Reply
Author
Jordan_Sonnenblick
Posts: 9
Registered: ‎06-19-2008

Should characters curse in young adult novels?

Hi -
 
I'm hanging out in the Family Room this week (please see my author threads), and am also currently writing the sequel to my first novel, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie.  I have a question over which I have been agonizing, and I would love people's opinions: should characters use curse words in young adult novels? 
 
Now, Drums is a very "clean" book, used in tons of middle school classrooms around the country, and has been endorsed by all sorts of watchdog-parent websites, conservative home-schooling groups, etc.  However, there's a character in this sequel who would unquestionably curse in real life.  He's a bitter, physically disabled survivor of childhood cancer, and his gritty, take-no-prisoners personality just makes me feel that he wouldn't think twice about unleashing those words.  It almost feels dishonest to keep his utterances "clean."
 
On the other hand, I (and most of the authors I know) never throw gratuitous cursing, sexuality, violence, drug use, or other controversial stuff into a book just for kicks.  I weigh these choices very carefully.  So I don't want to alienate a portion of the Drums readership lightly.
 
What are your thoughts?
 
Thanks -
 
Jordan
 


Learn more about Dodger and Me.

Discover all Jordan Sonnenblick titles.


Distinguished Bibliophile
TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
Registered: ‎02-12-2008

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

In all honesty, I think for a character like that it would be very appropriate. But keep it to a minimum, not just for propriety's sake, but for impact.
Contributor
Kathy0515
Posts: 7
Registered: ‎07-01-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I am indifferent, but it would have pros and cons either way. I will read it no matter what.

-Mason, age 11
Contributor
Kathy0515
Posts: 7
Registered: ‎07-01-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

Mason's mom here. I don't have a problem with a middle schooler reading a few curse words, especially if it fits the character, and it's not done gratuitously. I do know it will impact you commercially. One of the last Newbery Award winners (and I hope you are in that category one day! Soon!) used the word scrotum, and it was banned in many areas. What a shame. To me, it's impact vs. sensationalism, and it sounds like you know this will add to the power of the story, and not just sensationalize it. Plus, there's a reason these books are labeled YA--we know the themes, word choices, situations, etc. will be more mature, and we're okay with that. So curse away and we'll be waiting!
Author
DJ_MacHale
Posts: 26
Registered: ‎07-09-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I've delibrately chosen to have my character use some "coarse" language in order to make him sound real.  Though what I consider "coarse" is sometimes considered profane by some.  You can't please everybody.  I have gotten a few comments/criticisms for it, but it's rare.  Most adults get it. 

 

There was only one time where I was severely chastised and called names that were much more vicious than anything I had used in my books.  I replied to this person and said how I understood her opinion.  What I didn't understand was how she wasn't bothered by the fact that I depicted an innocent homeless man being hypnotized into committing a gruesome suicide by throwing himself in front of a speeding subway train, yet was upset over the fact that the lead character could have been "pissed off" about it.  Like I said, you can't please everybody, but if you use common sense (i.e. in my opinion many "four letter words" are inappropriate for young readers) you can achieve what you are going for without problems.  Or complaints.  Or torch-wielding villagers at your door.

 

D.J. 


Learn more about Raven Rise.

Discover all D. J. MacHale titles.


Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I am curious to get D.J.'s opinion on the rating system (or lack there of) for books. I am a 40 something father of 2 girls, ages 9 and 11, and I encourage them to read every day. I am a big fan of the Pendragon books and I have also read the Harry Potter books.

 

I am sure that if (when) the Pendragon series is translated to the big screen, it will receive a PG-13 rating - just like the HP series. Yet right on all of the Pendragon books it states "Ages 10 and up". I couldn't find a similar age appropriate rating on the HP books, but I would have to assume that these two series are directed at the same age group. I know that both of these books are very popular among 8 to 12 year olds.

 

I don't consider myself old-fashioned or prudish in any way, but I personally will not let my children read the Pendragon books for several years. I think the violence, language and subject matter (while appropriate to the story) are just a little too intense for pre teens. Don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the content of your books, I am just interested in opening a discussion of what content is appropriate for what age child, and of getting your thoughts on how you picture your audience when you are writing.

