With the popularity of The Hunger Games, many parents and some staff members have asked the library’s Youth Services staff if the book is appropriate for a certain child.
It's important to remember reading level and maturity are two different things. Just because a kid is able to read long words and complex sentences doesn't mean she or he is psychologically or socially ready to handle a book with challenging scenes and subjects.
“Everyone else is reading it” isn't a great reason to read anything, no matter how old you are. Here are some resources that can help you decide what’s okay for your child:
1. School Library Journal reviews
These generally list a grade range at the beginning of the review. The range reflects both reading level and content. The reviews can be accessed 1) in book reviews on Amazon.com, 2) in the reviews in the NoveList online resource (accessible on the library website), and 3) at the School Library Journal website.
Common Sense Media describes itself, as “a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.”
This isn’t as comprehensive as other book review sites, but the reviews are nicely organized. Since different folks have different values, the reviews are constructed so you can look at where a book falls in categories such as violence, language, positive role models, sex, etc.
Friends and other parents can be great resources. People who know you and your family well might have a sense of your child’s tastes, academic ability, and maturity as well as what you might consider out-of-bounds. Of course, teachers and librarians are great resources. Don’t be shy about asking us!
4. The book itself
You know your kids and your household standards best. You don’t have to read all the books your child reads, but you should definitely read a few. Reading kids’ books is a great way to share an experience with your child. You might even enjoy it.
Getting back to The Hunger Games, this librarian has been asked several times if it's appropriate for kids as young as nine. For the record, my personal opinion is no. I loved the entire trilogy, but I won’t be pressing it into my daughter’s hands until she’s at least twelve. This opinion is similar to the one at School Library Journal (they rate it “grade 7 and up”) and Common Sense Media (they rate it “on” for ages 12 and up).