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  1. #1

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    Sad You're Reading What???

    This season, publishers are rolling out more volumes for teens that are full of heavy themes, from binge drinking to incest.

    By SALLY BEATTY
    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
    June 24, 2005; Page W1

    Hilary Armstrong was happy to see her 12-year-old daughter Katherine reading at the kitchen table one afternoon -- until, that is, she glanced at the back of the book jacket. "I was mortified," says Mrs. Armstrong. The book, which her daughter got from a friend, had a blurb on the back that read, "After all, no one really wants to go to college a virgin."

    The San Francisco mom allowed Katherine to finish the novel, one of the popular "Gossip Girl" series, but started keeping closer tabs on her daughter's reading material. She wishes the book business would help out. "It would be nice if they had a big rating on it, like at the movies," Mrs. Armstrong says.

    It's the summer book season: Do you know what your child is reading? To appeal to teens brought up on suggestive music videos and cable-TV shows, publishers are releasing more books full of mature themes and unflinching portrayals of sexual activity, with young protagonists the same age as their target readers. One publisher is venturing beyond its titles on dragons and bunnies with "Claiming Georgia Tate," about a 12-year-old girl whose father pressures her into a sexual relationship and makes her dress like a prostitute. In "Looking for Alaska," prep-school students watch pornography and pass the time binge-drinking. Coming this fall is "Teach Me," in which a male high-school teacher has sex with a student.

    And kids seem to be responding: Young-adult fiction -- which has come to be associated with the edgy titles -- is one of the book industry's healthiest segments. Targeting the 12-and-up age group, the segment's sales are up 23% since 1999, according to estimates by industry analyst Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor. (Adult sales in the same period were down slightly more than 1%, according to the Book Industry Study Group.) The young-adult category's top seller by far is the "Harry Potter" franchise, and when the series' last book came out in 2003, Mr. Greco estimates it accounted for almost half of the segment's $406 million in sales. But for children who've outgrown young wizards or just want something else to read, publishers are releasing more risqué titles in the young-adult segment, many of them aimed at teen girls. Last year, even without a new "Potter" book, overall revenue in the young-adult segment increased to $410 million, estimates Mr. Greco. In all, there were more than 21,000 new kids' titles released in 2004 -- double the number in 2002, according to R.R. Bowker in New Providence, N.J., which collects publishing data.

    To offer some parental guidance in this fast-changing arena, Weekend Journal sorted through more than 100 of the season's talked-about teen titles. We kept our eye out for literary merit and great stories, and also looked for themes that parents might want to know about. One discovery: The subject matter is rarely clear from a book's title or graphics. "Rainbow Party" features tubes of lipstick on the cover -- though it isn't about girls discussing makeup, but a teen oral-sex party. We also found that girls are the main target audience here, reflecting publishers' belief that more teen girls than boys read. (The idea is that boys stick to fantasy epics.) That helps explain why there are more controversial girl-oriented titles, like "Alice on Her Way," about a 16-year-old who spends a weekend in Manhattan on a class trip.

    Publishers say the mature material simply reflects the culture teens are exposed to today, and may help them to process situations they've heard about or experienced. In some cases, they add, the themes help advance a moral message: "Rainbow Party," for example, teaches children about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, says Rick Richter, president of Simon & Schuster's children's division, which published the title. He adds that he'd be happy to have his 13-year-old daughter read it.

    Industry analysts say editors have been emboldened to go beyond the bad behavior of the '80s "Sweet Valley" novels, because of a few risqué-fiction success stories. Last year's "How I Live Now," aimed at children 12 and older and featuring an affair between teen cousins, won the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult literature. Many more have been commercial hits, including the "Gossip Girl" series, for readers 15 and up, with seven installments since 2001 and more than two million books in print. (Most young-adult titles sell fewer than 20,000 copies, analysts say.) The "A-List" novels, about rich teens looking for trouble, have had 945,000 books printed since 2003, while last year's "The Clique," a chronicle of spoiled middle-school girls, is already a three-book series with 1.15 million copies in print.

    The risqué titles are at the center of a mounting debate, as bookstores throughout the country struggle with whether to stock them. Barnes & Noble and Borders, for example, carry the "Gossip Girl" series, but both have declined to stock "Rainbow Party" in stores. (Both retailers sell the books online.) On the other hand, some independent sellers are invoking the First Amendment in defending their decision to stock such titles. The four-store Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, stood firm recently when a mother of three called to criticize them for carrying "Rainbow Party" and threatened to take her business elsewhere. "If we had said we wouldn't carry it, the phones would be lighting up from customers because we didn't carry it," says Elly Gore, the chain's children's-book buyer.

