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Is 'The Hunger Games' Elementary School Reading Material?

"They never collect the bloodbath bodies until the killers have dispersed...." — "The Hunger Games"

I'll confess. When the hot marketing machine that's driving Scholastic publishing's teen book "The Hunger Games" reached my 40-something cruising altitude I first pictured anorexic girls.

The characters in the novel are hungry, yes, very, but it's for blood. The blood of the 24 tweens and teens chosen in a lottery to fight to the death on a sadistic TV show. The "Twilight" series is TAME comparably. Downright preschool material.

The hype-sters are doing such a great job I actually heard about the movie (opening at midnight Friday) before the book. And when my 10-year-old started talking about it, I decided to read it.

Do not let the kiddie label publisher or the PG-13 rating fool you. The book's dark brutal post apocalyptic theme definitely does not fit with the company's other fare you're likely familiar with in those order forms sent home from the classroom.

The book is fantastically written. Beautiful language. Great story. But for grown-ups. I was pretty shocked to find out that fifth-graders were reading it, and I promise you I'm really hard to shock. I count "The Road" among my favorites ever, and I read "The Lord of the Flies" when I was in elementary school.

But as a parent, this was the first book I actually found myself saying "no" to my kid about.

I found it so incredibly heavy emotionally and sad and violent. I could not picture how my daughter would handle those feelings. She has puppy pictures on her wall for Pete's sake. But I also loved the story for its underlying themes of love, friendship and loyalty.

My Patchy associate Julie Dowling in San Ramon said her seventh-grade son read it and was very blown away. He and his friends re-enacted a scene in their back yard in which one of the favorite characters, a 12-year-old girl, is showered with flowers as she lay dying.

Julie said her son's school keeps the book off the shelf, requiring parental permission for it to be checked out.

Not being much of a fan of censorship in my own home, I handed the book over to my daughter, who read a few chapters with relish, asking some questions about words she didn't understand, then soon losing interest and putting it aside. Perhaps she decided those Justin Bieber biographies are a little more age-appropriate reading material afterall!

I'd love to hear how other parents are dealing with this. Did you let your kid read it? Are you letting your child see the movie? (And, by the way, the New York Times gives it a lukewarm review, saying it falls short of truly capturing the gritty feel of lead character Katniss' plight.)

Did anyone see the movie? What did you think of it? And did you think it was too violent for kids?

