On Twitter, SassyMonkey brought to my attention that Barnes & Noble is now using CommonSenseMedia age ratings on its website. SassyMonkey has a pretty thorough review of the situation, especially how what appears at B&N is a lot less nuanced than what is at CommonSenseMedia. Click through to SassyMonkey's post, especially as she has great screen shots that compare what is at Barnes & Noble and what is at CommonSenseMedia.
Linda Braun at YALSA's blog chimes in with a detailed exploration about the concerns with such age labelling in "Who Owns Common Sense:" "Think about the messages the ratings send to parents, and to teens. Consider how the ratings might have an impact on the materials you have in your collection. Be willing to stand up for the books you have in your collection and talk to parents about the positive aspects of teen reading of books that might have content that makes some nervous."
According to a press release at CommonSenseMedia, this arrangement began early in February.
Big Brother, er, I mean Barnes & Noble has this to say: “We know how challenging it can be for parents to make smart choices for their kids,” said William Lynch, president of Barnes & Noble.com. “Adding Common Sense Media ratings and reviews for books, movies, games, and music is our way of making life easier for parents and taking the worry out of making age-appropriate selections for their kids.”
I guess the existing professional reviews that indicated content was not enough; now a big red button that screams "THIS AGE ONLY" is necessary.
Here's the thing.
If a parent wants the type of detailed "how many f*cks?" "is there kissing with tongue" "is it blasphemous" type of review, fine. Great! I even think CommonSenseMedia is a great resource for us readers who don't count the number of times a kid talks back to an adult, but have patrons who want to know. CommonSenseMedia does NOT say "don't read this book" or "this book is evil"; rather, they give a detailed analysis of the factors they think set off alarm bells for adults who monitor the reading choices of their children.
Yes, it is biased; read some book reviews of books you have read, and you'll see this is not objective or factual. Which is fine, because some people want this. For example, in writing about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, drinking and parental obedience is highlighted: "Parents need to know that there is little in the way of bad language or mature situations in this Newbery Honor book, but Calpurnia's grandfather not only drinks regularly and tries to distill his own whiskey, he seems to have no concept that children "as young as 11" should not be drinking. Callie knows, though. Callie also reveals that the tonic her mother takes so often for headaches and stress contains 20% alcohol. Callie also finds ways to bend the rules, but like her siblings, is mostly a dutiful child."
So, for those parents whose concern is drinking regularly? And being a dutiful child? This website is for them.
So why does Barnes & Noble assume this is true of all parents? As Braun points out in her blog post at YALSA, who decided that judging such a book this way IS common?
The Barnes & Noble reader is just told that this book is for ages 12 and up according to CommonSenseMedia. (For the record? I've given it to my 9 year old niece, who will read it if and when she gets through all the Warrior books). If the parent clicks "more" they will get the reasons for the 12 plus rating. Barnes & Noble gives the publisher age range (ironically, ages 9 to 12, which I agree with). If the parent reads to Editorial Reviews (but why should they, when they aren't highlighted as CommonSenseMedia does?), they get a variety of ages: ten and up from Publishers Weekly; grades 5 to 8 from School Library Journal; ages ten to fourteen from Kirkus.
I am disappointed. Not in CommonSenseMedia -- as I said, they are what they are and the parent who wants it can go there. It's a resource.
I am disappointed with Barnes & Noble, and how they have decided to use the age rating of CommonSenseMedia.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy