Is This Book Appropriate?

Recently I was talking with my cousin about her 3 daughters - an 11 year old and twin 13 year olds. They had seen the movie and read the book The Fault in Our Stars by author John Green. The girls wanted to read another book by this author called Paper Towns and my cousin wanted to know whether or not it was appropriate for them. This is a question that I am often asked at the library…is this book appropriate? Short of reading every book that their tweens and teens want to read, what is a parent to do when trying to find age- and content-appropriate books for their kids?

One resource that I use and often refer parents to (as well as my cousin) is a website called Common Sense Media. According to their website, “Common Sense Media helps families make smart media choices. We offer the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music.” When you look up a particular title, the first thing you will notice is the target age range for which they deem the book appropriate. There is also an overall quality rating based on a 5 star system. The quality is explained in further detail lower on the page. The next section is called “What Parents Need to Know.” A summary of the book’s content is there, including any material that may be questionable as well as a rating (based on the 1-5 scale) for the following categories: educational value, positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking, drugs & smoking. The next section is “User Reviews” and it is broken into what “Parents Say” and what “Kids Say.” The average age range for the book and quality rating is given from the perspective of both parents and kids. There is also a link to add your own review. The remaining sections are “What’s the story?” further describing the plot, “Is it any good?” discussing the quality rating in more detail, “Families can talk about…” giving discussion points for families to talk about together and lastly “Book details” such as author, genre, awards, etc.

Another website similar to Common Sense Media is Compass Book Ratings. Compass Book Ratings also gives a suggested age range, overall review and content analysis based on various categories (on a 1-10 scale), but this website tends to be more conservative than Common Sense Media. For example, Common Sense Media lists The Fault in Our Stars as age 14 whereas Compass Book Ratings lists the same book as age 16. Compass Book Ratings does not have reviews from parents or kids and their database of titles is more limited than Common Sense Media.

In addition to the websites listed above, parents can also use the Mercer County Library System’s own catalog. When you look up a book, click on the title and scroll to the bottom of the screen that pops up, you will find a section for reviews. These are reviews from publications such as School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The reviews almost always list a suggested age range for the book and depending on the reviewer, it may also list any questionable content.

NoveList K-8 Plus
Also available through the Mercer County Library System is the database NoveList K-8 Plus. Parents can look up specific books or categories and find the recommended age and lexile level of each title.

So getting back to my cousin and the book Paper Towns by John Green, I looked it up for her on Common Sense Media and they deemed it appropriate for age 14 with a quality rating of 4 stars. Parents agreed with the same age range and rating, but kids said that it was okay for age 13 and gave it a 5 star rating. At that point, I left it up to her discretion as to whether or not she felt it was appropriate for her girls. Every parent is going to be different on what they believe to be appropriate for his/her child. Some may say that violence and foul language is okay, but sex is totally inappropriate whereas other parents do not mind if a book contains sex. With Common Sense Media, the content of the book is laid out and gives parents a good basis for making their decision on what they feel is appropriate.

-Andrea C.


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