One of the questions I get asked ALL the time is if there is any way to quickly check if a book has questionable content.
Whether you’re wondering if there is going to be bad behavior in a chapter book your child wants to read or if you want to see if the novel you’re seeing pop up all over Instagram has more swearing and sex than you’re interested in, lots of us want to be able to screen books before we pick up a copy or crack the cover.
There’s no book content rating system like there is for movies and television shows (which doesn’t bother me, since those are so subjective anyway), but I have two ways that I like to quickly check the content of a book before I hand it over to my girls or pick it up myself.
The first is Common Sense Media. It’s the closest to a book content rating system I’ve seen for books and they cover most of the big name books (if it’s an obscure title, you’re probably out of luck). They also do movies and other media.
It gives a 1-5 rating for language, violence, sex, and drugs/alcohol, and positive role models.
For instance, here is what it looks like for the Junie B. Jones series.
And you can click on any of them for specific examples of what’s in the book. It looks like this:
And then there are reviews by real parents and kids.
Again, it’s not a perfect system and you may disagree with the ratings and recommendations, but it’s a very quick way to see what’s included in a popular book before you pick it up.
My other favorite way to check the content of a book is the 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon.
If there are vivid sex scenes or tons of swearing or bullying or anything else that might bother you as a reader, it’s most likely to show up in those 1 and 2 star reviews (you’ll also sometimes get to see the worst side of humanity in those 1 and 2 star reviews, so . . . just be prepared for that).
Obviously, both of these work better for popular books that have a lot of input from readers and parents, but they’re my most reliable ways to quickly check a book before I hand it over to my insatiable reader (Ella has read more 200 chapter books already this year . . . there is ZERO way I could pre-read everything before giving books to her)
There are two other things I want to mention about book content.
One, the more books you read, the better you’ll get at knowing intuitively if a book is going to be a good fit for you or not. I’m RARELY surprised when I pick up a book because the cover, the blurb, the “perfect for fans of . . . .” recommendations, and the first few pages give me a million signals about what kind of book it’s going to be. There are certainly exceptions, but the more I read, the more I can predict a book’s level of sex, swearing, or other content with reasonable accuracy.
Two, if you give your child a book that turns out to not fit your personal and family standards, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation about why you don’t like to read books where siblings are really unkind to each other or books with a lot of bad language and how the media we consume affects us. You don’t have to just snatch the book away and forbid them to read it – eventually they’ll pick ALL their own books – but you can help them start to identify how to choose good books and when to put a book down, and those are valuable skills to learn.
If you have other great was to quickly check the content of a book, I’d love to hear!