What Age Is Appropriate to Read The Hunger Games?

Ten-year old AJ is begging to read The Hunger Games trilogy. AJ’s pestering brings up a good question – at what age is The Hunger Games series appropriate for kids?

While I’m not one for censorship, I am aware that certain subjects are way over kids’ heads. In this case, the difficult political concepts and violence would be a stretch for most kids that aren’t high-school age.

About The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games books describe a post-apocalyptic dystopian world (think utopia gone wrong) in a totalitarian country. 12 districts are ruled by District 1, The Capitol. Each year, the Capitol selects one boy and girl between ages 12 – 18 from each district for it’s version of reality TV – a violent game whose televised players fight to the death, The Hunger Games.

Remember reading Lord of the Flies? Pretty violent, right? But the violence served a purpose. Same thing with The Hunger Games. The violence is part of the point of the book.

If you haven’t read the books, Suzanne Collins’ writing will completely hook you – they’re amazing and I highly recommend them. Apparently she got the idea one evening while watching television. (Go figure.) Huffington Post reviewer, Greg Garrett, remarks on the reality TV comparison, “The spectacle of kids killing kids is only slightly more awful than the spectacle of Snooki with a kid.” Well-said!

Adults, these books are great entertainment. Don’t be put off by the YA category. YA is fun to read!

As far as the movie goes, the early reviews are very positive. I’m pretty impressed by the virtual Capitol tour here. Watch The Official Trailer for more about the movie. But you’ll read the book before you go, won’t you? (You should.)

what age to read the hunger games

Back to my question . . . What Age Should Kids Read The Hunger Games Books?

I know that AJ could read the book and mostly comprehend it. And I like that she wants to read books – yeah! But I have my doubts she is ready for these books because . . .

1) it’s such a great series, I’d hate for her to read it too early and miss the message.

2) the violence might interfere with her understanding of the allegorical meaning.

(P.S. There’s no sex in these books except in the third book when Finnik’s sex slave history is mentioned.)

what age to read the Hunger Games?

What Do You Think?

My librarian friend, Amy, said she thinks kids should be, “at least middle-school age. Even then I get kids who like the action of the first book but don’t like the third book. I think they don’t really understand it.”

Common Sense Media says age 12.

A twitter follower of mine, Sara Ryan,” said, “Depends on maturity not age. Has your child read The Giver. I compared the two a lot when we read Hunger Games.”

Author friend, Susan Kaye Quinn, “My guideline has been that these are teen books – i.e. 13+. Now each parent has to judge for themselves, but there’s not just a lot of violence, there’s some pretty disturbing consequences of war in Book #3. Which are perfectly ok for teens, not so much for little kids. As much as I love the books, I waited until my son was 13 and in Jr. High before I handed them to him. (He probably would have been fine with them in 6th grade, but I’m conservative when it comes to this stuff). My 8 you is clamoring for the books, but he knows that Mom’s not going to bend on that.”

I loved your thoughtful Facebook comments.

  • Katie Hanacek Overbye: “My kids are wayyy too young for them (6 & 2) – but I’m not.” (I agree – these are great books for adults to read!)
  • Kylel Ford Rogers: “I think 14 and up. There were intense but every kid is different.”
  • Jill Titon Hymer: “My daughter read them all and she is in fifth grade. Her school librarian and teachers were promoting the book so we felt it must be okay. I read it along with her (actually finished them all first because I was so addicted). She did fine reading them, but every child is different. I kept talking to her about them and even though they are intense, a fifth grader sees it differently than an adult and doesn’t even get some of the stuff she reads in the book.”
  • Julie Roberts Towe: “I read them first to see if they would be okay for my 10yo. She already reads similar books. I thought it might be too graphic. But she said she had read worse in Ranger’s Apprentice and similar books. She is reading Catching Fire now, but finds it monotonous. Neither of us love the Hunger Games series, but for different reasons. So, it really does depend on the child.”
  • Chocolate Muffin Tree: My husband just made the comment to me (he teaches middle school) Kids are reading these books yet the movie version of the books they are not allowed to watch!

