainly a lot here–war, oppression, death of loved ones, sex slavery, suicidal thoughts, etc. Kids are going to encounter these things, though, and hopefully this engrossing story will provide a platform to help them deal with it first in a safe, imagined way. I would err toward letting kids read it rather than holding off, but be prepared to monitor how they’re handling it and to discuss the difficult points extensively.

  3. Ally, I am not familiar with Fallen Angels so how does it compare in intensity and age questionable themes with Mockingjay? My son does want to read this third book of the series, but luckily he has a long line of other books he wants to read too. This helps to keep it a non issue in holding him off on reading it. He has plenty to keep him occupied for now.

  4. Lynn, sixth grade was a good while ago for me, so my memory is a little fuzzy. It’s a very realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War and follows several young men fighting in the war. Consequently, there’s a lot of swearing, some talk of sex or sexual fantasies, and a lot of fairly graphic violence. There are also some slurs of the type that American soldiers actually used against Vietnamese during the war. The book was written for young adults, but it doesn’t shy away from its very adult themes.

    In just about every way, I would say that it’s tougher than Mockingjay (though I can’t remember what the body count is). First, I did not find Collins’s depictions of violence particularly graphic as many points. They were frank, and plenty of people died, but in some ways, the violence stayed conceptual or abstract to me, at least in several scenes. Second, Finnick’s experiences are again not explained in detail. They would likely provoke questions from children about what exactly happened to him, but there aren’t, for example, graphic descriptions of acts involving teenagers. Or even overtly sexual feelings (the closest is Katniss feeling a “hunger,” but that isn’t really further developed). And then of course there aren’t issues with adult language or racial issues.

    As a disclaimer, I tend to have a very liberal view of reading, so I admit that bias toward read-and-talk. Parents are obviously better judges of what their own children are ready to handle. But I tend to think that kids can understand more nuance and complexity about adult life than we sometimes think and also that they are exposed to some of these ideas by outside sources earlier than we might wish. I think that Suzanne Collins has managed a really impressive balance here: she does not hide the adult issues and themes, but she also paints many of them in broad enough strokes that they can lead to general conversations between parents and children without demanding a level of detail that might be reserved for high school kids.

    It honestly strikes me as a good “The World is Rough 101” text. It’s a step up from Harry Potter in terms of violence (and sexual abuse), but let’s not forget that there was a lot of death (including sudden, jarring deaths of loved characters) in the Potterverse, too.

  5. Louise M. Freeman says:

    Very interesting. I consider the first truly “Adult” book I read to be Catherine Marshall’s Christy, long considered a Christian classic. Yes, it’s mostly an uplifting story about an Applachian missionary (I wonder if she knew the Everdeen ancestors?) but there is a non-explicit but clear rape scene… I remember it taking a few moments to figure out exactly what happened to Miss Alice and being truly stunned, never having encountered anything like that in a book before (I was still enjoying the Bobbsey Twins at the time!) I read this for an independent reading project in 6th grade and I remember it was on the list of books you had to get your parent’s permission to read. I think Christy and Anne Frank were the only two I read from that list.

  6. I suppose my first “adult” read was Wuthering Heights in 8th grade, as my teacher had already made a point of asking my mom prior to recommending the book to me. I’m not sure I understood the complexities of the characters and their interactions; actually, I was a little taken with the idea that my teacher and mom thought me mature enough to handle the themes! I don’t remember any follow-up discussions…perhaps they were waiting for me to ask questions?!

    I agree with Ally and Lynn; parents need to know their own children and be pro-active with discussions. I highly encourage parents to read the series (preferably) before or in conjunction with their children’s sojourn into the world of Panem. As discussed in other topic posts, HG and CF will not fully prepare readers for MJ, no matter the age.

  7. I think it’s hard to put an age on this one. Younger readers won’t get everything going on, but teens will. And I think the topics and themes are pretty dark for sensitive readers.

    One thing that did bother me is some of the reviews for the book talk about how the violence is ok because readers will know it’s not real. I think this is actually the opposite of what SC was going for. The reviews on commonsensemedia.org, which I usually enjoy, really sugar coated the book and it’s themes, and said it was ok for 12 and up. That’s a little lower than I would set it, especially when kids don’t usually have anyone to discuss the books with. Maybe a high school freshman English class, with its guaranteed discussion and reflection, would be better.

  8. Ally, thanks for you input. I tend to think that as a parent my overall trend will be overprotectiveness. That is why I was interested inn your view point on this. I do think there needs to be conversations with our kids at likely younger ages than we are comfortable with. You are right when you point out that if we don’t starts these conversations then they will get input from outside first. I agree that I would like my input on the record before my son gets inundated with outside views. Thank you for reminding me that I will always have to carefully balance my natural overprotectiveness with a world that will expose my son to things I want him sheltered from. I have a lot to think about in regards to my son and this book in the next year or so and I am glad that you made me think a little more Ally.