Tell me in the comments.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kari Hulac (Editor) March 22, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Thanks Michele, I like how you bring in the broader historical context. I know reading The Lottery as a child really opened my eyes up to practices such as the death penalty and influenced me about how I view government/crime/punishments for the rest of my life.
Brian Dawson March 23, 2012 at 12:53 AM
I think it's a good idea to stop your children from reading the Hunger Games series if... A) You hate "Parenting" or B) You have no real relationship with your children. If you are not one of the aforementioned there is no reason your kids shouldn't read the book. It has opened up conversations on politics, liberty, rights, justice, and fairness in my household and I love that we are talking about these things and not who lost on American Idol this week.
JoAnne March 23, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Hunger Games will be on the book shelves for years, and today’s 8 and 10 year old will in a few years evolve into the reader that can evaluate, appreciate, and enthusiastically discuss the book. Hunger Games like Lord of the Flies is a well written book which provides an opportunity to incorporate history, politics, morality, society, etc., which is why it can be a great fit for middle and high school readers and a few upper grade school students. These readers have had more social studies, read more books, and have the life experience and intellectual maturity to evaluate the book for messages and themes, which is why they can participate in these great family and class discussions. Remember when Jurassic Park was pushed in McDonald's Happy Meals and the movie was rated R ? It seems like Scholastic's fliers are doing the same by pushing a PG-13 movie to students in second to fifth grade...trying to cash in on a market too young for the product!
Michael Delfino March 23, 2012 at 03:02 AM
I read Hunger Games last week and I loved how the book covered the personal struggle Katniss went through during the reaping, while in the arena, and even afterwards with her conflicted emotions about one character (I won't say who as I don't want to spoil it for anyone currently reading it). However, I'm 35 years old and can read past the sheer violence, and see what that violence is getting at. Especially with so many movies and tv shows today glorifying blood and gore for no other reason than the shock value of it, a lot of kids won't be able to see the difference between what I see as literary intelligence in Hunger Games, compared to the stupidity of Saw (for example) which caters to a crowd that lets face it, just wants to see someone's arm get cut off. I work with kids of all ages for a living (I'm a martial arts instructor). Not too many elementary school aged kids are quite frankly savvy enough to make that distinction. As they get more into the middle school ages, they are increasingly able to make that distinction and understand that the violence in Hunger Games is a means to an end, not the other way around.
G. Bertolozzi March 23, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Both of my daughters read the series when they were in 7th grade--although the local 5th grade teacher listed it as her favorite book and those in her class that can read at that level, read it as well. It's a book...it's fiction. Has anyone read the real Grimms Fairytales? Censorship?: never--but I agree that the books should be available with permission from parent a/o teacher--if for nothing else, for the reading level. I, too, loved the series--but felt very guilty about it because of the subject. It was a very compelling story.
Eric Muetterties March 23, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I am with you Kari. I have not read the book, but the whole premise is not something I think time should be spent on. We have more than enough violence in this world and need people to start focusing on good things and making changes in the world that foster a better future. I personally don't see how embracing books about an apocalyptic future will foster that end.
Llama face March 23, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I rea the book in 2008 (when it came out) to preview it for my daughter. I loved it an thought it, although intense, was a great learning experience for my then 11 year old. We discussed it then an still discuss it from time to time. Fast forward to 2012 an all the hype from the movie release. My second child, now an 11 year old, just finished the trilogy. It move her beyond belief. It really led to many thought provoking discussions. Katniss is a deep thinker and this has rubbed off on both my daughters. I, too, read the Lord of the Flies in elementary school (waay back when, lol). That book changed me- it gave me a passion to read that is still with me today. I understand some parents' hesitation with regards to these books. I guess I would say that it depends on your child's personality, reading comprehension, etc more than their numeral age (although I cant see a kid younger than 11 even "getting" the books messages).
Sandy March 23, 2012 at 04:19 PM
My 9-year-old daughter still plays with American Girl dolls........but I let her read the first chapter, just to see how she reacted to it. Not intending to allow her to read the book in its entirety. I read it, loved it. But I don't think it's appropriate for 4th and 5th graders, no matter how mature they are. That's just my opinion. It's too violent. And my kids are already "facinated" by the whole concept of death and dying. Thanks to the front page of the newspaper and the morning news my husband has on the television every morning. After reading about 15 pages, my daugher looked at me and said, "not interested." And proceeded to pick up a book with a pretty little girl and a horse on the cover............I'm good with that.
Llama face March 23, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Well, obviously a 9 yr old is waaaay too A LOT of maturity happens between 9 and 11 years o age... Also- how cAn maturitty/intelligence not matter? Kids read at different age and maturity levels. Maybe an average 5th grader isnt suited for it but a mature or advanced one? Ps- i dont think a 9 yrold is the target audience for these books...
JoAnne March 23, 2012 at 09:31 PM
