Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses – Rome. Remember the gladiators? Feed the masses and give them entertainment, bloodthirsty entertainment. What more could the public want? Seems to be a theme going here in the United States or at least in the literature. I must give credit where credit is due for this blog. I read Playground Monitor’s blog last week on the “Hunger Games” and decided that I had to read it to find out what all the uproar was about. Well, I read the book. Here’s my take on it and it's my opinion only.

Actually it was a very good book. Suzanne Collins drew you in and made you like the heroine, Katniss. You identify with the girl and her tribulations in a post-apocalyptic world. Then Collins made you want to root for her in the games. She had to win. I think it was well written, a bit stilted in some parts, but overall a very good, quick read. Now, I am a lot older than the average fan of this book and I have a lot of life experiences that a pre-teen would not have. I can appreciate the darkness and the cynicism about the government. I understand the struggle for survival that is all through this book. Katniss does exactly what I would do to protect my family. She does it nobly and with honor. All the things we hold dear in a heroine.

BUT, I just do not see this as a young adult novel, or at least a novel for the pre-teens who are devouring it. The darkness, the despair and the utter hopelessness that pervades the book could become depressing. I also do not think that a pre-teen (and here I am actually talking about fourth to sixth grade children) should be subjected to the murder and mayhem occurring in the book. It just seems too intense. I won’t spoil the book for those of you who have not read it but there is one character who dies in this book and it is not an easy death. I hated it but it was a necessary part of the plot. I am conflicted about this book being read by children who do not possess enough life knowledge to understand that death is final and that, unlike a video game, you aren’t coming back from it. I truly believe death has been trivialized by a lot of things in our society – video games where the object is murder makes it seem impermanent. This is not to say that Ms. Collins trivialized the deaths in the book. What I am trying to say is that children reading this see a heroine who kills. Without the knowledge that is pertinent to understanding Katniss’s predicament, the killing of others just seems inconsequential. I think that the age limit for this book should be, like movies, rated to young adults, thirteen and above. Just my opinion.

The theme of this book closely parallels the gladiator games in Rome. I also wonder about what the popularity of this book says about us. Are we like the ancient Romans who need excitement and the death of others to make us feel more alive or to feel entertained? I know, it’s just a book but it’s a young adult novel. Do our children understand the deaths and the reasons for those deaths in the book? That the government is punishing the Districts like Rome punished its provinces? Maybe this would be a good time to show the children that this has actually happened before. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

How do you feel about the book? Do you feel that it’s appropriate for pre-teens (and I know they do) to read this? Give me your opinion on the books, whether you’ve read them or will read them. Also, tell me your thoughts on the underlying theme of the book. I’d like to know.


  1. I am reading it right now and am really loving it. But it it is intense. I will probably take a break and read something light before I read the next one.

    As to the age level--if I were still working as a librarian, I would have it cataloged as a YA. As to the age appropriateness--I think it depends on the child. Precious Angel could have handled it as a middle schooler, not not a fourth grader.

    Often when making decisions about what their children should read, parents go totally on reading level and disregard subject matter. They are so proud that their child is reading above grade level that they cannot see anything else.

    But it is a parental matter--and Cheryl, I know you are not suggesting otherwise. I am an advocate of intellectual freedom and it makes me angry when parents want authors, teachers,librarians, and booksellers to do their job.

  2. You are right, Jean. It does depend on the intellectual level of the child and my son (who is brilliant) could have also read it as a middle schooler. My sister, who teaches fourth grade like Stephanie, says all her kids are reading it. That I have a problem with - it's simply too young.

    And no, I don't advocate someone else taking the parents' role in determining what their children are reading. It is the responsibility of the parent and NO ONE else. I read the Harry Potter books before I let my son read them because I wanted to make sure they were fine (and they were). I had a duty to raise my son, not teachers, librarians and booksellers. Wish all parents would try to take an interest instead of passing the buck.

  3. I haven't read the series yet. Actually, I'm avoiding it because I don't like to read about death and violence. It makes for a very bad nights sleep for me.

    As for the kids, I have a 5th grader myself, and she decided on her own not to read the book or see the movie because of the content even though all of her friends are gaga over it. I applaud her for thinking it through for herself (and getting her big sister's advice). And I'm thankful I won't have to endure her nightmares either.

    I agree it's a parental matter. There are kids able to handle it. But at the same time, I wonder what impact this type of content makes on our children's expectations in life, their decision making processes, their future world.

    Anyone read Ender's Game lately? I believe it was written in the 1970s before computers were a common household item. It's fascinating how much of its world was undiscovered then (still in the science fiction world)and yet commonplace in our world today....video games, simulations of warfare, etc. It's kind of like Field of Dreams, "If you build it they will come." It makes me wonder, if we write it, read it, are entertained by it....will it become our world down the road? Our children's world?

    Geeze! My coffee's a bit strong this morning. :/ Sorry.

    1. I also wonder about what the impact of this content will make on children. I realize it is something parents should think about. Your fifth grader shows remarkable insight.

      I have never read Ender's Game; sounds interesting. I always like Jules Verne and he showed a remarkable ability to predict future machines too. I will have to find the book.

  4. I’ve read The Hunger Games. My daughters and mother have read the books. I know teens who’ve read the books. If my children were younger, I'd allow them to read the books too. It is fiction, isn't it? Children are a lot smarter than everyone thinks. The Hunger Games is a story about a girl who’s forced to do whatever it takes to survive. There isn't any gratuitous killing involved, IMHO. Nothing like you see on t.v. and the news everyday.

