Our daughter Grace is in fourth grade and a strong reader. She made it through all of the Harry Potter books and always has two or three different titles going at the same time.

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.

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8 Responses to Grace and THE HUNGER GAMES

  1. Love the teachable moment with Dancing With The Stars. She gets it. That alone shows she’s ready for the book. Thank you for having kids older than mine so I can learn from your meaningful teaching and parenting.


  2. jaclynderose says:

    This gave me a lot to think about. It just confirms that talking about reading and making reading a less solitary endeavor opens up the opportunity for new understanding and deeper relationships with your child. I second Amy. Thank you for having kids to help me become more prepared for being a parent someday.


  3. Tony Romano says:

    This is wonderful. You and Edie White are my hero parents. What intrigues me most about this situation and how it was handled are all the pauses, the time for reflection, by both the adults and young person involved, that remarkable young person who is wiser beyond her years. We need more pauses in this world.


  4. glenda says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all afternoon and evening. Isn’t this classroom situation a bit of a slippery slope? If SSR is a time for students to read their choice of books, and if the student’s parent has sent her to school having approved her book choice, is it really okay for the teacher to subvert the parent’s decision and the student’s choice? You, as a teacher, see the classroom from the teacher’s point of view as well as from your daughter’s. What about the student whose reading choice is denied and whose parent is not a teacher? Just as parents have the right to ask the teacher to choose an alternative novel for children, which often happens in high schools, so too should parents be the ones to approve their children’s reading material during free reading time. That the teacher missed the opportunity to teach this important lesson is a bit bothersome to me. Having said all that, maybe I’m a bit too removed from fourth grade, and I do recognize that I lack intimate knowledge about the school’s culture and challenges.


  5. billh says:

    Well, not everybody watches Dancing with the Stars (I’ve never watched it, not even out of morbid curiousity). Not surprised your daughter is an advanced reader – you always seemed to have a book or three going back in the day.

    And if you want to really demonstrate the books that are OK for home but not OK for school, have her bring any of the “Left Behind” series or even “worse”… The Bible.


  6. Wow, Gary. Can I just send my kids to be raised by you? LOL!
    I do have to admit, I would take issue with the teacher saying it’s not okay for school. If students have choice and you as a parent approve and the book is not pornographic, then she should be allowed to read it. The rationale that the teacher has used leaves him wide open for a lot of complaints. What if my child wants to read his Bible during that time? Or a Muslim student wants to read the Koran? These have both happened in my classroom and I have allowed it. Because my child won’t be allowed to read one of those, does that mean the restriction should be placed on the whole class?
    Let’s take religion out of it. What about Harry Potter? I know plenty of kids who aren’t allowed to read those books. Does that mean Grace and other kids shouldn’t be allowed to read them in class?
    I think the teacher is off base here. You’ve got to have a better reason to ban books in your classroom.
    And, by the way, Devin, my fourth grader, is reading the book also. Maybe he and Grace can compare notes 🙂


  7. Great post Gary. My daughter and I read the Hunger Games together and similarly compared it to Survivor. It was a running conversation that made the experience more meaningful for both of us. In truth I stole the idea for a family book club from you. I agree with Tony that the pauses and time for reflection add power to the conversation. We need to take time to ponder meaning at a deeper level. And I really enjoyed doing so together as a family.


  8. Gary,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments here. As both a teacher and a (new) parent, this blog spoke volumes to me. In truth, I am nervous as to how my daughter is going to receive books, especially with difficult themes, and I hope I can address her thoughts an concerns as well as you seem to have done here. Thanks again!


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