  9. Children and teenagers are voracious, omnivorous, and uniquely intelligent readers. This blog provides the best evidence of how “children’s literature,” whatever that might be, provides continuing and continually intriguing nourishment for the serious reader of any age, but the other side of the coin is that all literature can be useful to children, even if they will not be reading in the same manner as the adult target audience.

    I am thinking in particular of an essay titled “I Never Wrote for Children” by P. L. Travers which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on July 2, 1978. Travers reveals that a book of five death scenes was one of her earliest literary influences, though the author almost certainly would never have guessed that he was writing for children.

    Travers’s anecdote about the death-scene book rings true for me because so much of my own early reading was material I myself might be uncomfortable handing to a child, but I would not trade the experience for anything. With some embarrassment I will admit just between us that the first time I read War and Peace, I thought that the historical element was mere background noise to a book that was all about Team Andrej vs Team Pierre. I may not have been the most careful reader, but the book holds many charms for young girls (carrot ice cream; Natasha getting fitted for her first ballgown) charming moments I might have missed had I waited until later.
    Getting back to Travers, there is an episode in Mary Poppins in which a starling has a conversation with the baby siblings of Jane and Michael. The bird explains that they can understand bird-language because they have not yet lost a kind of spiritual wisdom with hich they were born. The only adult who retains this wisdom, of course, is Mary Poppins herself.

    So, finally, I think a ten or eleven-year-old growing up in a household of serious readers is probably ready to tackle The Hunger Games, if it holds his interest.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Great conversation! As so many of you point out, the individual reader’s personality is a far better measure than any arbitrary age range set by a publisher or reviewer.
    The books that really “rocked my world” as a younger reader were Lloyd Alexander’s trilogy—Westmark, The Kestrel, and The Beggar Queen, which I read as a freshman in high school. Though I’d loved his Prydain books, which certainly had some grim elements, I was floored by the last two books in the series, which are also strongly anti-war/be-careful-that-you-don’t-turn into-what-you-are-fighting. One scene, in which a character we’ve known and liked is found dead, mutilated, and tied to tree, still haunts me. I wonder how many younger readers will find scenes from Mockingjay still lurking in the unconscious twenty years from now?

  11. I really don’t know the best age for these books, but I’m 13 and absolutely love them. I agree that Mockingjay is a little iffy, but I also think kids have the right to know about that kind of stuff. I didn’t understand all of Mockingjay, and I didn’t pay attention to the parts I didn’t understand. I know that when I”m ready and old enough I”ll understand enough. Lots of parents don’t talk about that kind of stuff to their kids, and try to hide things from them. But the real world is out there and we’re going to have to face it someday. It’s better to know about it sooner than later. I know those kinds of issues are out there, and when I’m interested and want to learn more about it, I will. But until then, I’m satisfied with the explanation, “it happens.”

  12. Kira, thanks for taking the time to write your perspective. I really am taking everything in and thinking about it in regards to when my son will read this. I do agree that he needs to understand the realities of the war and the world around him. I hope that you have some great people to discuss this book with and help you sort out some of the meaning.

  13. I’m right around the average age of Hunger Games fans, a senior in high school. I can tell you that I’m definitely the reader type; I’ve been attending Hogwarts since I was nine or ten alongside Harry and his friends, and I played Martin the Warrior in my backyard for years.
    When I was in sixth grade, I started to read my mom’s Catherine Coulter books. I remember keeping the Wyndham Legacy under my pillow to re-read for months. I picked that book up again a year ago and suddenly there were sex scenes that just hadn’t registered at the time – I couldn’t remember reading it, being shocked, nothing. I think kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and I also think that they’ll either learn about the world (something they would have done anyway, with time,) or it’ll go over their heads until they’re ready for it.
    When I was in sixth grade, Animorphs ended. I’d read almost all of them thanks to the local library, and bought the final one at a Scholastic book fair at school. It’s not on the same scale as THG, and Animorphs was never as openly graphic, but I can tell you that even in sixth grade I understood that those kids couldn’t really return from their war, even the ones who lived.

