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Hunger Games: have you read/seen it? Have your kids?

When our 11.5-year old daughter was picking out a new book at the store a few months ago, she snatched up The Hunger Games.  More often, I feel like I want to tell them what to read.  Less often, I feel like I want to tell them what NOT to read.

I knew nothing of the book, aside from the fact that 3 of my daughters closer friends had already read it and loved it.  "She looooooved this book", my daughter oozed.  Well, ok.  Fine by me.  I know her friends and their families and, though you can't judge a book by its cover, I felt affirmed that the book was fine/acceptable just based on that.  I skimmed the back cover and thought it was curious my daughter was drawn to a fantasy-like, darker book.  I actually was glad to have her branching out of her typical genre of Lauren Myracle's The Winnie Series.

When we got home, she devoured the book in a day.  She did the same the next day.  She begged for the second and third books in the series (buy, not borrow, since there were about 154 holds on each at the library).  We bought them.  She reads them over and over and over again, and then she reads them again.

When we talked about the content, I was surprised I didn't make myself know more: teens forced to kill themselves.  Wow, really?  OK.  Starting to question myself, I started to read the book, but I haven't gotten past page 20.  So, I went to Common Sense Media and read their book review on The Hunger Games

A few weeks ago, The Hunger Games Movie came out.  It is rated PG13, and our daughter is 11.  Well, she's 11 and a half.  Her friends went to see it with their parents on opening night.  Some friends have seen it again since.  Knowing the content of the book, knowing the movie rating, and knowing that seeing things is different than reading things, our daughter has agreed with our decision that she won't be seeing it until she's 13 (she's looking forward to her birthday)!

I have had mama friends who have read the book(s) (in one night, even), and I am curious to hear everyone's thoughts: have you read it? seen it?  has your son/daughter read it? seen it?


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To be fair, they aren't forced to kill themselves - they are forced to kill each other.

My daughter is 9, and not at all ready for a book like this, on many levels. I would think it would be acceptable for older middle-schoolers.

It is quite violent, but not in a way that glorifies violence - in fact, quite the opposite. It is devoid of bad language or graphic sex, and I suspect it makes kids ask questions about personal freedoms, different models of government and so forth. It does seem like the type of book that would be good to discuss with your child. For example, what was it that appealed to her so much?

One positive thing I can say about the book is that the main character is fierce and undeniably able to take care of herself (vs. waiting for some sparkly vampire to come to her rescue.) She is also prickly, flawed and not always likable, but I think this may be why she resonates with many young teens - she's no Disney princess. :)

I've read the trilogy and saw the movie on opening weekend. I loved the book. However, I would not want my child to read it yet. Maybe late middle school, more likely high school. Of course, this is child dependent. That's just my kid.
I volunteered in my 2nd graders classroom the other day and a girl told me she had read the whole series aloud with her mother and older sister and they were going to go see the movie. My jaw DROPPED. I'm glad they are reading at home, but seriously?

Right: forced to kill each other. Since writing the post, I have also come across this "Five Lessons in Human Goodness in the Hunger Games".

I loved the books, but then again, I've always loved science fiction/fantasy novels with a message (think Handmaiden's Tale).
Heard a couple of very interesting reviews of the film on NPR (I believe one was on Fresh Air) that both felt the movie did not do justice to the complexity of the issue and even cleaned it up a bit too much. I believe the point of the books IS that we (like Katniss and several other characters) struggle with the questions of haves & have nots, of "fairness" in society, of people competing for such limited resources, of what it means to be observers of others pain, struggles, shame and, in the novel's setting, death.

Thus, a movie that moves too quickly through these difficult topics loses sight of them or lets us off the hook too quickly. I wish desperately that my child was old enough to be reading these so that I could be reading them along with her and asking her to think about these questions if she isn't already. But alas, she's five. I'll put these into my stack of books I hope she reads some day because they ARE so thought provoking.

Oh, and I opted not to see the movie.

My 10 year old son and my 16 year old daughter read all three books more than once and loved them and went to opening night of the movie together.

My daughter was just 11 when The Hunger Games came out; many of her friends devoured the book. My girl put it down after a few chapters because she didn't like "reading about kids killing kids." I don't think she had the maturity to understand the subtext at the time.