    For our review, we talked to retailers, publishers and book clubs to come up with some of the summer's most talked-about titles. We checked them out ourselves and also asked a panel of readers to comment on content and literary merit. We then gave each our own parental-guidance advisory. Here's our list, starting with books with the most adult themes:

    CLAIMING GEORGIA TATE
    By Gigi Amateau
    Candlewick Press, 208 pages
    $15.99, in stores

    The Plot: After her grandmother dies, young Georgia is sent to live with an abusive father she hardly knows. He passes her off as his girlfriend. A transvestite comes to her rescue.

    The Buzz: Ms. Amateau says the transvestite character was influenced by the "compassion and empathy" she encountered working with AIDS patients in the early 1990s. The novel marks an ambitious push into the young adult market by Candlewick, a publisher of books like "Guess How Much I Love You," about two bunnies competing to share their affection. Candlewick is giving it a first-print run of 15,000, high for an unknown author.

    Reviewer's Take: Our 28-year-old reader called it grim but uplifting.

    Parental Guidance: Strong caution for mature subject matter. The story is told from the girl's perspective, so young readers may not understand everything she's experiencing. The publisher recommends it for children 14 and older.

    RAINBOW PARTY
    By Paul Ruditis
    Simon Pulse, 248 pages
    $12.99, in stores

    The Plot: A promiscuous high-school sophomore plans an oral sex party.

    The Buzz: One of the summer's most contentious teen titles, though some librarians say it could spur parent-child discussions. "He brought to the surface a pretty serious problem in many communities that no one wants to talk about," says Pam Spencer Holley, a retired librarian in Hallwood, Va. The author's name may be familiar: He's written books based on TV shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "***** as Folk."

    Reviewer's Take: Sex scenes between boys and girls, and boys and boys, made our 40-year-old reviewer feel squeamish.

    Parental Guidance: Simon & Schuster says this is for children 14 and older. We suggest parents read it first.


    THE CLOUD CHAMBER
    By Joyce Maynard
    Atheneum, 274 pages
    $16.95, in stores

    The Plot: A teenager grows up on a failing dairy farm in 1960s Montana and deals with his father's attempted suicide.

    The Buzz: Ms. Maynard is best known for "At Home in the World," her 1999 tell-all about her romance with the reclusive, older author J.D. Salinger. This is her first book with Atheneum, a Simon & Schuster imprint known for literary works.

    Reviewer's Take: "Cheesy dialogue and narration that talks down to readers," said our 22-year-old reviewer.

    Parental Guidance: Publisher says this is for ages 11 to 14, though suicide subject may upset some children.
    www.wsj.com
    When I read this at work a few weeks ago I was shocked to say the least! I understand some of the author's intent to notify "troubled-young-teens" of such controversial issues however, shouldn't they leave it up to the parents to inform those young and impressionable minds? I also understand that such topics are inescapable due to the media ie: music videos, tv shows, video-games etc. and kids will be introduced to them one way or another. However, I do believe that there is a safer way of introducing and discussing these serious of issues with one's child. Either way I can't help but to think how fortunate I was to grow up in a household where reading was not only encouraged but monitored as well. MiceChat parents how do you feel about all of this?
    Last edited by saweetmelody7; 07-02-2005 at 12:33 PM. Reason: too long

  2. #2

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    Well, I may not be a parent, but I'm 13 years old and just eat up the Gossip Girl novels. My parents are pretty liberal and I can basically watch whatever I want with discretion ( I don't know if I used that word right). My parents taught already about whats appropriate and what's right or wrong, and trust me to make my own decisions, which rocks on my parents part. I mean, they'd let me read a book with suggestive content as long as I know the situations in the book are fictional and should just be regarded as fiction. Personally, I feel that I learn more without my parents stifling me and telling me what I should or should not read or watch. I think I deserve the right to read and watch what's interesting, because that's what's going on in society today, and I want to keep in the know about reality, you know?

    [ /sermon ]

  3. #3

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    I spend a good 60 minutes (at least) reading micechat everyday
    As nice as the other parks are, we must always remember that it all began at Disneyland. Disneyland should be the crown jewel in the Disney crown.