Tricia of Helping Moms Connect writes, “I read all three of the books and have a daughter who is a pretty advanced reader for the age of 10. She’s read Harry Potter but I will not let her anywhere near Twilight. The Hunger Games falls somewhere in the middle. I’m considering letting her read The Hunger Games trilogy once she turns 11.” Her opinion garnered 99 very passionate comments.

Time movie reviewer, Christopher J. Ferguson, says he’s taking his 8-year old to the movie. Not exactly answering the book question though.

So Will I Let AJ Read The Books?

Maybe, if I read it with her – either to her or match her chapter for chapter and then discuss. She may decide that she wants to wait on the books, who knows? I so strongly believe in teaching her to make thoughtful decisions on what she wants to put into her head, I may have to tell her to wait which I don’t think is book banning. We’ll see. Perhaps we’ll try a chapter this summer and see how it goes. (Maybe I’ll even use this Teacher’s Guide to the Hunger Games books from Scholastic.)

What Do You Think?

What Age Works for You?

READ: Books like Hunger Games

Book Heart: Some rights reserved by Charly Morlock


  1. says

    Thanks for including me in your post! I wrote my post last June when my daughter was 10. She turned 11 in December and after reading the books myself, I ended up letting her read them. About two weeks later, her 5th grade advanced English teacher started reading the first book to the class. I was surprised that they did not even tell the parents…especially given the incredible passion behind the comments left on my post. We talked about the book as she was reading it and it was interesting the things that stood out to her the most. For example, she was really stricken by the scene where Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place. I think it’s because she herself is a protective big sister and was thinking about what she would do if given the chance to protect her sister. The violence didn’t “disturb” her in terms of giving her bad dreams or making her worried about the world all of a sudden. I think she was/is definitely mature enough for it. As a side note, she stalled out reading the second book and hasn’t cared to finish it. Maybe before the next movie comes out in November 2013!!

      • says

        My ten year old was the same way about Prim and Katniss. He also wondered what would happen if no one signed in for the reaping, why was Peeta acting the way he did if he loved Katniss, and also wanted to find out which tributes were being killed off. **We purchased the Tribute book from Scholastic book order which shows all the tributes.

        I think I’d be real worried if the deaths meant nothing to son. He’s has been engrossed with the story so far. I do have a friend that won’t let any of her kids read the books. She says the author went over the top and that it’s dangerous what she did write. Now that bothers me and is another reason why I did break down and decided to read out loud Hunger Games to son. It’s a parent’s right to decide not to read a book but don’t push that belief on me.

  2. Susan says

    Thanks for this post Melissa. On the high recommendations of a few friends I’ve started reading it. I’ve asked if it was appropriate for my 10 year old & heard a resounding no. Our school librarian said they are not allowed to have it because it is middle school literature. I’m going to read it and assess for my own children.

  3. says

    I’ve wondered about this, so thank you. My nearly 9 yr-old daughter is an advanced reader but I think I’ll have her wait to tackle this series. Timeless writing allows us to save some reading for when their maturity meets their reading level. I don’t want her to see the movie yet.

  4. Marie says

    My 6th grader (almost 13) has read the series and really liked it. She is clamoring to go see the movie, but I am unsure of the PG-13 rating. Any thoughts on why it is rated PG-13? Wondering how graphic the movie may be.

    • says

      In Canada the rating is 14-A (stronger than PG-13) so daughter (grade seven) wasn’t permitted to go. We’ll read the books together this year, though. Plenty of violence although much of it was ‘fleeting’ (as in they didn’t dwell on the graphic details).

  5. says

    I originally thought these were adult books and then my 12 year old came home with one. She is totally engrossed in it, it will be interesting to see if she moves on in the series. I need to read it too, to understand the hype!

  6. Mary says

    Melissa ~ I agree with you 100%! I also have a ten year old daughter and when I described to her basically about the books she decided she would rather wait. I think we sometimes burden our children with too much adult subject matter. It is not fair to them.