    If children in the books are being forced to fight in the Hunger Games, if children in the world are being sold into slavery and fighting in wars and starving on the street, then why shouldn’t our children be able to read it? The places in the books aren’t real, but every horrific act in them can be found in our world. (So can the hopeful things.) If it disturbs them, they can always put it down and come back to the book when they feel ready – something you can’t do in real life. I think kids are stronger than we give them credit for, even little ones. I think our best way of teaching them about things is to tell them, through historical fact or fantastical fiction. If they can learn without having to experience horrors firsthand, all the better. If the deaths in the books make them sick, if the Games that the characters play make them see the extent to which human cruelty can and has extended, if they notice goodness and love more acutely for it, then the books have served their purpose.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Nicely put, Molly! You sound like my kind of student! Are you shopping for a college in the eastern US by any chance? 🙂
    You also hit that critical point, that books like this often aren’t bringing us anything we don’t have in our own world (Margaret Atwood has said that every atrocity committed against females in The Handmaid’s Tale has been done by some present or past culture), and perhaps, they make those things easier to face, or even conquer.

  15. Louise Freeman says:

    Hands off, Elizabeth! She’s mine! Mine, I tell you! 🙂

  16. I’m 12 years old (and my first “adult” book was 1984, which I read a few months ago.) Mockingjay didn’t disturb/scar me for life or anything. Admittedly, it left me feeling emotionally disoriented for a few days, but judging by what I’ve read on forums, that happened to quite a few adult readers as well.
    I think that ultimately, it comes down to the child’s maturity. Most teens nowadays aren’t as impressionable as adults make them out to be; and those reading the Hunger Games are probably mature enough to understand what Suzanne Collins is trying to say: War is hell, and those who experience it are never quite the same again.
    As long as parents are willing to discuss the book, I don’t think it’s too inappropriate.

  17. Alisha, Molly, and Kira, thanks for bringing a much needed perspective to this conversation.

    I particularly like the observation that kids naturally tune out a fair amount of adult content and that how much varies with age and readiness. There are a number of sitcom episodes that my parents let me watch that I only much later (in syndication) realized had very adult content. I just got enough to be amused and didn’t even notice how much I was missing. The same is true of many movies and books.

    Books in particular are great ways to push boundaries and comfort levels. Unlike movies or TV, where the storytelling is entirely out of your hands, a novel gives you some control over your pace (and what you need to process the content) as well as over how vividly you imagine difficult images. And as some people have noted, younger readers naturally use that fluidity to focus in on some parts of books while touching more lightly on others.

    Plus, while parents will always want to protect their kids from the knowledge of bad things, I tend to think it’s more effective to arm them with critical thinking skills. There are always going to be people trying to win them to one cause or another, and learning to engage with content, to dissect it, and to make individual judgments about it is the best defense. Tackling complex issues involved in war on one’s one time, in one’s mind, with parents or peers to discuss it with will serve kids well as they grow up and start to be few through the cable news propaganda machine that is adulthood in America.

  18. Well, I attend an advanced school where in the sixth grade we are in AP Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Engineering, and I’ve been reading HP since when I was about five, and I’m definitley the reader type as well. All of my peers and their parents have read the series, and while I am only eleven, I understood most of the series, and it actually was eye-opening because I have begun to think deeper about life, death, and survival. Katniss is a great role model for be because she is resourceful, strong, and clever, and so along with other apocalyptic series that I enjoy, such as The Books of Ember and Life as We Knew It series, as well as the Gone series, hunger and wasting and other topics have broadened my horizon and my opinions on the future and past. I didn’t really realize Finnick’s slavery untill I read these comments, so I believe that what kids don’t understand, we glaze over or ignore. And the violence is blunt and isn’t as gory or explicit as you see it in movies. I agree with Alisha. As long as parents discuss this content, and as long as the child is mature enough, eleven year olds can read it, high schoolers can read it, and adults can read it. It depends on perspective, and age can differ along with the understanding of the content and translation.

  19. Thank you for chiming in, Isabella, and many well wishes for your success in such an exciting educational journey. I’m glad you mentioned Ember, as my son, who was 8 at the time, really loved the first two, but like you, they made me think deeply about food and lack thereof. One weakness I found in the Ember books was the author’s insistence on a vegetarian diet for her characters (because she is a veggie gourmet chef, I imagine), but vegetarianism is a choice only available to people who live in temperate climates with year-round produce or conveniently located grocery stores! Collins also focuses on food and hunger in great detail, but I find her characters’ food choices far more realistic and typical of survival needs, thus more adult and realistic. Like the violence, food choices, particularly in District 12 are more brutal and more believable; people eat what is available, whether it’s greens or squirrels!
    It will be interesting for you to re-enter Panem in later years and see how your perspective changes!
    Thanks again for joining the conversation! Hope you’ll stick around!