Fast forward to last fall--she picked up The Hunger Games and devoured it and the rest of the trilogy. In fact, she used the in a project for her Lit class. We also had some great discussions on class, oppressive governments, survivial ncessitating lawbreaking, etc.

Like @Stephanie above, I really admired the fierceness of Katniss, and her very un-princess-like self.

The Hunger Games is pure dystopian science fiction at its best, both the film and the books. I devoured the books and was at first very uncertain about seeing the movie. How could a story so dark, powerful, and important be translated into a PG-13 rating? I was sure the movie would be too Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay glossy and "move too quickly through the difficult topics" as SusanOR mentioned above.

This is one of the few times that Hollywood did it right. I would not change one moment of the film and thought it masterfully translated a long and complicated story onto the screen. The handheld camera and mournful understated score add a documentary-esque quality. The camera cuts away from the fight sequences in a way that emphasizes their brutality while minimizing what you actually witness. The casting is absolutely impeccable, with Jennifer Lawrence bringing Katniss to life in such an abrasive and vulnerable way that she reflected exactly what I saw in my head while reading. They cast a shorter male lead for Peeta, which was not only incredibly refreshing (being 5'10 myself), but seemed to be a metaphor for Katniss' strength and capabilities.

This movie is best seen after reading the books to best appreciate the amazing adaptation by Gary Ross.

My 10-year-old stepdaughter has read the first book and seen the movie twice, once with me. She is a child that can handle more mature images and themes, although I probably would not have allowed her to go to the movie if the decision had been up to me. Afterwards though, as I watched her leave the theater, braid down her back, head held high I am relieved that she has a new fictional role model to be proud of.

I take PG-13 to mean "Parental Guidance (Note: not forbidden) for under 13--and it all depends on the kid. Da Vinci took every all the kids to see it the day before Spring Break. I had no issue with this and frankly I find no more violence then Harry Potter.

That said, I find both series to be poorly written and derivative---so I'm pleased that MY 11 1/2 year old has already moved to a much better dystopian future world book, Brave New World.

She enjoyed the movie and didn't find it particularly upsetting, but she also thought much of it was kinda stupid and lacking in character development. She also found "Cat Piss" rather annoying and Peta to be quite drippy.

Zumpie, I have been holding my tongue for awhile now and I can't imagine why the Hunger Games post has driven me over the edge, but the time has come to speak. The moderators may delete this post (although secretly I'm sure they agree with me, as do Urban Mamas everywhere). Your posts are extremely annoying.

Umm, so I'm "annoying" because I think The Hunger Games and Harry Pooter are crappy books? Sorry that my stating my opinion about a Battle Royale/The Lottery/Running Man rip off upsets you so. Ditto the ripoff of KingArhtur/Tolkien/Narnia/Worst Witch.

Neither are particularly good books. I'm honestly glad that my daughter zipped past tween books (after, as I've noted many times initially struggling with reading due to dyslexia), because none of them are very good.

I'm mystified as to why this or my point out Harry Potter has just as much violence (and death) would so upset you.

And I've certainly didn't directly insult you---nor assume everyone agreed with me when I found someone irritating.

Since when is it okay to attack other posters for having an opinion? I find several people annoying but would never be so rude.

I'm sure there are plenty of urban mamas who find zumpie's well-researched arguments and unapologetic honesty refreshing rather than annoying. I know I do. I may not agree with all of the points made by her, or anyone else for that matter, but I appreciate someone who can argue their point intelligently and back up those arguments with data, rather than rhetoric and assumptions. The fact that this; an opinion about a teen fiction book, is the post that pushed you over the edge is interesting to me, seeing as it is truly a matter of opinion and nothing more. Someone else's taste in reading material seems like an odd thing to go to bat over.

You're absolutely right Ema. I apologize Zumpie.

@ema and thank you.

@Nico, apology accepted. I do realize that Harry Potter and Hunger Games inspire some rather intense levels of devotion.

P.S. You guys should see the level of vitriol I generated on amazon when I dissed a "documentary" about surviving after a plague apocalypse. Survivalists are REALLY touchy about anyone questioning the plausability of "the big one"! :-)

Haha, I know exactly what documentary you're talking about and I agree :).