    So yes ~ I am book banning – for now. I loved all three books and I know my daughter will one day enjoy them as well.

  7. says

    My oldest read it in 5th grade. My middle wanted to read it in 4th grade (age 9) and I said no b/c it’s better if you are a little older. Said daughter then borrowed the book from her friend and proceeded to read it. That friend is also has older siblings.

    Now, there are a dozen kids reading The Hunger Game series in her 4th grade classroom. First, it was because it came highly recommended from a few kids, so other kids wanted to read it too. Then, it because a competition among her deskmates (assigned seats) about who could read the entire series the fastest. Now, half the class is reading it.

    I talked to the teacher at my parent/teacher conference and we both sighed. It’s better to wait b/c they will get more out of it, but if their motivation is so high, why fight that battle? There are so many more important battles to fight like making her practice her flute.

    The upshot is that I will allow her to watch the movie b/c after you read the book, the movie holds no surprises. I have noticed that in general, younger siblings are highly motivated to read up a level to catch their older sibs. It’s not a terrible thing. She would get more out of it even if she had waited 6 months or a year. On the other hand, her sister has read the series 4 times, so maybe she will re-read it again later on.

    I am not a parent who censors to blacklist books. I only censor to protect my kids from topics that are too heavy/dark/depressing when this kind of stuff can wait. In a way, I sort of applaud my child’s audacity and tenacity to find a way around me. Reading is not something I would ever punish!! :)

  8. says

    Thanks for including me in your post! I’m taking my 13yo to the movie, and I’m sure he will be fine with it, but I was concerned that the movie version of the violence might be more difficult than the books (because of the difference in the mediums). We shall see!

  9. says

    I don’t have kids so maybe I’m not the best person to be giving this opinion, but the way I’ve always seen it is the reader and the main characters should be close in age. If the character is 16 then the reader should be at least 14 maybe. A lot changes in those years and they’ll have a greater appreciation for the story if they wait.

    I get how parents are always saying that their kids are mature for their age and read at an advance level, but at the end of the day they’re still kids.

  10. says

    I admit I was worried too when my 10 year old asked if he could read the books. So I decided, after much thought, to read it out loud to him. I figured that way if he had any questions or if it got too graphic, we could discuss it. Seems like most of his school friends are talking about the book and at least this way he’ll know what’s really going on in the book.

    I found this has been a great experience for both of us. I’m also finding it’s not as graphic as I remembered. And the parts that are? We slow down and discuss.

    I do think it should depend on the maturity of the child too.

    So far it’s been okay and I’m halfway through the book. We read one chapter a night and then discuss.

  11. says

    I think the age totally depends on the kid…I am eagerly awaiting today’s mail because fresh copies of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire will be in there for my daughter to read. She’s 10 and in fifth grade. I hesitated long enough to give the books I’d already purchased (and devoured!) away, so when I made the decision to let her read them I had to order them again.

    At first I was concerned about the violence in the book but having given it some thought, I really really love the Katniss character–her strength, her independence, her bravery–and I want my daughter to “meet” her and have the opportunity to step into Katniss’ shoes as she reads the book. Plus, my daughter is pretty avid reader who also very willingly puts down books that she finds too emotionally charged. If the Hunger Games are too much for her, she’ll put it down.

  12. says

    First of all, thanks for this review— I heard from a friend of mine who has a 13-year old daughter and took her to the movie that there were VERY young kids there – 7, 8 or 9 year olds… maybe they are mature of their age but seriously? This book (book 1 that is) even made me feel horrid at times- seriously? Kids hunting and killing eachother? In any case, thanks for this!

    Second, I appreciate that you said READ THE BOOK FIRST… I think even kids are getting to the point where they rush to see a movie instead of delving into a book and the imagination and all the good that comes with it. There is nothing quite like becoming engrossed in a book and going to sleep and dreaming about what will happen to the protagonist … :-)

    Great review and advice!