  4. #4

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    Meh. You can only censor kids so much. Better that they read smut than watch it on TV.


  5. #5

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by IndianaChel
    Well, I may not be a parent, but I'm 13 years old and just eat up the Gossip Girl novels. My parents are pretty liberal and I can basically watch whatever I want with discretion ( I don't know if I used that word right). My parents taught already about whats appropriate and what's right or wrong, and trust me to make my own decisions, which rocks on my parents part. I mean, they'd let me read a book with suggestive content as long as I know the situations in the book are fictional and should just be regarded as fiction. Personally, I feel that I learn more without my parents stifling me and telling me what I should or should not read or watch. I think I deserve the right to read and watch what's interesting, because that's what's going on in society today, and I want to keep in the know about reality, you know?

    [ /sermon ]
    I understand completely what you mean. I guess I should've stated my oppinion more clearly in that my parents were aware of what I was reading more so than they were monitoring what I was reading. Quite like your parents it seems. I am not sure why but I guess it kinda saddens me to know that there are very few teens that read at that and on top of it all are reading books such as these. (not knocking you down or anything, please don't get me wrong here) You in fact seem very well read...or very mature for your age...mature enough to handle the suggestive content in which these books contain anyways. I dunno...does any one see where I am coming from?

  6. #6

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    I just finished reading Rainbow Boys, a book about three gay boys in high school.

    I think that books that tackle the difficult issues should be more widely read. I don't think that some newspaper journalist has ANY right to try and "inform" parents of what is good for their child. The adult should make those judgements on the child's maturity level and how they react to certain situations.
    Quote Originally Posted by drunkmom
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  7. #7

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by MiceMan
    I just finished reading Rainbow Boys, a book about three gay boys in high school.

    I think that books that tackle the difficult issues should be more widely read. I don't think that some newspaper journalist has ANY right to try and "inform" parents of what is good for their child. The adult should make those judgements on the child's maturity level and how they react to certain situations.
    ...and did you feel as though you were well informed? Maybe I should pick one up for myself and see before I knock it down right? I honestly was just shocked to find out that a lot of those books were targetted towards 12 year olds...then again...I still secretly hope that those good ol' fashioned values will weave it's way back into today's society...thank God for Disneyland and it's constant reminder of innocense and family values! Hooray for Disneyland!

  8. #8

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by IndianaChel
    Well, I may not be a parent, but I'm 13 years old and just eat up the Gossip Girl novels. My parents are pretty liberal and I can basically watch whatever I want with discretion ( I don't know if I used that word right). My parents taught already about whats appropriate and what's right or wrong, and trust me to make my own decisions, which rocks on my parents part. I mean, they'd let me read a book with suggestive content as long as I know the situations in the book are fictional and should just be regarded as fiction. Personally, I feel that I learn more without my parents stifling me and telling me what I should or should not read or watch. I think I deserve the right to read and watch what's interesting, because that's what's going on in society today, and I want to keep in the know about reality, you know?

    [ /sermon ]
    Since you're really young, I'm going to try and go a bit easy on your post...

    One has to question a young person's ability to read certain material when that young person questions the proper use of "discretion". It's ironic that someone could be against something they don't really understand yet...

    I think people should have the right to choose, although at what age, I am unsure. Why? Because most young people make REALLY stupid decisions.

    You said that your parents would let you read a book as long as they know it's fictional... but these stories are based on reality. Sex really happens. So does binge drinking. People die, contract disease, and have unwanted babies as a result of these actions. That's reality, not fiction...

    And honestly, society has nothing to do with reality at all. Society is a joke. The fact that sex sells everything from burgers to cars is a testament to that. The lack of "quality music" or the amount of acceptance for actual musicians... To be honest with you, you'd be much more "in the know" by not paying attention to much of what society puts out!

    Personally, although I hate to admit it, my parent were dead right about a lot of things. And the older I get, the more I realize that my parents really did teach me a lot. It just took me awhile to realize it. This may not be true for all people, but in my case, my parents were right about the majority of things, and in most situations, it'd be wise to follow their advice...

    That having been said, reading is a form of media like any other, and people can be influenced by it just like music, television, or movies. If you choose to follow rather than think things out, experience will be the way you learn about life...

    But do you really need to get burned in order to know fire is hot?