  20. To be honest, I find all three of the books rather chaste in the sexuality department. The most that’s told to us explicitly is that Katniss sleeps in Peeta’s arms (the very definition of platonic, in my book) and that she enjoys kisses. Even Finnick’s revelation of his sexual abuse is lightly done — it happened, yes, but there are no details, nothing explicit. To garner an NC-17 movie rating, you’ve got to have enormously blatant (or “aberrant”) sexual content, which definitely isn’t the case here.

    My issue is with all the violence (which I agree would definitely warrant an R). I think Americans tend to downplay the corrosive effect of violence, rating it less worrisome than sexual content, which is so backwards…

  21. Hi, I’m 12 years old and I really enjoyed all three books. I don’t think that there was anything I didn’t understand but I suppose I wouldn’t know.

  22. Hello, I’m Katie, and I’m 13, around the age of average readers.
    I really don’t get what the big hype is. Sooner or later, we need to face this stuff, and there was really nothing sexually explicit in MJ. I agree, it was a little unexpected, even for MJ, but it wasn’t that bad. And technically, The Hunger Games was written for people around the ages of 11-16, so yeah.

  23. Hello, My name is Cathy and i’m 17, and I agree that this is not a book for children it should be 15 or more. I started reading it at the age of 16( the first book) and i find it very interesting but, it not for a 10 or 13 year old boy or girls, is for more mature teenagers.

  24. I’m not exactly sure what I feel about the rating system. It seems to bend and twist at different times. What I do know is that I am 19, and when I was lost in the world of Panem I was stunned by the violence I confronted there.
    However, SC makes it very clear that it is bad violence and Katniss never really enjoys killing. She is always doing it to protect someone else, or to make the world a better place for future children.
    So I think therein lies the key to making the films stay at PG-13, making sure that people are aware the violence isn’t something to be relished. Because that is the difference between good and evil, lightness and darkness: knowing the difference between protecting and dominating.

  25. I’m ten and I read mockingjay and I loved it. Some parts are depressing and violent but you have to remember its not real. Mockingjay wasn’t half as violent as I thought it would be. I say 10 would be a good age to start maybe 9 but really its if your child can think they can handle it and if you think they can handle it. Overall a great book that I recommend.

  26. NC-17? It’s not that bad to get an NC-17 rating the violence as to brutally over the top and or explicit sexual content. Not many films get it and most of them are for sexual content and not violence. I’ve seen plenty of R rated movie with the same amount of violence and even more sexual content. Saving Private Ryan supposedly got a free pass because of it’s historical content and netted an R instead of an NC -17 rating and none of the violence in Mockingjay come quite that close to that in the opening scene Lionsgate has said they are gonna keep the films PG-13. You can get away with quite a bit in a Pg-13 if some of the more harsher violence is suggested and implied via editing. You can do a lot with editing and camera work to suggest stuff like decapitations without explicitly showing it. Now there is the matter of Haymich’s disembowelment in Catching Fire but I have a feeling this is proabably going to be cut for time constraints.

  27. I think, it is VERY inappropriate. I love it so much though. Games and Fire aren’t as severe, but Mockingjay; as you say; is filled with events that made me want to puke. Thanks………… Leah 🙂

  28. Yeah I’m currently watching The documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” about the MPAA ratings board and NC-17 is almost exclusively for films with a very high Sexual content not violence. i;m watching a scene with them talking about The R rated Sin City which is full of gristly dismemberment and axes to foreheads and then they talk about the NC-17 film The Dreamers which is a film about Sex between three young people. The whole point the film makes is you can get away with all kinds of violence and get an R but have any sex scenes that are anything other then the missionary postion (even talking explicitly about sex) and you get an Nc-17. Now if this was Europe you probably would have issues with the violence but not any sex which these books don’t have. but Yeah Mockingjay does have some gristly stuff in it, but not anything that would get an NC-17 rating.

  29. I think you ‘re all worrying too much about this stuff. There are these reality shows on TV about having a one night stand and partying and having sex with anyone you can and you’re worrying about some book and a movie which has nothing bad in it. It doesn’t teach kids anything bad, it just shows how cruel world really is and kids will have to understand that it’s not all sweet in this world eventually. As for the Happy Meal thing I really don’t know why they would put it there. It’s obviously not for little children. I think kids that have 11 or more years will totally understand the movie. For God’s sake I was 11 when I read all the books and I instantly fell in love with them. Although I think most of the girls like it because of romance between Peeta and Katniss.

  30. Hi I am ten and I have read all three I am home schooled and I have read all three books I did not think it was very violent the occasional violent scene but I do not think there is anything very inapropriate or to violent but as many people said I think it all just depends on the child and the maturity of that child and the opinion of the parent (parents) and I think that katniss is a good role model for preteens as one myself I find the series very interesting, yet things you can learn from. Thx Lexie

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