 

It was stated earlier in this thread that these books are directed at "Young Adults", but I don't consider the average 10 through 12 year old a young adult by any stretch of the imagination. Why is it OK for a 10 year old to read a book that they shouldn't be seeing as a movie? Is reading significantly different than seeing? Isn't the same message being conveyed in either case?

 

This topic has been bugging me since I started reading the Harry Potter books 10 years ago. I was trying to picture in my mind at what age I would allow my (then) infant daughter to read such a book. Can books that appeal to teens and adults be appropriate for 6 through 12 year olds? Should we have a consistent method of rating books? Doesn't it make more sense to have a cut off at 13 for books, just like the movies?

Contributor
hideko
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

Personally, I would not be against it. If you can justify it, then there's no reason not to, I think. If it's needed by the story, if it brings something to the story, and isn't just there "just because" then I think it will work. Like others have said - keeping it to a minimum for impact is a good idea. If that means working around it a lot of the time, well, at least it will get some creative wordings out of your brain. I am continually amazed by the interesting things that kids will say because they don't want to say a "bad word" but are expressing their feelings nonetheless.

 

A bit in response to todrich, I also find it interesting that 10+ is YA, while PG-13 is generally thought of as the cut off for movies. I think part of where it comes from is that the movie rating systems have changed and evolved a lot in the last twenty years, while the book industry's hasn't as much in the same ways. For example, the 1982 animated feature "The Last Unicorn." The movie received a "G" rating when it was released. The official description of "G" movies is:

 

"A G-rated motion picture contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture. The G rating is not a “certificate of approval,” nor does it signify a “children’s” motion picture. Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated motion pictures. Depictions of violence are minimal. No nudity, sex scenes or drug use are present in the motion picture." (info from http://www.filmratings.com) (Mild language: "heck," "moron," "dumb," "stupid," etc.)

 

However, if the movie came out today, it would receive at least a PG rating, as the movie includes brief nudity, mild language (a d- and h- word once or twice), and violence, as well as alcohol, and death. Books, for some reason, don't seem to be rated as strongly or as heavily as movies.

 

It all comes down to your own personal viewpoints, I think. There's no real rating system that will make everyone happy, like DJ said.

Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I wanted to clarify that I am not advocating a "ratings board" for books. I think that comes a little too close to censorship. I have heard many stories of movies being edited to achieve a certain rating and I don't particularly like it.

 

What I would like to see is an industry defined standard so publishers can apply a consistent age appropriate label to books. If both publishers and parents have a scale with consistent descriptions to generally gauge the content of a book, then parents have the tools to make an informed decision about the books their child reads.

 

The whole point is giving parents a consistent scale to judge the appropriateness of a books content for their child. There are some aspects of the Pendragon books that my 9 year old could handle better than my 11 year old, and vice-versa. It all comes down to the maturity level of each individual child, and only a parent can make that call.

 

If I had not taken the time to read the Pendragon books before my children, I would have seen the 10 and up and said OK. But I am sure that I would have been a little shocked when my kids started telling me about an evil demon that makes homeless men jump in front of a moving train just for laughs. Most 10 or 11 year olds have not developed the abstract concepts necessary to understand the bigger picture of such an event. Their thinking is still to black and white to sit down an have a meaningful discussion of why such an event happened. Sitting down and having a meaningful discussion is the key to helping children grasp these concepts.

 

 

Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?


hideko wrote:

 ...I think part of where it comes from is that the movie rating systems have changed and evolved a lot in the last twenty years, while the book industry's hasn't as much in the same ways...


I am curious, hideko, do you think that a change is necessary today? Did Harry Potter change the face of publishing? I read something a few years back quoting Stephen King saying that he was sorry he didn't think of it (writing a series that appeals to all ages) referring to the Harry Potter books. Prior to HP, I can't think of any series of books that had such mass appeal to all ages. Sure there are some classics, Little Women, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland to name a few, that appeal to a wide age range, but I truely can't think of any book, prior to Harry Poter, that was published specifically for children, but surprisingly had mass appeal for a borad market. Maybe this "Convergence" has created a new genre that requires a different age classification.

