On Monday when I (erica) mentioned the lexile scores and how they can help you find a reading list for yourself or a kid, I didn't bring up the appropriateness of the books, but someone else did in the comments. If your child/student reads above or below grade level, it could make it harder to find an appropriate, yet entertaining, book for them. There was a good discussion about this issue on the ABNA forums that I followed this past weekend also.
Watching your kids grow up and knowing you're partially (mostly, for awhile) responsible for what they take in and learn from is a scary thing. Luckily, there are some things out there to help, including parental advisory labels and movie/game rating systems. Even most TV shows have a box in the corner to show what age range the show would be appropriate for (such as Y for cartoons up to MA for mature) along with initials like V for violence.
But what about books? Sure, there are sections of the bookstore. But how do I know that a book located in the middle-grade section of Borders is something I want my child to read? Even vigilant parents can have trouble deciding - I let Zach read The Deathly Hallows only after asking a few trusted people who read it if it was something I should let my then-8-year-old read (and I read it with him). I knew there would be dark scenes and assumed some beloved characters would be killed. What age level is ready for that??
MG is generally 8-14, but trust me, 14-year-old boys are WAAYY more worldly than 8-year-olds. A 12-year-old girl will go right to the YA section of a bookstore, but I think most moms/dads would like to know if there's a rape scene or something similar involved that they should discuss (and/or postpone, depending on the parent). Note: I'm NOT talking pornography here, not at all. Just general labels of MG/YA and whether they (along with a dustjacket description) are enough. Frankly, I think a lot of parents will be surprised when they see the upcoming Breaking Dawn movies and realize THAT stuff was in the book their younger-teenage child read (using that as an example because it's a well-known series, but there are many others).
In my thoughts as a mother - I would appreciate a general sticker on books similar to the movie and game rating system. Y (young, also could be E for everyone), PG (or MG - for children up to 10), PG-14, and YA/MA (for those over 15) would be enough for me to make an informed decision and also to strike up a conversation between my son and me when shopping for books. (btw, these are my labels, not real ones and definitely not meant to be laws)
Another writer on the ABNA forums mentioned something like this could be a form of censorship. A writer could even feel forced to self-censor themselves to avoid (or to get) a certain label - for example, if they avoid a reference to masturbation, a panel could give them a PG14 rating, but if they add it in, they could get the YA/MA and maybe restrict their audience or risk becoming a banned book. Also mentioned as an issue for some is who would regulate it. I certainly think there would need to be guidelines (again, such as those for TV/movies/games) and a committee to decide that.
What do you think? Would you feel censored if you knew your book could get a parental advisory label? Would it change your writing at all? Or do you think it could be helpful? Please let us know, we're interested in EVERYONE's opinion here (plus, christy said she could be swayed either way depending how good of a persuader you are...hehe)
Or, as one ABNAer said, do you think I should let it go and accept the fact that eventually my boys will hide a Penthouse under their mattress and there's nothing I can do about it? (btw, I do accept that, I just hope they'll wait a few years since they're 10 and 4)