What Age Is Appropriate to Read The Hunger Games?

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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, Self-Censor Instead of Banning Books

UPDATE: I did read these books with my daughter and she really enjoyed them, however we had to stop and talk frequently just to explain some of the more difficult concepts. She reread the books again on her own a year later and I imagine got more out of them the 2nd time through.

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49 Responses

  1. Jonah Lisa Dyer says:

    I went through this decision a few years ago. My son was 7, and a very precocious reader, when he first started begging to read The Hunger Games. I had read (and loved) them so I was very familiar with the subject matter. I hemmed and hawed and asked lots of opinions of family, friends and teachers and then I ran across an article about censoring reading by Judy Blume. It’s really good. Google it. She basically says she doesn’t think you should do it. If a kid is excited to read something, let them. Period. Yes, some of it will go over their head. No, they will not understand the nuances. But if it’s too much for them, they will also put it down on their own. I have found this to be absolutely true. I ended up trying to “redirect” his attention to similar but younger books but vowed that the next time he asked I would tell him yes. He ended up reading it at 8 and he LOVED IT. Along with Percy Jackson, it is his all time favorite book series. He asked about some things and it definitely lead to some cool discussions about the Roman Empire and our reality TV culture.

    1. What fantastic resulting discussions! Yes, if a child is excited about it, I am with you.

      I think the only time I would stop a child is if they aren’t comprehending. The teacher in me wants to make sure that they don’t waste their time in a too-challenging book, get frustrated, and either develop a fake reading habit or lose their sense of efficacy. I tell students to put it on the next-year pile.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. 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.

  3. Arthur Ashe and Me. A strong female protagonist and a good story. Enjoy!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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