Contributor
hideko
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I think that changes are inevitable, and I am not against them at all, as long as they are reasonable. Placing a ban on any books containing the word "revolution" or something ridiculous like that would spark that word, for example. What I found most interesting was that the book and entertainment industries didn't move at the same pace - in a society that is so incredibly steeped in motion graphics constantly, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to me that the entertainment industry's changes took the forefront while the "old" book industry was left to putter along at its own pace. But I digress.

 

Yes. I would say that Harry Potter definitely changed the industry, although not necessarily only for becoming such a sensation. Harry Potter, when it first came out created quite an uproar - something that hadn't been seen in regards to a book in quite a while. At least not on the scale of HP. I think that was when the media really started looking to books (or possibly books to media) to expand their markets.

 

I could probably write about HP all day, but I think part of the reason it had such a wide audience was all the different levels it spoke to people on. It's partly a modern fairytale, with countless mythological references, it's a modern piece with elements of pure fantasy, yet it has universal themes... It's a typical hero's journey. But it's done in a "new" way. I'm starting to ramble again.

 

There are books that are targeted at age groups/genders/what have you... and then there are the books that transcend normal classification.  I would completely agree with your last statement - perhaps we do need a new genre for literature like that.

New User
ardavanebay
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎07-22-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

Honestly, as a reader and a young adult, it makes no difference if the story has a few curse words or not, especially if it fits with the character.
Distinguished Bibliophile
TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
Registered: ‎02-12-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?


hideko wrote:

I think that changes are inevitable, and I am not against them at all, as long as they are reasonable. Placing a ban on any books containing the word "revolution" or something ridiculous like that would spark that word, for example. What I found most interesting was that the book and entertainment industries didn't move at the same pace - in a society that is so incredibly steeped in motion graphics constantly, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to me that the entertainment industry's changes took the forefront while the "old" book industry was left to putter along at its own pace. But I digress.

 

Yes. I would say that Harry Potter definitely changed the industry, although not necessarily only for becoming such a sensation. Harry Potter, when it first came out created quite an uproar - something that hadn't been seen in regards to a book in quite a while. At least not on the scale of HP. I think that was when the media really started looking to books (or possibly books to media) to expand their markets.

 

I could probably write about HP all day, but I think part of the reason it had such a wide audience was all the different levels it spoke to people on. It's partly a modern fairytale, with countless mythological references, it's a modern piece with elements of pure fantasy, yet it has universal themes... It's a typical hero's journey. But it's done in a "new" way. I'm starting to ramble again.

 

There are books that are targeted at age groups/genders/what have you... and then there are the books that transcend normal classification.  I would completely agree with your last statement - perhaps we do need a new genre for literature like that.


What ever happend to reading the book first before you give it to your child? My parents did that until they thought I was mature enough to judge for myself.

Contributor
hideko
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

Brilliant point! I guess I never thought of it because my parents trusted my judgement on what I could read. (That and I read more than both of them combined by the time I entered middle school...) 

Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

[ Edited ]

TiggerBear wrote:

What ever happend to reading the book first before you give it to your child? My parents did that until they thought I was mature enough to judge for myself.


Excellent idea and we try to do that as much as possible. However, it is not very practical for our family and many other families I am sure. My children buy 5 or 6 books at a time, especially during the summer when they aren't in school, and even a children's book can take several hours for an adult to read. Neither I or my wife are speed readers and we both run our own businesses, so our time is limited. I would rather spend those hours as quality time with my children rather than proof reading their books.

 

My point is that many books contain an age appropriate rating of 10 and up. Apparently this rating refers to the reading level, not the subject matter. But subject matter that is appropriate for a 15 year old (or even a 13 year old) is not necessarily appropriate for a 10 year old. Sure, some 10 year olds are at the maturity level of the average 13 year old, but that is the exception.