  9. #9

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by Soulquarian
    Since you're really young, I'm going to try and go a bit easy on your post...

    One has to question a young person's ability to read certain material when that young person questions the proper use of "discretion". It's ironic that someone could be against something they don't really understand yet...

    I think people should have the right to choose, although at what age, I am unsure. Why? Because most young people make REALLY stupid decisions.

    You said that your parents would let you read a book as long as they know it's fictional... but these stories are based on reality. Sex really happens. So does binge drinking. People die, contract disease, and have unwanted babies as a result of these actions. That's reality, not fiction...

    And honestly, society has nothing to do with reality at all. Society is a joke. The fact that sex sells everything from burgers to cars is a testament to that. The lack of "quality music" or the amount of acceptance for actual musicians... To be honest with you, you'd be much more "in the know" by not paying attention to much of what society puts out!

    Personally, although I hate to admit it, my parent were dead right about a lot of things. And the older I get, the more I realize that my parents really did teach me a lot. It just took me awhile to realize it. This may not be true for all people, but in my case, my parents were right about the majority of things, and in most situations, it'd be wise to follow their advice...

    That having been said, reading is a form of media like any other, and people can be influenced by it just like music, television, or movies. If you choose to follow rather than think things out, experience will be the way you learn about life...

    But do you really need to get burned in order to know fire is hot?
    I get you. I'm not offended at all. thanks.

  10. #10

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    My 13 yo daughter refuses to read these type of books. She says they insult her intelligence. (That's not just an idle boast, she's a darn smart kid.) I've let her read all of my library, from the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series to all of Stephen King to James Thurber and E.A.Poe. I do warn her if there are "adult" themes in a book. Yes, I know this isn't normal reading material for modern kids. We are a geeky bookish family in general.
    We talk about the issues these (young adult) books raise. Of course that may change in a year or so when Mom isn't cool anymore. I really think that mature subject matter depends a lot on the maturity of the person reading. I always found young adult books to be a little preachy.
    The reality is that yes, these are very real topics but they should be discussed with your child. Don't just hand them a book and expect them to get the moral of the story.
    All in all, I'd really rather talk about this stuff with my daughter than have her just read about it.


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  11. #11

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by Momzilla59
    My 13 yo daughter refuses to read these type of books. She says they insult her intelligence. (That's not just an idle boast, she's a darn smart kid.) I've let her read all of my library, from the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series to all of Stephen King to James Thurber and E.A.Poe. I do warn her if there are "adult" themes in a book. Yes, I know this isn't normal reading material for modern kids. We are a geeky bookish family in general.
    We talk about the issues these (young adult) books raise. Of course that may change in a year or so when Mom isn't cool anymore. I really think that mature subject matter depends a lot on the maturity of the person reading. I always found young adult books to be a little preachy.
    The reality is that yes, these are very real topics but they should be discussed with your child. Don't just hand them a book and expect them to get the moral of the story.
    All in all, I'd really rather talk about this stuff with my daughter than have her just read about it.
    I agree with momzilla. When I was young, I began to read very advanced books for my age group, and my parents never censored me. I also believe it is important to discuss the things that do come up in these types of books, but I would never say my daughter couldn't read something due to content. Of course, at 10, she reads more at her level than I did at that age, but I'm so all for her reading anything at all. I got much pleasure and enjoyment out of books my whole life, I want her to do the same.
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  12. #12

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    My ten year old has read some books she probably shouldn't have..... : and I hate it. I hate that I let her, I hate that I accidentally on purpose exposed her to things and themes that she's too young for.

    But when I was her age, I was reading things like V.C. Andrews books and I did a book report on "Mommie Dearest" by Christina Crawford when I was in fifth grade. I still have the books report. My mom never EVER paid attention to what I read. Or watched on TV. My parents were totally clueless. Thank goodness there was no internet in 1983. :

    My daughter's ready for more than I'm willing to give up at this point. There are SO many wonderful books out there......I want her to read those before she moves on to more "grown up" themes with cheesy dialogue. I won't even let her read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books yet.

    She reads faster than I do....and I read fairly quickly.....so she plows through more than a novel a day. I've insisted that every fourth book be a Newberry award winner or one that I pick out and so far that's not been a problem for us. And the ones she's chosen have not been all that bad.....I think there was just one or two that I vetoed. I think that because I give her some freedom and space and we have our "book talks" almost every day that she wants to pick interesting books by good authors.

