On her Web site, author Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries, among many others) discusses why, according to Common Sense Media, the classic YA book Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is considered dangerous for teen readers.
She provides a rational comparison of that book versus one of her books, Being Nikki. She writes:
When I went to check MY Common Sense Media reviews, I was surprised to learn that, despite the fact that what parents are warned to “look out for” in my book Being Nikki are “brand names, kissing, and heavy drinking” (which, taken out of context, makes the book sound like it’s about a bunch of degenerates who do nothing but make out and party. Which it’s not. But I digress) the book is green lit for readers 12 and up ….
The heroine of Being Nikki is 17, and as such does racier things than Margaret, the heroine of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, who is just starting sixth grade.
Is it just me, or is something wrong here?
But she also admits that she can see the rationale behind rating books, though she disagrees with the way Common Sense Media goes about it:
I respect Common Sense Media’s goals. I understand that they feel they’re not about censorship. I can even understand why some parents might feel the need for a G/PG/R-like ratings system for books (although I believe publishers do a pretty good job of that already by writing “12 and up” or “14 and up” on the books, and booksellers do a great job of making that clear as well …. I just wonder if putting lists of content to “look out for”—especially out of context, sometimes incorrectly, and with huge spoilers—and then giving the book a red, yellow or green warning light (and assigning them to age groups that, from what I’ve seen so far, appear to be a little arbitrary) is the most thoughtful way of doing it.
The blog “Sassy Monkey Reads” has an in-depth post explaining the difference between the reviews on www.barnesandnoble.com, which only highlight the negative, to the ones that appear on the Common Sense Media Web site, which provide a more well-rounded snapshot of the book in question.
I’m not crazy about all their points or rating systems on children’s books in general (too much like age-banding) but I pushed onward and went to their book reviews …. When I look at that I see significant differences between the way it is presented on their own site versus BN.com. The different categories such as consumerism and sex have degree ratings. The descriptions of each remain the same on both sites but without the degree rating it removes the context. On BN.com it’s a yes or no equation.
And Common Sense Media is admitting there is a problem. Common Sense cofounder/editor-in-chief Liz Perle spoke to Publishers Weekly about the outcry:
It’s the first time we had any kind of pushback …. I think it has to do with the way it’s been implemented on the Barnes & Noble Web site. So, I think people are rightly confused.
According to the article, Perle also said changes were already underway to correct the imbalance.