No Hunger Games for my 11-year-old

I really wanted my 11-year-old daughter to read The Hunger Games, but my 14-year-old intervened. It doesn’t matter that kids her age are reading them, Elsa said; it’s a bad idea for Natasha.

It was out of curiosity that I picked up the first book of The Hunger Games—and I couldn’t put it down. I devoured the whole series; I totally get why it has been so successful. It’s an exciting story. The characters are interesting. The fact that the killing is televised and glamorized and that there are “sponsors” rings uncomfortably true in our “Survivor” society. The idea of kids fighting bravely and resourcefully against the Bad Big Brother government is appealing. I was sucked in—and that’s what I was hoping would happen to Natasha.

By her age, all three of Natasha’s older siblings were routinely sucked in by books. They had fully discovered how wonderful it is to be lost for hours in a book (even if, as was the case with my older son, it was in repeated readings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Natasha rarely gets lost in a book, and this worries me—because I worry that we are losing this as a society, that our attention span is getting shorter and shorter, that we are becoming all about sound bites and videos, and we are missing out on all the great gifts we get from reading books.

But in my zeal to get Natasha reading, I lost sight of some more important things: what Natasha wanted, and what she could deal with. Elsa was right: not only was it unlikely to interest her, a book about kids killing each other wasn’t a good choice for sensitive Natasha (this is one of the many benefits of having five kids—they keep me in line).

As for the wildly popular movie—Natasha would never be able to handle it. That I didn’t need Elsa to tell me. I agree with my colleague Mediatrician Michael Rich that there is a real difference between book gore and movie gore. When you are reading a book you can skim read the violent passages—or skip them entirely. You can put the book down and take a break. You can imagine scenes in a way that isn’t gory. But when you go see a movie, nothing is left to the imagination, there are no breaks or ways to avoid anything, and the filming and music are done in a way that heightens the emotions of it all. It’s in your face, big time. So the argument that if your kid has read the book it’s okay for them to see the movie doesn’t work for me. Some of them will be okay with it—but some will not.

This, to me, is real point of the whole Hunger Games debate. It’s not about whether exposing kids to violence is okay; it’s about being in touch with your kids, and understanding how that exposure affects them. The Hunger Games is getting all the attention now, but it’s not like it’s the first or only violent or disturbing book or movie out there that kids might be exposed to. There is an awful lot of violence out there, some of it alarmingly gratuitous. Even Disney movies and cartoons have violence in them. And don’t even get me started on video games.

Our job as parents, then, isn’t as simple as just keeping kids away from violence. We can do it for a while, but it’s hard to do it effectively—and the reality is that violence has become part of our world and our media. Our job as parents is to help our kids navigate this violence. We don’t want them to be too upset by it—but at the same time, we don’t want them to think that violence is good. We need to understand what they are ready to see or read, and then we need to talk with them again and again about it. Talking about the violence in The Hunger Games could lead to all sorts of really interesting conversations about what people are forced to do in desperate situations, about power and its abuse, about media and the glamorization of violence.

But I won’t be having those conversations with Natasha just yet, because she’s not ready for them. And I’m back to the drawing board in my quest to get her sucked in by books. I’m thinking maybe The Mysterious Benedict Society. Anybody have ideas?

25 thoughts on “No Hunger Games for my 11-year-old

  1. My daughter is 10. Fully capable of reading the material and also having nightmares about what she is reading. I had to hunt down books that interest her because she wants to read things that are above her developmental level, but at or below her reading level. She is currently loving Allie Finkle’s rules for girls. If you research you can find books for them. I am also a firm believer in keeping them young for as long as possible and there is plenty of age appropriate material out there to do that. I personally STILL can’t stand killing/vampire etc.. books or movies. I hate being scared that way.

  2. Louisa May Alcott … I devoured at her age.  And I’m in agreement with your POV. It’s not about protecting our kids from violence.  Some children your daughter’s age and younger MAY be ready for the movies, but I would err on the side of caution in protecting my children’s innocence for a little while longer and avoiding the possibility of scarring imagery that could lay dormant in there minds for a long time. Not that it would incite them to violence themselves, but why give them that potential fear now.  I know mine are not ready.    

