Last week she wanted to read The Hunger Games. Everyone else in the family has read it at least once, and the book regularly comes up in conversation in our house. The movie has obviously generated a lot of attention in the popular culture. Some of her friends have read it. We saw no problem with Grace reading The Hunger Games. She was absorbed in it over the weekend, and we all talked about the book and characters over dinner. It showed up in a lot of our other conversations too. Grace was deeply into the book when she took her copy to school on Tuesday after the long Easter weekend followed by a teacher in-service day.
She was kind of surprised when her teacher made this announcement: “The Hunger Games is a very good book. I’m reading it too. But it’s not appropriate for a fourth grade classroom, so you’re not allowed to read it at school.” Grace put away her copy of The Hunger Games and went on with the day, reading something else during her down-time. But it caused her some confusion. How can a book be OK at home but not OK at school? How could her teacher, parents, and sister say, “It’s a very good book” but then have it deemed “not appropriate” for school? After some playground processing of the issue, she discovered that at least one student in the class was not allowed to read The Hunger Games at home.
So, is somebody right here and somebody wrong? Is it possible for a book to be an OK “book for home” and a not-OK “book for school”? I’d say the answer is Yes.
Let’s start with Grace’s teacher. He has a roomful of kids in his class, and at least one of them is allowed to read The Hunger Games at home, and at least one of them is not allowed to read the same book. If someone is reading the book at school, does that raise an unnecessary controversy in the class? This class also has a little playground bullying drama going on, and although the school is working through it, I can understand why this teacher may not want to chance kids playing Hunger Games on the playground. Grace’s teacher knows the class dynamic and the people involved, so I’d say he walked the line extremely well. He declared it a “very good book,” which affirms those students and families who say it’s OK to read, and his banning of the book for his classroom affirms those who think otherwise.
What about the parents who don’t want their fourth-grader to read The Hunger Games? They absolutely have the right to do that. They know what’s best for their child. Not every book is right for every kid at any given time. Parents need the leeway to make these kinds of decisions for their children, and others need to respect their decisions. Similarly, those parents need to respect the rights of other parents to make different decisions.
What about us? How did we make this decision to allow our fourth-grader to read The Hunger Games? Well, we know Grace best. It’s not much more intense than Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, which she read and processed with good sense. We also consulted Common Sense Media, a web site which does a reasonably balanced job of providing age-based recommendations for various kinds of media. Common Sense Media’s recommendation for 11-year olds says, “PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.” Our daughter is kind of an “old” fourth-grader in a mixed age classroom with fifth-graders, and the younger sibling of a junior high sister who has read The Hunger Games three times. So, when Grace wanted to read it, we took all of that into account and said Yes, also knowing that she would put it down if it wasn’t to her liking.
So, last night at bedtime, I asked Grace, “Do you see any similarity between The Hunger Games and Dancing with the Stars?” (The children of English teachers have to put up with questions like this from time to time.)
She said, “No. One is about dancing and one is about killing.”
“You’re right. That’s how they’re different, but how are they the same?”
She thought a moment and then said, “They’re both on TV, and everybody watches to see who loses?”
“Exactly.” And we left it right there for now. Grace and I will eventually resume that conversation, and I hope we’ll find ways to talk about totalitarianism, media portrayals of brutality as entertainment, and how one young girl uses her wits, talents, and heart to make decisions under pressure. That’s a conversation we will have only because Grace is reading The Hunger Games.
Thank you for reading this. Your comments and feedback are welcome.