    • Kathleen says

      Here’s what the author herself said in an interview with Powell’s Books:

      Q: You have written for television for young children and for middle-grade readers (the New York Times bestselling series The Underland Chronicles). Why did you decide to write for an older audience and how was the experience different?
      A: I think the nature of the story dictated the age of the audience from the beginning. Both The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games have a lot of violence. But in The Underland Chronicles, even though human characters die, a lot of the conflict takes place between different fantastical species. Giant rats and bats and things. You can skew a little younger that way. Whereas in The Hunger Games, there’s no fantasy element, it’s futuristic sci-fi and the violence is not only human on human, it’s kid on kid. And I think that automatically moves you into an older age range.

  13. says

    the book is awesome as the kids say these days and the movie was too. you are never to old to see people make out and have fun no matter how old u are i let my grandson watch it hes five. now hes doing his make up like them so what.i am fifty OK i can do every single thing those kids were doing in that movie especially make out with a sexy sexy sexy guy amen amen amen byeeeee.

  14. says

    Haha, I agree with what that Katie said. My little ones are too young too (4 and a newborn) but I’m not! So will definitely have it on the bookshelves ready for them when they hit their teens, I should say.

  15. says

    While there is no real sex some of the stuff about how Finnick was used by The Capital in book three might cross the line. But then again, it might go completely over younger reader’s heads.

  16. Mari says

    I just wanted to say that there are books that I read at 10 than I reread at 15 and again at 25 and even beyond and I have to say that it’s awesome to enjoy one book on those different levels. It’s just like life. What we can understand at 10 is not what we can at 30 – but it doesn’t make what we take away from the experience at 10 any less awesome or teaching.

  17. says

    My ten year old daughter is gifted with a learning disability. Because of the reading challenge she was never turned on to the love of reading until The Hunger Games.

    After reading the Hunger Games myself and talking about it my 10 year old wanted to read it so we read it together. This was the first book she wanted to read…ever! She’s re-read herself many times since. Big turning point for a non-reader.

    For me it was great one on one time and a great introduction to politics and world history.

    Lots of questions on her part that led to some excellent conversations. We dealt with the violence and love triangle too and we waited till she read the series before watcing the movie.

    She really identified with the strong female character and decided to try out archery.

    That being said not all books she wants to read we do – Game of Thrones is out for now till she’s much older.

  18. Lexi says

    I started at nine and am just finishing the series now. My mom was worried so she read it at the same time as me. We both loved it.

  19. Kosjenka says

    My younger daughter has just turned 10 a month ago and she was itching to read Hunger Games. She is very mature for her age. I was a bit reluctant at first but then decided to let her read it. She was absolutely thrilled and loves the book. She identifies with Katniss a lot and is adamant she wants to dress up as her for our next school “dress-up as your favourite book character” day. I have to say that, talking to her, I found some parts of the book more disturbing and upsetting than she did. However, I think it is a brilliant book and it is impossible not to be moved by it. She is reading Catching Fire now.

  20. InSeason says

    Interesting topic. I found it when I googled to find out what other folks are thinking about the appropriate age for kids to read “Hunger Games” independently. Of course, different parents & guardians & teachers have different standards, and kids differ in their responses to peer-pressure and fantasy fiction. And they have different triggers for anxiety, sexual titillation, and body image self-consciousness.

    The preteen (aged 11+) in our house had been asking to read Hunger Games (book 1) for several years; one of her friends, who has an older sister to emulate, read the book 2 or 3 years ago, and our youngster seemed to feel left out. She reads voluminously but not always carefully, and consequently often without full comprehension of content and theme. She’s been resisting reflecting on the deeper meaning in fiction, and she has recently shown poignant vulnerability to peer pressure in her choice of clothing and hairstyle. She was frightened enough of fantasy movies (nightmares, strong response even to the sound of tense movie music in the next room) that she chose to wait to read (and view) the Harry Potter series only after she’d turned 10.

    We told her that I would read Hunger Games first and then the grownups would discuss when we thought it would be appropriate to read. We also said that there was no rush, as her library card gives her access to many other books to keep her occupied till then.

