As I was perusing the ALA Banned Books Week site—and their nifty 30-year timeline -- I stumbled upon the 2009 entry. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky had been challenged by one of my local school systems that year. Yikes! Happily, the resolution was that the school board would NOT ban the book. (Whew. You can read the story here. ) However, the Roanoke County Schools did something interesting (good interesting or bad interesting, I’ll let you decide). They didn’t take the books out of the library, but they required students’ to have their parents’ permission to check out Perks. Essentially, the school board decided to give the book an R-rating. (The movie version that’s out now is PG-13, by the way.)
I’m not saying I necessarily agree with the school board, but it got me thinking. What if we gave books ratings? Video games, music, and movies all come with a parental rating or at least guidance as to content. Actually, in a US News article earlier this year, a BYU researcher proposed a rating system on book jackets. She states, "I thought long and hard about whether to do the study in the first place—I think banning books is a terrible idea, but a content warning on the back I think would empower parents."
And it is censorship. Think about the movies. If a movie gets the dreaded NC-17 rating, studios re-edit the hell of it to get it down to an R. The people with the money see NC-17 as the box office kiss of death. So the rating drives content. That’s de facto censorship. No one forces the studios to cut scenes, but the effect is just the same.
Imagine putting publishers in the same position. What if school boards or certain book chains decided only to carry PG-13 children’s books? Would that pressure publishers to change editorial policies? Would works like Perks or Crank get sanitized for kids' so-called protection? Would challenging books get published at all?
Ok, the effect might not be as drastic as that, but, as a writer and reader, the idea of a book rating system gives me the willies.
What do you guys think? Should there be a content rating system for children's books?