Age Appropriate Fiction: How Much Is Too Much?

I have to admit that I almost never look at reviews of my own books, but I do read reviews of other author’s books that I enjoyed.  Today I popped over to Amazon to check out the reviews of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale.  This is the summary from the library web site.

“Hoping that if she wins a local beauty pageant her father will come home, Raymie practices twirling a baton and performing good deeds as she is drawn into an unlikely friendship with a drama queen and a saboteur.”

If you know Kate DiCamillo’s work, you know that it is going to be quirky.  Really quirky.  But this isn’t one of her Mercy Watson books so it will probably deal with some heart-felt moments.  And you’ll laugh, really hard.

Unfortunately a number of people who bought the book on Amazon don’t have a clue about DiCamillo.  They objected to the “mature content.”

Now if you haven’t read the book and you are going to have a fit about spoilers, do not read any more.  Seriously.  Go Back!  Here there be spoilers!

If you are still reading, I am going to assume that you read my warning.  If not?  Ah, well.  I tried.

I don’t know exactly what the worrisome content was.  Oddly enough, there was a lot of fussing but few specifics.

That said, a lot of adults get fussy when fictional parents behave badly.  In this book Raymie’s dad run’s off with a dental hygienist.  Beverly gets smacked by her mother.

Why don’t I think these things are age inappropriate?  First of all, this is a middle grade novel.  The readers are 5th and 6th graders.  They’ve seen things.  We may not be happy with all of those things but they still happen.  Second is how DiCamillo deals with these things.  We don’t see what happens between Beverly and her mom.  The reader only sees the bruise.  We are kept a distant from this harsh reality. We also hear about Raymie’s dad after the fact.

We are not kept at a distance when Louisiana nearly drowns.  Don’t panic.  Raymie saves her.  But it is a tough section to read.

But I think that part of the reason that DiCamillo is so popular is that she trusts her readers with these kinds of truths. Life is tough. Scary things happen.  She gives her readers a change to experience these realities in print vs cinematically which is even harder.  And she also trusts them to be able to handle it.

In addition, DiCamillo’s sense of humor makes it all easier to take.  Her characters are quirky and they sometimes do truly bizarre things.

A bit of distance and humor can make a lot of things less scary.  Not every reader is going to love this book but that’s okay.  For those who need this type of book, DiCamillo has created something that will pull them in even when they are on the edge of their seats.


3 thoughts on “Age Appropriate Fiction: How Much Is Too Much?

  1. This is an interesting topic, Suebe, one that makes headlines now and then when readers (usually parents) feel a children’s author has crossed a line. What you describe seems rather tame compared to some other books I’ve read. I’ve read guidelines, too, from editor/agents on the difference between middle-school and YA novels–and I don’t mean just the target age group. Middle-grade is a limbo period. I would expect an editor to address controversial or “too heavy” subject matter before publication.

  2. Hi Evelyn,
    I think that part of the problem is that middle grade novels cover such a wide audience, developmentally speaking. Second graders read middle grade (Judy Moody) but so do sixth graders (Raymie Nightingale or even Richard Peck’s books). Parents often pick up a “children’s” novel without consideration of middle grade vs. young adult or what age/majority level in those vast expanses.

    I know editors address these things in manuscripts but if the adult book buyer doesn’t understand reading levels, interest levels and more? This is why a good book store is so much better than shopping at Amazon.


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