Jennifer

The Literate Mother—Grading Young Adult Literature

Jennifer

By MJ Hanley-Goff

Anyone with kids, or who teaches them, or has them in their lives, can probably relate to the dilemma faced by Jennifer Stevenson, one of the founders of www.TheLiterateMother.org. “A few years ago, I asked our elementary school librarian for a read-aloud suggestion for my two children, then 10 and 8,” recalls Jennifer, in photo above with her family. “He suggested a medieval story with a King Arthur theme. Unfortunately, after we were entrenched in the book, the story line of a teenage romance and an unwed, expectant mother surfaced. I edited on the fly for the rest of the story, but was disappointed that our librarian suggested a book I had to modify for my young children.”

There is now a place to go to for valuable advice and reviews on books for children, pre-teens, and young adults. The Literate Mother, which went live in March 2008, has reviewed over two hundred books in a wide variety of genres, including, “adventure,” “paranormal,” “romance,” and “fantasy. Says Stevenson, “Books can shape who our children become, so choosing quality and age-appropriate literature is an important part of parenting. If a parent is informed about the books their child is reading, they can discuss any difficult subject matter with them. This way,” she continues, “the child can learn with guidance.”

Stevenson isn’t alone in the running of the site. Joining her are friends Bridget Verhaaren (above, with her family), who with Stevenson conceived the idea for the site, and Keri Heath, a former neighbor and good friend. Other reviewers, Ellen Bahr, Karen Hunt, Aimee Brown, and Chris Nash, joined up after the site was launched. “As far as a shared belief about books, I think we are all just concerned about some of the content that is being marketed to our young readers,” says Stevenson.

The number of books reviewed each month varies; this past July the site posted 24—a record. “We focus our reviews on literature that is either written for or would interest youth between 4th and 12th grades,” explains Jennifer. “Because YA literature generally denotes ages 14-25, it can be a little problematic since many parents do not realize that the category encompasses such a wide age range. They assume it’s appropriate for their teens.” Therefore, the site has added a category on the site to show which books are recommended for 18 and over.

Has Stevenson NOT been able to finish a book? “Funny you should ask,” she says. “I’m debating that for the first time while reading a book for YA. It’s full of “f” words, and every other word is a swear or vulgar term, and I’m only on page 68!” She does, however, feel she has to finish it since the book will be marketed heavily in the fall, and “parents who see this book in the bookstore window should be aware of the content.” Ratings can fall between 0 (no objectionable content) and 5 (excessive or disturbing content) in the following categories: “language,” “violence,” “sexual content,” and “adult themes.” A review for the new book, Dangerous Neighbors, provided quick and straightforward information, along with the book’s publishing information, cover art, synopsis, and a final comment. (In this case, a “zero” for language, and 3’s each for violence, sexual content and adult themes. The remarks noted that there was a big fire, a love affair, a sensual moment, and a contemplation of suicide).

The site is generating much attention, has an active Facebook page, and averages 2,500 visitors a month, though the reviewers would like “ten times that number.” They are thrilled each time they receive an email from a grateful parent or teacher who discovered the site and found it helpful. As our kids are returning to school next month, this is a site sure to become a favorite.

Comments about their reviews and suggestions for other books are welcome. And, lastly, before this story ends, I had to search their site for their review on a Harry Potter book, and found one for, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Hmmm, what rating did they give? For “language” and “sexuality,” each received a zero (nothing objectionable). A “3” was given for “violence,” and a “2” was given for “adult themes.” The reviewer ended with this comment: “I believe I am now locked into reading the entire series aloud. This first book was action packed and I thoroughly enjoyed Rowling’s sense of humor.”

To read more reviews, go to www.TheLiterateMother.org

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