  3. Maybe the Emily Windsnap books? The Redwall series? Or the Warriors? Great blog post, btw. I have a sensitive nine-year-old with an intense appetite for reading, so I am always keeping an eye on which series are “right” for her.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Our own 11 year old devoured all three books, warned me to stop before the third one, but STILL wants to see the movie.  (And she advises your daughter try the Penderwicks series, the 39 Clues series or the Warriors series…)

  5. I loved “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” but my 10 1/2 y/o suggests  ” The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Fours Sisters, Two Rabbit, and a Very Interesting Boy” by Jeanne Birdsall  and “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” by Grace Lin.

  6. My almost 11 year old sounds just like yours! She was so mad that I let my son see the movie but not her.  He’s a teen and has read the series. She just started the first book in hopes that I would let her see the movie, but I think she’s already given up on it. As for book suggestions, look into “Wonder” by RJ Palacio. It is a surprisingly funny and tender book about a deformed boy from his and other’s perspectives. Great to initiate conversations about relationships, bullying, and more. Another reason she might like it: the chapters are 2-4 pages.  Reading level 4-5th grade.

  7. Wise call, it’s not just age, it’s sensitivity that counts. 🙂 I’d suggest Garth Nix Keys to the Kingdom set 🙂

  8. Our 12 year old daughter loved the Percy Jackson series when she was 11.  But she also read almost all of the Harry Potter books when she was 10.  Our older daughter 15 1/2 never read Harry Potter and was afraid when we tried to watch the movies.  Yes all children are different.

  9. I loved the Samantha Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen at your daughter’s age. It’s centered around Sammy Keyes, a 7th grade girl detective who is always in her Converse hightops. It was a great series with a strong female lead.
    I found that, similar to the Harry Potter series, as the character aged so did the storylines. It starts out perfectly for a 10/11 year old, and by the 6th or 7th book, is appropriate for 13/14 year olds.

    I haven’t thought about them in a few years, just looked it up and found out there have been 5 or 6 published since I stopped reading…guess I know what I’ll be doing! 

  10. Great post. I loved books by E. L. Koningsburg at Natasha’s age – especially “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.”

  11. Love ,Love LOVE ,the Mysterious Benedict Society and so did all of my children . We listened to it in the car as a family first and all fell in love with it . Then, my older boys ,who are great readers ages 10 and 8 , read it and the 2 next books .

  12. Does she like fairy tales? She might like the Sisters Grimm series, about two sisters who find out that they come from a long line of Grimms and have to keep all of the fairy tale characters in line. It’s a great set of children’s/YA books that even adults will love (I do!), and it’s funny and smart without too much violence.

  13. If I were to recommend books for an 11-year old, they would be books by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Tales of Deveroux.  All great books!  I’d try Because of Winn Dixie first.  🙂  It’s brilliant.  I loved them at her age!

  14. Ooh!  What about The Phantom Tollbooth?  It’s not scary at all; the title’s a bit misleading.  It was my absolute FAVORITE book at her age.  It’s about a little boy who gets a tollbooth and a car in the mail, and when he assembles them and drives through, the tollbooth, he arrives in another land!  He meets all these interesting creatures.  It’s a lot of play on words.  It’s very whimsical and so sweet!  I clearly have to read it again soon.  🙂

  15. I am a reading specialist and have pretty good batting average at finding books for boys and girls who are reluctant to read. What does she like to read about ? Does she like flowery, girly books or does she prefer humorous funny books ? Ask her to think about the last couple of books she read and what grabbed her attention. I would love to know and may have a few ideas for books she may enjoy.

  16. I second the recommendation for the Sammy Keyes series–first thing that came to mind. Tamora Pierce has some great fantasy series with strong female leads. And I loved the books “A Murder for Her Majesty” and “A Family Apart” at that age if history is more her area.

  17. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt CHANGED my LIFE. The writing is breath-taking.  No one seems to read what I call the “gentler” classics any more – works by Babbitt, L’Engle, Konigsburg, Paterson, L.M. Boston. If you enjoy the diary/journal genre, A Gathering of Days by Blos and Catherine, Called Birdy by Cushman are wonderful. The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder was great too. Kids today seem to gravitate to easy excitement and fantasy, but these more subdued, literary, BEAUTIFUL books have so much to offer too. Are we losing our ability to appreciate them?  I hope not! 

  18. Try “the Neverending story” or “Momo” by Michael Ende. I loved them as a kid. They are very popular in Germany, not so much in this country. The movies are wonderful, too.

  19. The same author, Susan Collins has a series that follows a character named “Gregor”  that is much more appropriate for this age group. James Drashner The Maze Runner trilogy is another option for a child who isn’t interested in the Harry Potter or Benedict Society but not ready for the Hunger Games.

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