    She's read some really amazing books and we've had some incredible discussions about all kinds of thing....slavery, child abuse, suicide, cancer, divorce, step-parents, civil rights, homelessness, the environment.....all because of the books she's read over the past year.

    I've noticed the Gossip Girls books at Target and know that the time will come for that kind of crap. But we're not there yet. I'll make her read the entire set of Sweet Valley High books first.

  13. #13

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by stinkerbell
    My ten year old has read some books she probably shouldn't have..... : and I hate it. I hate that I let her, I hate that I accidentally on purpose exposed her to things and themes that she's too young for.

    But when I was her age, I was reading things like V.C. Andrews books and I did a book report on "Mommie Dearest" by Christina Crawford when I was in fifth grade. I still have the books report. My mom never EVER paid attention to what I read. Or watched on TV. My parents were totally clueless. Thank goodness there was no internet in 1983. :

    My daughter's ready for more than I'm willing to give up at this point. There are SO many wonderful books out there......I want her to read those before she moves on to more "grown up" themes with cheesy dialogue. I won't even let her read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books yet.

    She reads faster than I do....and I read fairly quickly.....so she plows through more than a novel a day. I've insisted that every fourth book be a Newberry award winner or one that I pick out and so far that's not been a problem for us. And the ones she's chosen have not been all that bad.....I think there was just one or two that I vetoed. I think that because I give her some freedom and space and we have our "book talks" almost every day that she wants to pick interesting books by good authors.

    She's read some really amazing books and we've had some incredible discussions about all kinds of thing....slavery, child abuse, suicide, cancer, divorce, step-parents, civil rights, homelessness, the environment.....all because of the books she's read over the past year.

    I've noticed the Gossip Girls books at Target and know that the time will come for that kind of crap. But we're not there yet. I'll make her read the entire set of Sweet Valley High books first.
    Yeah, my mom did that too. Before Gossip Girl (don't trash it, they're good...most of them) came Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and American Girl.

  14. #14

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    Quote Originally Posted by IndianaChel
    Yeah, my mom did that too. Before Gossip Girl (don't trash it, they're good...most of them) came Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and American Girl.
    My daughter is ten, though. We have time. And for a ten year old who likes to read big thick novels 75% of the time.....trust me.....Gossip Girls are fluff compared to what she likes to read most of the time. Fluff can be good, and entertaining, but still fluff.

    We're just not there yet. For now, fluff is Nancy Drew. She knows the difference between a light fluffy read that doesn't make you think or feel and a good piece of (children's) literature that causes a discussion. And she's ten. I've had her read books by Katherine Paterson, S.E. Hinton, Richard Peck, Cynthia Voigt, Lois Lowry, Betsy Byars. She's read the Chronicles of Narnia.....her favorite book of all time is Coraline by Neil Gaiman. There are so many good authors out there.

    When she's a teen, I'll probably really read what she's reading, so we can have more grown-up discussions......especially fluff like Gossip Girls. Because those kinds of books can be very influential on the way a teen thinks and feels. But I'm not rushing into that.

  15. #15

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    Re: You're Reading What???

    There's this misconception that reading makes your more intelligent or something. I know it sounds crazy for me to say that but hear me out...

    A lot of books out there are crap. Just like music, movies, and t.v. I think everyone should read, but I never liked the people that liked to "boast" about what they've read. Just because you're more aware of topics presented in books doesn't mean you're capable of understanding, comprehending, or being able to discuss the content intelligently...

    People tell kids to just read read read. That's great, but they should still be monitoring to some degree what their kids are reading. It's funny because we think of videogames, T.V., Movies, and Music as almost "evil". It's bad to listen to that music because it can corrupt you. Or it's bad to watch T.V. because it's full of violence and sex...

    Books are the same way! And guess what, your imagination is A LOT more powerful than any t.v. show can be. Sex being described in a book will be more intense than a movie anyday.

    I know a lot of people don't want to censor their kids and whatnot, but kids grow up fast as it is. Why push them out into the world at an early age? No matter how "mature" you think your child is, or how "mature" they think they are, you understand more with age. I've read pretty advanced novels all my life, but when I read them again after being older, they mean more or I understand them more.

    So don't throw books into the good pile or assume your child will read everything and understand it more because she got it from a book. Books can be just as destructive...

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