    A few strong clues about the appropriate age: authors usually set the age of the main character to indicate the intended audience; Katniss is 16 in the first book of the series. Our public library shelves Hunger Games with teen books, not the juvenile fiction suggested for younger readers. Our school district doesn’t have the book in the school libraries for 3rd to 6th graders. When I queried a librarian, she opined that it ought to be where teens would easily find it rather than preteens.

    After reading the book last summer, I easily concluded that our preteen isn’t ready to digest the brutality of the dystopia, the vicious life-and-death competition of the teens, the sexual objectification of the contenders, and the sexual tension in many of the scenes. (I do not see this as a book free of sex, as some other posters have commented; there may not be graphic scenes of sex acts, but there are many suggestive scenes, and a lot of sexual frisson.) In many ways, I am most concerned about our preteen’s difficulty in processing the moral questions raised by the manipulation of the protagonists by the elite to manipulate their allies in turn and to betray them in order to survive. These are mature themes: appropriate for older teens. I firmly believe that it’s just not possible for preteens to comprehend these abstractions, and the book includes a fair amount of possibly destructive input for preteen girls who are just becoming very body-conscious and who have so many other cultural messages that make them feel inadequate. While the heartless competition provides excellent material for teens’ classroom discussion–gangs, competition for economic advantage, accuracy/history of Social Darwinism, political and social inequity, etc.–I fear it could instead fuel the fires of the evidently normal preteen/early teen conformity competition that causes so much emotional turmoil among our girls.

    We decided that our preteen would have to wait to read the book, that in our opinion it’s just not suitable for preteens to read independently.

    So, now what do we do? I just found it under her mattress. I’m thinking about sentencing her to reading it in a multisession book-club led by a friend who is a wise retired teacher of gifted children (if the ex-teacher will go along). In which grownups and other girls will be invited to participate.

    Guided reading and reading aloud may be good solutions for families of preteen or younger teen children, but I really wonder why we feel such pressure to give in to the reading and other cultural whims of our kids when so many thousands of age-appropriate books and movies exist for them. How about Jerry Spinelli’s books? Or A Wrinkle in Time and sequels, which introduce moral dilemmas in a framework that feels more appropriate for preteens to me? Or Rosemary Sutcliffe’s carefully crafted historical fiction? Have your preteens read Katherine Called Birdy and Karen Cushman’s other titles? They present challenging themes for preteens without prematurely introducing sexual titillation or reinforcing cultural messages that encourage our girls to dress as if they were seeking sexual attention.

    So I’ll stick with the easy guide of the age of the main characters unless I have time to preread books to gauge suitability for our preteen. If I don’t have time to read a book, I probably also lack the time to discuss any material that’s unsuitable in a book to help the kid to process it in a productive way.

    Caveat: I do not advocate censorship. All families must figure these matters out for themselves. I hope that by explaining to our kids why we steer our kids to reading material at different ages, the kids will develop some discernment of their own, and that we’ll all have a chance to discuss the important questions raised by literature with our kids when they most need to ponder them.

  21. Hannah Harnage says

    Actually most fifth graders know more than you think. Most people underestimate us, but we can understand a lot. I can understand most adult things like finances, taxes, and more. I am ten.

  22. Astounded 5th Grader says

    I just read the first book and am astounded by all of the reviews that say that you should be a teen to read the books. Now, i can understand the movie, i don`t think that you should see that for real, death, betrayal, and pure hatred till at least age 14. I`m 10 and i can perfectly comprehend all of the details of the book. Even though i am an advanced reader, reading the whole Harry Potter series in the first 3 weeks of my third grade year, i think that most kids the age of 9 and up could very easily comprehend this without too much parental consultation or questioning. With this in mind, you may decide to let your preteens read it a bit earlier than you would normally allow them to read it. Although, depending on your kids age and maturity, you still need to set your own guidelines. Thank you for reading this and please,please take what i have said into consideration when setting those guidelines.


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