For those who are concerned that your younger kids aren't ready for The Hunger Games series, try steering them to Suzanne Collins earlier series, Gregor and the Overlander. Fantasy series with lots of action and a very tender relationship between Gregor (11 yrs) and his 2 year old sister.

I read the Hunger Games in one big gulp and was absorbed by them, like many other people. But I disagree that they are an example of "pure dystopian science fiction at its best." To me they are easy reads and cheap thrills. Books like that have their place and I'm not knocking them.

But - to take but one example - "The Dispossessed" (by Portland's Ursula le Guin) is a far more thoughtful and better-written novel in this genre, delving into issues of wealth and privilege vs. poverty (and gender issues) and what kind of life is worth living with infinitely more complexity and subtlety than anything Suzanne Collins has ever written. As is Lois Lowry's "The Giver" in the middle-school category. Other good dystopian fiction for middle readers includes How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman.

After I came up for air from reading The Hunger Games and reflected on them, I felt slightly sickened. I didn't particularly want my 11yo to read them. But I didn't stop him when he brought them home. However, I'm not taking him to the movie.

I'd like to second Susan's recommendation for the Gregor series for younger kids. My son LOVED those books (he is nine and read them when he was 8 or so). My husband and I also liked (pre)reading them.

For strong heroines my daughter loved Tamora Pierce novels.

Kids are too shielded these days. Anyone read the original Grimm fairy tales? Disturbing themes and violence to match anything in the Hunger Games, and people told those stories to kids without compunction. Now we fret over any story that has any violence or death in it.

Also, I'm sensing from some of the hoity-toity, I'm-so-much-more-cultured-than-the-rest-of-you posts, that the conversation has shifted from, 'should an 11-year-old be allowed to read these books' to 'are these books good enough for MY 11-year-old to read?' Sheesh. So anything that takes inspiration from past works of the same genre (i.e. Tolkien, Running Man, whatever) is automatically beneath your oh-so-refined family tastes in literature? Since when do we police our kids tastes so? Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have inspired legions of kids to read. To READ. Not play Farmville, not text on their phones, but sit for hours, caught up in a world of sheer imagination. Hats off to JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins for that. You won't find me dissing them.

I don't know if you are addressing my post, anon. But I certainly don't fret about *any* story with violence and death in it. There's violence and/or death in the Little House books, The Secret Garden, Bridge to Terebithia, the Arthurian legends (and Kevin Crossley-Holland's fabulous takes on them, his Arthur at the Crossing Places trilogy), Sarah, Plain and Tall, Strawberry Girl, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - to name just a few of the books my son read (or had read to him) long before he picked up The Hunger Games.

The difference between those books and Hunger Games (in my opinion) is that in the other books, the death and/or violence isn't glorified or described in dripping, gory detail. It's not the entire point. The violence in Hunger Games is splattery and gratuitous (especially in the third book.) That's my personal objection - not to death or violence per se.

And yes, I do have opinions about what's good enough for MY 11yo to read/watch/listen to. Doesn't every parent? Isn't considering what influences we want our kids to have part of being a parent? (I don't see how that makes someone "hoity-toity.") I'm fully aware that my kid is going to read what he wants to read. But that won't stop me from having opinions about it.

I think a relatively mature, not-too-sensitive 11 year old could definitely handle The Hunger Games. I would have her read the books first -- I believe reading is a totally different interaction, and prompts different kinds of inquiry and internal imagery, than movies. Kids filter the messages differently, within what they already know and understand, and what their imaginations might generate. Screen engagement is much more passive. As for kids being too protected -- I get that perception (and I think the fairytale archetypes are actually important to convey to our kids), but at our PRESCHOOL (ages 3-5), kids have already seen the Harry Potter movies. I couldn't believe it. My 5 year old can barely handle conflict in Winnie the Pooh. :)

@anon - I'll freely admit to being a literary snob (I was a lit major)--but on this very blog there's another piece about reading in which I do point out some very crappy books made a reader out of my dyslexic daughter. I just like the fact that SHE'S now leapfrogged into a mini literary snob--because there was a time in which we really worried about her EVER even reading close to grade level.