 

Other forms of media (Video Games, Music, TV and Movies) have a consistent and concise method of informing parents of the content. It is then the parent's choice whether or not to allow the child to view the movie or whether they need to take the time to preview it first. Maybe it is time we extended this to children's books.

 

As D.J MacHale stated earlier in this thread, he was accosted by a parent who took exception to the term "pissed off" rather than the fact that a demon hypnotized an innocent homeless man  into committing a gruesome suicide. So I guess even some adults are not mature enough to be reading these books. I was just the opposite, it was the demonic act that I thought was inappropriate for my children at their current age - which by the way is very near the age appropriate level that the publisher put on this book.

 

15 or so years ago, children's books were just that, children's books; sugar and spice and all that kind of stuff. But today, a growing number of children's books have complex characters and plots and work on many levels. Some of them (like Harry Potter and Pendragon) appeal to children, teens and adults. While the reading level might be appropriate for a 10 year old, the subject matter may not be.

 

Maybe it is time to take these books out of the "Children" category and place them into a brand new category; like "All Ages" or maybe "Teen" and let it be known that these books may contain mature themes. At the very least include parental information that describes the content, language and themes used in the book. In my mind a children's book should be safe for all ages, getting back to the sugar and spice stuff.

 

To find a Harry Potter or Pendragon book at my local Barnes and Noble, I have to go to the specially walled off children's section, right next to the My Little Pony and Disney Princes books. This lumping together of books of completely different styles is misleading to parents. Combine that with the 10 and up printed on the book and at first glance a parent might get the idea that a Pendragon book is all safe and bubbly for an 8 through 12 year old. This is like lumping all G, PG, and PG-13 movies into one category.

 

Again, I want to be careful to point out that I am not advocating censorship nor am I saying that books like this should not exist. I enjoy reading them and hope that my teenage children will enjoy reading them too. I just think the publishing industry has not gone far enough to properly classify these books and inform parents of the content. I think that many parents would be shocked at not only the language, but the subject matter of some "children's" books, simply because they are lumped in with the same category as "My Little Pony" at the book store.

Message Edited by todrich on 07-23-2008 01:14 PM
Contributor
hideko
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

[ Edited ]

todrich wrote:

15 or so years ago, children's books were just that, children's books; sugar and spice and all that kind of stuff. But today, a growing number of children's books have complex characters and plots and work on many levels. Some of them (like Harry Potter and Pendragon) appeal to children, teens and adults. While the reading level might be appropriate for a 10 year old, the subject matter may not be.


Interesting. From my perspective, while this is true - kids books really were sugar and spice - movies (including Disney's) aimed more at children, fairy tales and such, weren't. Disney's "The Black Cauldron" is one of the darkest animated movies I've seen in a very long time, as a child or as an adult. While the end is still leaving off on a light note, how they got to that point was tragic and with a darker theme than anything I've seen in any more modern children's movie. (TBC was made in '86.) So how and why have books switched places? 
Message Edited by hideko on 07-23-2008 09:54 PM
Distinguished Bibliophile
TiggerBear
Posts: 9,489
Registered: ‎02-12-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

I'm getting the perspective that most of you read and had read to you, the most sanitized books ever.

I had the original gory fairy tales as a youngster, they were meant to be object lessons afterall.

 

Look I'm not against a rating system for all books, alot of times I would have appreciated more advanced notice in a few I've picked up. But exactly who is going to determine one? Any one else see the movie "This film is not rated"? A movie about the twisted process they use to rate movies.

Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?


hideko wrote:
...Disney's "The Black Cauldron" is one of the darkest animated movies I've seen in a very long time, as a child or as an adult...

