When did children’s books become so gruesome?

I’m sorry, but when did children’s books and young adult books become so gruesome? And why aren’t people talking more about this issue?

Am I missing something?

When I was a child of age 8, I read Charlotte’s Web. At age 9, I read the Babysitter’s Club series!

charlottes web babys

The worst themes in these books were that Wilbur the pig was ‘almost’ slaughtered but was saved by Fern when she begged her father to keep him as a pet, and Dawn being frightened by a storm whilst babysitting three annoying kids.

At age 10, the most advanced book I read was Bryce Courtney’s, Jessica, which was an excellent read for a young girl learning about her culture and country. I also read Courtney’s, April Fool’s Day, which is a book that has touched the hearts of many.

Nowadays, I am reading children’s books with themes of children murdering children, and children walking into dead bodies hanging from ceilings.

In my early twenties, I decided to read Harry Potter to see what all the hype was about. Despite the fact that I, as an adult, loved them, they absolutely scared the bajeepers out of me. It probably wasn’t helped that I was reading them in the tower of a castle on a dark night with a crow tapping on the window (not exaggerating here – this actually happened)!

One scene in particular stood out for me. A young girl being possessed by a an evil force, being flung high into the air screaming. I just about wet myself. How could a child cope with that… oh and the impending death of the lead protagonist in every book?

Then on my honeymoon (several years ago), I did what all honeymooner’s do. I went to see Hunger Games at the cinema.

I hadn’t read the books, so was surprised to see children killing children…. um hello?

I can remember looking across at my husband and saying WTF? The last children’s movie we saw together was How to Train your Dragon!!!

I have since read the books, and probably wouldn’t be giving them to my 13 year old daughter (if I had one).

I have also read the Divergent series, and The Maze Runner.

Both are interesting series’ and I wrote reviews about them here and here.

Divergent had the same themes as the Hunger Games – lots of death and dying. I was shocked that much of the book was children hunting one another. Um, sorry?

The Maze Runner as well, lots of death and dying! Two scenes in this book really floored me, I mean, apart from all the children dying or being banished. The first scene was at the beginning of the second book when dead bodies were hung from the ceiling. And the second scene, where I just about soiled myself was again in the second book when they were being chased by disease infected people in the tunnels. Sure this will make a good scene for a movie, but for a children’s movie? I don’t think so.

I went onto the New York Times Best Seller website for some very robust (!) research into my reviews for these books. I was absolutely astounded to find them not in the Young Adult section, which I assumed to be 14 years of age and older, but in the Children’s Series section!!

(retrieved on 21 May 2015 from

What the…. ? Children, you know who they are right? Those little girls in pink dresses who play with My Little Ponies, and little boys in blue who stick truck stickers on their drink bottles. I cannot imagine giving the children I know in my life these books to read. It would cause them such significant distress.

I got a little relief when I clicked on the Children’s Series header on the NY Times website and read that Divergent was for ages (14+) and the Maze Runner (12+). But then wouldn’t this make it Young Adult? Even still, I think this minimum age should be increased, and more importantly that parents have control over what their children read. I don’t know many 12 year olds that have stable enough emotions to cope with reading this kind of novel, but I recognise that some might.

I do believe that as parents we should really make our own decisions regarding whether a book is suitable for our child after reading it ourselves, and not rely on vague age recommendations. And if we want to teach our children about such themes, why don’t we choose books that present the themes more realistically.

But… regardless of the age debate and whether they are suitable from an adult’s perspective, I just don’t get it! Is this what kids are into nowadays? Death and murder and human suffering? Am I completely out of touch with today’s children and teens? If so, why the hell am I writing a blog about motherhood?

When did life get so gruesome for our kids? I acknowledge that children have to learn about such themes at some stage, but why are we encouraging this level of morbidity?

Bring back the Babysitter’s Club I say…

Please tell me if I’m losing the plot? Do you share these views, or can you offer me a different perspective? All opinions welcome and respected.

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About Lauren Jackman (161 Articles)
Lauren Jackman is the author of Canberra Mummy. A self-confessed perfectionist, Lauren writes about the truth about pregnancy and parenting for perfectionist mummies. Lauren is a mum, wife, author, runner and a not a bad cook

1 Comment on When did children’s books become so gruesome?

  1. I haven’t read those titles yet – except Harry Potter – which I read in my twenties too. We are still with lovely wholesome goodie books. For the younger kids, it’s the fairy tales which get me. I love them. The kids love them. But they are so gruesome, some of them. I think I would want my teenage daughters reading books like Looking For Alibrandi… but maybe young people are a lot more precocious these days. I sound like a nanna.

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