@Amy---either Gawker or Jezebel actually made fun of the most recent Pooh movie by discussing a "pantsless bear, psycopathic tiger and suicidally depressed donkey roaming in the countryside in search of a sugar rush" and ultimately "pulling a poor, lonely boy into their sick game". Maybe they were on to something! :-)

Why is it snobbery to know a bit of something about books? It means you've read critically and widely, a quality lost on many, apparently.

That said, both my 12 yo and 9 yo read the entire Hunger Games series (as did I) and it generated quality conversations about governmental control, powerful and compassionate girls, and survival. Violence exists in the world - always has and likely will continue... the more we discuss the realities, appropriately and in context, the more adept our children will be at negotiating and alleviating the damage of violence through peaceful means. If we ignore it, our children will not be able to understand it when they are faced with it. And yes, all children - age appropriately, which differs from person to person.

(and on a different note, this forum has gone so far in the anonymous direction over the past two years that it has become disturbingly unkind. may I suggest we take ownership of our words and intentions toward others?)

I didn't want my daughter (8 years) to read the hunger games but I stuck to my principles of non-censorship and only insisted that it be something we read together (I read the series solo first). I was happy when discussions led to her observations about some people's control over other human beings and allowed me an opening to talk to her about current world events (The Arab spring, for example). When I asked if the violence bothered her she said, "Oh mom, Harry Potter was worse!" I'm glad we read HP together too since her question about why would people follow Voldemort led to some good conversations about bullying. The other day my friend mentioned that her parents didn't allow her to read Lady Chatterly's lover as a middle schooler...and I agreed, I'll keep that one out of sight since I don't like the attitude about female sexuality. Then my friend said, no, her parents weren't comfortable about the class distinctions made in the book. I mention all this just to say that I'm glad I stuck to my principle of non-censorship because kid's are resilient and it's good that they read books parents are uncomfortable with because it leads to good conversations.

@zinemama, I think we all would like our children to be exposed to quality messages... the critique about whether we only wanted our kids to be exposed to great literature. You may feel strongly that only prose of the highest quality (much of which carries messages of misogyny, racism, classism, etc.) should pass through your house. I am much more interested in allowing my children to reasonably participate the culture of their peers or giving them good reasons why not when I am not comfortable with it. So, if some poorly-written drivel is the book du jour, I would rather they have the opportunity to read it and recognize it for what it is (perhaps influenced by some discussion) than be told not to read it and lack the cultural currency of knowing the plot points, etc. For example, my daughter isn't old enough, but if the Twilight series still holds any interest when she reaches an appropriate age, I will let her read it even though I think it glorifies violence in relationships, passivity, and co-dependence and is just all around icky -- but we'll talk about all of those things (gag, even if that means I have to read all of them).

@Amy, my daughter goes to an urban charter school and there were kindergartners playing Grand Theft Auto on the playground... My daughter made a weird leap. She had nightmares after Up and couldn't watch the Little Mermaid all the way through and then was totally enthralled with HP #1 six months later (watched while visiting the "fun" aunt).

Frankly, I am glad she the leap. While, I don't want her being aware of the finer points of GTA -- actually, that there is a game called GTA -- I also want her to be emotionally capable of dealing with scary things she might be exposed to now that I have that much less control over her day. That is the point of encountering monsters and ghouls in books, so that you are prepared to encounter them in real life.

Plus, I was really frustrated at the time with an 18yo babysitter who wouldn't walk 1/2 a block home alone in an extraordinarily safe neighborhood if it was after dark -- like 8:30pm (I had traveled to abroad alone twice by the time I was her age, I had no patience with the boogeyman in suburbia fears). I vowed I was not going to raise someone so limited by their fears so I was relieved when my 6yo was able to sit through Disney villain scenes.

I know this conversation is a little old, but I heard an incredible interview on NPR this morning I had to share. This book sounds incredible. The interview is with a man named Arn who was in a Khmer Rouge camp as a young child and faced the very real dilemna of kill or be killed. His story has been written into a YA novel and seems to me to present many of the same themes Hunger Games does, but with a historical perspective. http://www.npr.org/2012/05/19/153010795/never-fall-down-surviving-the-killing-fields

Hunger Game, it sounds good to adult and children, Must add it!

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