    Children know the difference. When we look at the destitute conditions of District 12 and the opulence of Penam, even a child can understand the hunger, depravity, the unfair rules and regulations forced upon society. What Katniss is forced to do teaches children they can survive and, neither the book nor the movie, glorify these decisions. Let’s face it, this isn’t the first time or the last for this 'theme'. Walt Disney did it all the time.

    I’ve developed a theory about Disney movies. A child will lose one or more parents, or will be forced to face the threat of some cataclysmic event. Name them: Bambi, Finding Nemo, Lion King, Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast, Little Mermaid, and the list goes on and on and on. Disney knew a child’s greatest fear was losing a parent, having the world swept right out from underneath his/her feet. What do children learn? That they can rise above these horrible events given they stay true to themselves and exhibit courage in the face of bitter odds. Flash forward to The Hunger Games. What’s different? Nada.

    The world is a scary place. But the threat of a post-apocalyptic world is nothing new (think of the new Zombie apocalypse fad or the book The Time Machine). Take Twilight. Are kids going out killing people and drinking human blood? What about Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde? Should we expect kids to make potions in chemistry class that will turn them into monsters? Middle School kids are learning about serial killers in school. Yes, they’re actually told to select a particular serial killer and do a report. Now that’s unbelievable and inexcusable. I’ve been up in arms about this for years.

    What are kids learning by reading The Hunger Games? That you can overcome horrible circumstances by staying true to yourself and making the right decisions. Presenting this idea, theme, in a format that everyone can relate to has the potential to mold mankind and keep society from reaching what Penam has become. Killing isn’t natural. This series shows what characters are forced to do in order to survive and how that changes them for better or worse. Lesson here? You bet. I would rather my children learn this philosophy early, rather than too late.

  5. I appreciate your opinion Kathy. It's good to have different views. I just think that children who are pre-teens should not read this. I would not let them read erotica and that's literature too. It depends on the child and his/her maturity level. I was just saying that I think it is a bit too intense for fourth through six graders. I think it is okay for the proper age children, such as middle-school-age children, to read the books.

    And never in Disney did he show the actual killing or dying-he taught the lesson without blood and gore (why is it necessary to teach a lesson with blood and gore?). There are stories coming out even now about parents taking their children out of the Hunger Games movie because of the violence. The movie has a PG-13 rating and so should the book because of the maturity of the content. I am not advocating book burning. I am just saying that it is a parent's duty to watch what his/her child reads. I believe in freedom of speech. I liked the book and I think it's wonderful that Ms. Collins has had such a success with the series.

    My point about Rome is just that we have had these lessons time and time again. Gladiators were set in an arena to kill each other for the entertainment of the masses. We already had that lesson in history long before the Hunger Games. Yet you could ask a child about ancient Rome and the Coliseum and I am sure he or she couldn't explain it to you because history is not taught in depth any more. And yes, I wanted my son to learn the lessons but I didn't want him learning about them when he was too young to comprehend it.

    1. Cheryl, this has proven to be a great debate. Thanks! I'm loving it! And of course, I mean no harm by sharing my opinion. ;)

      I love your passion for youth today and I understand your views completely. Not sure if I would let my 4th grader read Hunger Games, but I know of one particular 4th grader who has read them twice and loves the books. If parents are communicating with their kids about what they're reading/watching, all for the good. Much of what is read today should be discussed and shared. But again, this is MHO.

      As for Disney, the animation clearly shows Belle's father being imprisioned. We hear Bambi's mother get shot, birds fly up out of the field, we hear the unsettling silence as he calls her name, which is even more horrifying because we know what happened (I know because that traumatized me when I was young). We see Ariel's father get imprisoned. Flash to Nemo and his father when his mother doesn't make it. Scar's quest for power, brother killing brother. And yes, we do get a clear image of that in The Lion King. Wicked witches trying to kill little vulnerable girls in The Wizard of Oz. Grimm Fairytales anyone? The list goes on.

      My point is this, The Hunger Games is a book parents chose to buy their kids. It's up to the parent to decide whether their children can handle a book or a movie or video games, which are the most violent and disturbing causes of much of what's wrong with teens today. There is no do-over.

      To continue the debate over the uproar on the violence issue, much of the bible belt criticized Harry Potter when it first came out. What was magic teaching our kids? Again, it's a personal opinion for each household to consider.

      As for history, look how times have changed the Anne Frank story. I surely don't remember Anne having feelings for another girl when I read it long, long ago. But the book definitely carries that weight now.

      You're right about history. You know I love history. But the books are rewritten and represented in class rooms everyday, events glossed over, some history has even been eliminated from the books. If we do not know what's happened in the past, we're doomed to repeat it, right? The Hunger Games is a mix of Gladiator, Reality phenom, and apocolyptic scenario combined. It's a story asking the age old question, how far is society willing to go?

      Books like these open up the debate between you and me and everyone else. Debate is good! Being reminded to cherish human life rejuevenates society. Perhaps one of the best things to happen when books like these come out is that parents talk to their kids about it. That can only be a good thing. ;)

  6. I haven't read it yet either but after seeing the blog today, I am more inclined to give it a go.

    1. It's s good read Stephanie. I would heartily suggest it.