While not objecting to the series Hunger Games, I do think that the marketing of the book to elementary school children by Scholastic in a flier that goes home with many 3-5 grade students is wrong. It is marketed as a book set with a jay pin, or you can buy an "awesome journal", or there is the tribute book about the movie. In the flier, look for the Hunger Games book set next to the paint your own puppies kit! The book and movie tie-ins are being marketed to an audience that it is not intended or suited for according to the movie guideline and what readers have written here. When does objecting to marketing to an inappropriate age become censorship? To Kill a Mockingbird is the great American Classic, but I would feel nothing but disgust for it being advertised like Angry Birds. I would absolutely and without any “censorship guilt” deny my grade school child the chance to read the book, until they had the intellectual understanding to appreciate the book.
Brian Dawson March 23, 2012 at 09:32 PM
JoAnne, do you still have the flier. I really want that jaypin!
JoAnne March 23, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Rather disappointed that you are not going for the paint your own puppy kit! If you missed the flier, you could look for the pin in next years garage sales when the 8 year old girls are too mature to wear it!
Albert Rubio March 24, 2012 at 12:33 AM
I confess I don't understand the preoccupation with those against violence in literature and film. Real violence is to be deprecated but to relate the two is superficial, naive and nonsensical. Consider that history and mythology are filled with all the evil deeds imaginable. To see literature and film contain them should hardly be a surprise. Again this is distinguished from actual real violence. Plato had the idea of purifying what we know today as the myths and legends of Greece as composed the education of the young. He also advocated a society totally controlled for and by the state. Many have fallen under the spell of Plato to this day in varying degrees. Speaking of the legends of Greece, I just watched the film's trailer and was reminded of the legend of Theseus. I then looked at wikipedia and, lo and behold, it said "The Greek myth of Theseus served as basis for the story, with Collins describing Katniss as a futuristic Theseus, and that Roman gladiatorial games formed the framework. " I believe to talk about violence in film and movies is nonsense as violence fills history, literature and legend. To purge it is to destroy the formation of true education and much of entertainment. The only legitimate question is about how it is portrayed. Is it done in poor taste or without redeeming quality? Even this is a personal question to be decided individually or by parents in the case of the young and not by any authority.
Brian Dawson March 24, 2012 at 12:38 AM
great post. Couldn't agree more.
Leah Hall March 24, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Just purchased our tickets online for Saturday 9.45 am showing (that's a first). My daughter is 11, my soulmate 46. They both read the entire series months ago. As if I have any control around here. :(
Samantha Leggat March 24, 2012 at 04:40 AM
1. the question was, is the book appropriate for elementary school children, and I would say in general it is not. I remember as a child reading something I was not quite ready to read (as a voracious reader) and wishing like you-know-what that I could un-read it. We are not talking about teaching Plato and Greek mythology here, we're talking about making sure a kid who is just learning to multiply fractions is ready to stomach kids killing each other. Far from historical. 2. it is a personal decision and to add to your authority argument, my opinion is that a school should not assign the book as assigned reading to anyone below a 7th grader. (maybe higher!) I know 6th grade is "middle school" here in Ca. but let's face it, they're just not middle schoolers yet. Many are 10 or 11 and that's just too young, and if a teacher has it on a syllabus, it's quite difficult for a parent to decide to refuse the assignment, as the child can get teased, etc. (Frankly, I read it along with my child and I'm just not sure what all the excitement's about...you couldn't get me near that movie screen to see what I read in that book.) 3. wikipedia? really? =) LOL
Albert Rubio March 24, 2012 at 05:06 AM
>' wikipedia? really? =) LOL' I know you intended a lighthearted comment, and not to change the subject but I do think wikipedia criticism is misplaced and is not proportional to the great service that it is. There is simply no unflawed fount of knowledge available (books?, schools?, teachers?, newspapers? government? holy books?). All are prone to error or maliciousness. You can be sure for anyone who believes there is such a source, someone else is doing the thinking. I have found Wikipedia a great source of information and my reference was a very reasonable one. I quoted it to show that the film has some classical foundation in it's plot. The fact that most of the public 'educated' is bereft of a classical understanding makes them unable to see the connection. I just wanted to defend Wikipedia because it is a great service to the self learner.
Albert Rubio March 24, 2012 at 04:21 PM
suggesting a binding rule of who should not read something (outside of yourself and your children) falls under the category of encouraging 'authority' and censorship. What is appropriate for elementary students or anyone (without entering into extremes) is not really an answerable question. But a mentality under the authoritarian spirit sympathetic to the ideas of Plato will find little difficulty in giving (their) judgement. This was the point I was trying to underscore. Thanks for reading my post.
Llama face March 24, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Dead on, Albert. Well said.
Michael Delfino March 24, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Albert, I agree 100%. I am completely against government imposed censorship with the exception of extreme cases like child pornography, Faces of Death (a video series where they record people getting murdered, raped, etc.), and things like that where only the lowest of the low of our society would actually buy or even watch. To say that absolutely no elementary aged child is ready for a book like Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, etc. is ridiculous, not to mention going against 1st Amendment Rights. If a parent so chooses to censor what their child reads, watches, etc., that is of course their right, but not the government's.
Samantha Leggat March 24, 2012 at 10:08 PM
I'm against censorship, absolutely, and I watch over my children and will eventually let them make the ultimate decision in what they read when they're mature enough to do so. A parent knows his/her children best, and that's really where the insight comes from, but censorship, no, I am not for that. But the opposite is not appropriate either--a book like The Hunger Games should not be required reading in certain grades but perhaps a book on an extra credit reading list. It's a great thing that we have the freedom we do in our country to read whatever we want. I guess as a parent, I want as few opportunities of reading in these last few months of elementary/middle school (if that's possible) to have limited graphic violence because life sure is filled with it on the news that kids overhear, in stories told on the playground, and in video games. The kids are faced with years and years of gruesome visions and stories in reality, so why read about it in a book this early? I'm not a big fan of books about fairies and flowers and creeks, don't get me wrong, but for that age range, give me a good mystery or adventure novel sans overdone violence any day....