Maybe that's why this movie is near the bottom of Disney's popularity list? Not saying it's' a bad film, but it falls outside the typical Disney sugar and spice mold. This was made at a time when Disney was struggling to reconnect with their audience and they were trying a lot of things that didn't exactly work. What pulled them out of this funk? The Little Mermaid. The exact type of movie that made Disney famous in the first place, a sugar and spice story coupled with great music. Did this movie have a dark side - sure - they all do to some extent. But as evil and nasty as the "Sea Hag" was, she had a great song and that some how makes it OK. Disney has a way of glossing over the evil characters for the kids, but adults know what is really behind this character's motivations. This is how evil is portraied in children's books, and it is necessary to get the point across to children that the world is good and bad. This is a good thing and it is age appropriate. But today, a growing number of books marketed toward children are realy written at a teen maturity level and some (not all) children are not really ready for this subject written that frankly.

Contributor
todrich
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎07-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

[ Edited ]

TiggerBear wrote:

I'm getting the perspective that most of you read and had read to you, the most sanitized books ever.


Quite the contrary. I grew up many decades ago, and we simply didn't have the type of children's books that we have today. Writer's of children's books were few and far between because the market wasn't all that big or glamorous. And they all wrote sugar and spice - which has no appeal to a 10 year old boy.

 

I grew up watching old 1940's horror movies (Frankenstein, Wolfman, etc), watching Bugs Bunny, and reading comic books. Talk about dark and violent, read an old 1950's Batman comic book. I am glad they finally got around to making a movie that matched the darkness of this tragic hero. But my kids won't be watching it any time soon.

 

When I was a teenager, there were no books written for teens - or at least ones that were popular and that teens actually wanted to read - mostly sanitized romance novels for girls. If we wanted to read something good, we had to read adult novels. As a teenager, I read books like Jaws, The Godfather, The Shining, and The Exorcist. No sanitation there. These are some of the scariest, gory and down right rude books available - they are also some of the best works of literature from that time and are still fantastic reads today (please discuss them with your parents before reading). My parents certainly wouldn't have approved, but they were clueless. I don't want to be a clueless parent, but I wouldn't stop my teenager from reading those types of books either. Note the key word here is Teenager. And the key to not being a clueless parent is to discuss the books your kids are reading, especially if they contain mature themes. But if the child is too young to understand the subject matter, then discussing it won't help much.

 

At the time, I knew these books were adult books and I read them because my friends were reading them and I had a general idea about the content ahead of time. My complaint is, today, the publishing industry is marketing books, written for teens, to the general category of "Children", and the clueless parents (every parent is clueless at one point or another) won't know the difference until their child has taken a gun to school and killed 21 of their classmates - yes, I live in Colorado.

 

OK, I am not equating violence in books, movies and video games to situations like this; it burns my goat when people do, I was merely using that for emphasis. The real problem is "clueless parents" who don't take an interest in the what their children are reading, watching, playing and doing,  combined with a child who is slightly sociopathic in the first place - maybe because of lack of interested parents. But I digress...

 

Getting back to the point, we all have challenges as parents and we all want kids to read, but why are all books written for the 18 and under audience lumped into one category; "Children". There needs to be a finer and more consistent delenitation for children's books - some publishers do a better job of this than others, which is why I say consistent. Just give me some tools to help me not be a clueless parent.

Message Edited by todrich on 07-24-2008 10:40 AM
Frequent Contributor
honeyyocat
Posts: 28
Registered: ‎11-30-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?Yes why not?

Young adults do it all the time, and if the book ids within good taste then do it. never let the world form yoour characters, it's the authors job, if it is in good taste go for it!!!!!!!!!!
www.petercarrot-top.com
Frequent Contributor
HarleyLBennett
Posts: 29
Registered: ‎05-31-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Should characters curse in young adult novels?

  Do you have to use the actual words? Can't you create the same atmosphere by implication?

  See the example below.

 

    "Sergeant Roper!" barked the Lieutenant.   

    The sergeant ignored him and reached over to take the rifle. Jodi's arm flew toward him as soon as his hand touched her Winchester. She hit the Sergeant hard in the right eye with the heel of her right palm. He screamed in pain and pulled his horse away from her. White Feather laughed heartily and the Lieutenant grinned.   

    The injured man alternated saying "Ow" and letting out a stream of profanities.   

    Lt. Barnes said to Jodi, "One of these days he's going to learn to mind his own business."