Sandy March 26, 2012 at 11:37 AM
Read the books. Enjoyed them. Months later started hearing friends tell how they were allowing their 4th grader to read them. Don't agree with that. Whatever.....just my opinion. My kids are not yet ready for books that heavy. It'll still be on the book shelves in three years..... What bothers me is that I did see young girls as young as 8 and 9 at this movie ....one was even dressed like Katniss, with her hair in the side braid, ect. It was all I could do not to walk up to her mom and ask her what she was smoking. I must admit, it bothered me through the entire film. About the time where the blood bath began in the woods, I heard a young girl weeping.....obviously affected by what she was seeing.....I kept hoping I would see that little girl and her parent walk out of the theater. But no. I didn't. I wonder if it was that little 8 year old I saw dressed as Katniss. Made me want to cry ...... Allowing your under ten child to read the book is one thing.....I guess.....but to see the movie is another. My daughter would have ran out of that theater . As would I have at 9 years old. Parents......see the movie first before you allow your child to. It's violent and bloody...... If you read the books, you should know better.
vicki March 26, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Although I have not read the book and my son is grown; based on Michele and Jennier's posts - I would probably let him read it if he was in the 5th grade. Being sure they are well aware it is fiction and if it gets them to read, read, READ - I believe at that age they can decide for themselves if they like that author or not. Altho not a big reader, my son took a liking to Gary Paulsen books (Hatchet) so of course I encouraged the reading by buying him many of his books. Another thing I did to encourage reading was tell him he didn't have a bedtime as long as he was reading, which lasted at most, 30 minutes:) Re: The Hunger Games - Children are only young once - let them use and take full advantage of their imagination. Whether the book(s) are too graphic, too traumatic, or would encourage bad behavior, I cannot say but I do believe 11 & 12 yr olds know right from wrong. I also believe (100%) it is the parent's obligation to make sure their children stay on the right path if they choose to step away from it.
Amy Bauer March 27, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Well said, Samantha. I'm in 100% agreement.
Jenna Mcdonald April 17, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Oh people please be quiet! I let my 9 and 11 year old daughters watch the movie. They are only allowed to watch PG-13 movies, though.My 11 year old is reading Catching Fire right now. 94% say it is not bloody.
Mom of the Horde April 18, 2012 at 06:17 AM
I think the decision to let a child read or watch The Hunger Games should be made on an individual basis. Not every child who is reading chapter books is ready for the themes of the book. While I wouldn't let my 9 year old or 12 year old read the book or watch the movie (they've not shown any interest), I wouldn't have had a problem with their older brother reading/watching at the same age though, because he was more socially and emotionally mature at those ages than they are. I remember reading Lord of the Flies in middle school and being horrified by it. I wasn't ready for it then. I was reading a lot of Steinbeck at that age, but I wasn't ready to read about kids killing other kids.
DebbieB May 19, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Scholastic is no longer sending the Mocking jay pin. Now, it is a darker heavier mocking jay necklace. Most of the kids I teach like it better. They are, however, backordered. I just got (April 30th) our first set of 20 pins from the books ordered in the middle of March. The sets we ordered later also came without the pins, but the company sent them the Tribute Guide free while they "wait" for their necklace to arrive. My kids (7th grade) LOVE the books and I can't keep them on my shelf. I have to keep ordering the first one from Amazon. Amazon also has the pin for 12 dollars last time I looked. Oh, by the way, I have at least 20 reluctant readers engrossed in this book. I have to repeat myself several times to get them to put the book away when I start my lessons.
vicki May 22, 2012 at 03:48 AM
AWESOME DebbieB!! LOVE IT!
Eric Muetterties June 12, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I decided I needed to read the book to find out first-hand and just finished it this morning. I have a few comments... It's a sad commentary on our society that this is what is promoted for kids. I found the book well written and engaging. I can totally see why young girls are intrigued by the book. It is all about finding your way in a messed up world and trying to determine where your feelings should lie. In many ways the world we live in today. However, I find it lets the violent aspects into the storyline very matter-of-factly. Is it no wonder kids have been desensitized to violence to a point they can obsess over books like this? Many movies are incredibly violent. My wife and I have had to shut off many movies because we just could not handle how violent they are. How can we find it entertaining? What really bothers me about the Hunger Games is folks who have read all three books said they could not read the whole third book and had to put it down! Even Stephen King said "A violent, jarring, speed rap of a novel...". To me the book lacks something very important to have in life. Hope. Yes, it is really devoid of hope, The book also lack God. It is about having to be self-reliant and not be able to really trust anyone. Though Katniss does find that she can indeed find those that she can trust, it continually throws her into doubt that she can, even at the end, which is simply designed to make you want the next book in the series.
Karen Delp October 20, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Samantha, I couldn't agree with you more, your points and comments state exactly how I feel. We are a home schooling family and there is no way that I would allow our 9 year old to read Hunger Games. The fact that it is on the approved reading list for elementary schools only reinforces the reason to home school.

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