Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Good Comics For Kids
Inside Good Comics For Kids

"T" is for Teenagers, Not Kids

Snow Wildsmith

As I was straightening the graphic novels in the teen section of my branch library last night, I reflected on how the mess of books strewn everywhere is all Cartoon Network’s fault. Technically it had been made by one eight-year-old boy with spectacularly unobservant parents, but I know the real reason he was over there—Naruto. That ninja has caused more problems in my teen comic section than any superhero ever did. How so? Simple. Because Cartoon Network aired Naruto during their now-defunct Toonami line up, parents think that a comic written for teens is appropriate for their five-year-old. And if one teen comic is appropriate, then the others in the teen section must be okay, also. After all, they’re just comics, right?

Now I am just as much a Naruto fan as the next fangirl, and it amuses me to no end to listen to the teens in my library’s anime club debate whether Sasuke is hotter than Gara. (They’re wrong. Iruka is the hottest.) But as a librarian, I often find myself in the position of having to explain to parents why Naruto is not intended for their young children. A coworker once mentioned that her young nephew, age six, watches Naruto and asked if she should get him the manga for his birthday. When I asked about her sister’s opinion on violence, she said her sister tries to limit the amount of violence her children are exposed to. I then opened volume four of Naruto to pages 62-63, which is a two-page spread showing Naruto’s teacher punching through the chest of a teenaged ninja from a rival village during a battle.

Teens or adults reading this can see the ramifications of this action in the faces and body language of the characters. But is a six-year-old reader savvy enough or mature enough to understand what is happening and why? Can a six-year-old reading this look at the violence and the characters’ reactions to it and understand how the hero struggles to balance his need to protect those around him with the anguish of taking a life? As a child of the seventies and eighties, I watched plenty of Looney Tunes cartoons growing up, so I’m not advocating removing violence from cartoons completely. But as a child, when I watched Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote, the characters didn’t look like me, nor did they bleed or look seriously injured when they got hurt, so I knew it was a joke. That’s not the case with comics like Naruto. Because they are written for older readers, these stories have a grounding in reality. Wile E. Coyote never stayed permanently flat after being squashed by an anvil. Bugs Bunny never lost a body part. But Naruto bleeds and Kakashi, his teacher, is missing an eye. Therein lies a huge difference in comics for written for teens and comics written for children.

And now VIZ is releasing chapter book versions of Naruto’s adventures, kid-sized novels for the elementary school set. Coming from a company that has released good, kid-appropriate manga titles such as Dragon Drive and Cowa, I’m disappointed that they couldn’t find another, better way to market the already phenomenally popular Naruto. I agree that they should continue to sell Naruto-related items—it’s good business—but I wish they’d keep them age-appropriate. And if what they want to do is catch the market for kids’ books, then I as a librarian welcome them. Please release more comics for kids, but make them actually comics for children, not just dumbed down, sanitized versions of works originally meant for teenagers.

A few weeks ago, I was shelving in my teen section when a mom and her two daughters, probably ages ten and six, began browsing. I smiled, welcomed them, and then gently mentioned to the mother that they were in the teen comics section, that the books there are rated for ages 13+ or 16+, and that we do have a children’s comic section. I offered to show them some titles from that section that might appeal to her girls. She just shrugged, as if to say, “Eh, what can I do about what they want to read?” I smiled again and moved on, as her six-year-old continued to choose between the high school romances Peach Girl and Boys Over Flowers. In the end, it’s not my place to raise her children and she has the right to let them read what they want. But I wonder if she’s really ready to explain to her daughter what’s going on in those panels, and I wonder if she’ll come back and complain to the library about the content when she does.

share save 171 16 "T" is for Teenagers, Not Kids
Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

Comments

  1. Lori Henderson says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, does this mean you object to all books that come out for younger kids that are based on teen properties, like Batman and Spiderman? After the second Spiderman movie came out, my youngest daughter chose an “I Can Read” book based (very loosely) on parts of the movie. Are these just as objectionable as the Naruto Chapter books?

  2. Snow Wildsmith says:

    Yes, actually, those bother me also. I don’t like those early readers based on movies that are rated PG or PG-13. I think if the movie isn’t intended for or appropriate for younger viewers, then why should there be books and merchandise aimed at them? I know it’s so companies can make money, but it still bothers me. Partly that’s because I feel that I, as a childless adult, am being forced to live in a society where everything has to be family-friendly. Some things should just be for teens or just be for adults.

  3. your neighborhood librarian says:

    My system shelves Bone up in the YA graphic novels, and it drives me crazy. I have to take 8 year olds up there to get Bone (also Tintin!) and their eyes go wide at all the exciting covers. Hey, what’s DeathNote? I want to read THAT! That’s why I always go with them, so I can bring them back down and give them Kaput & Zosky.

  4. Eva Volin says:

    Many libraries have Bone in their teen sections either because when Jeff Smith first started publishing Bone he wasn’t necessarily writing for kids (it’s been embraced by kids as time has gone on), or because when the library first started collecting graphic novels everything got put in the teen collection. Or both.

    If your library now has a children’s graphic novel collection, see if the powers that be would consider moving Bone to that department, or if they’d consider purchasing the Scholastic editions of the series for children’s and keeping the black and white Cartoon Books editions in teen. Hey, it can’t hurt to ask, right? ^_^

  5. Kakasi Sensei says:

    But Naruto is widely read by 6-12 yrs old kids in Japan too.
    There are even Naruto events restricted only to kids under 12 yrs of age.
    The core audience of Naruto really is little kids in Japan too.
    If Japanese kids can read Naruto, I don’t see why American kids couldn’t.

    And Boys Over Flowers ran in a magazine whose primary reader share is jr- high schoolers (with high schoolers closely behind).

    Japanese are just more liberal in the contents of animation and comics targeted to youth.

  6. Nehemiah Kenny says:

    You know Miss Librarian i am twelve and i read Naruto. Heck I played Grand Theft Auto Vice City when i was 8, and i have straight A’s teachers and all around adults love me.
    Plus have the ratings on movies and games are wrong unless you are some overprotective pacifist who sees that rating and judges everything on it.
    My friends played M games when they were 6 & 7 and they skipped two gradeds do to there genius.
    Another thing you shouldn’t be caring about movies and games when i went online and played a game then all of a sudden it pops a full screen naked lady on the screen.
    So you can honestly tell me that those ratings mean anything?

  7. Lori Henderson says:

    Before you go bragging Nehemaih, you should check your grammar and sentence structure.

    Yes, the ratings do mean something. Just because you ignore them, and your parents don’t care doesn’t invalidate them.

    Eva: As a parent, I have to say I do appreciate publishers that do make their popular titles available to younger readers. Just because they can’t go see a movie, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be inundated with commercials, and all the merchandise that comes with it. I’d rather have a watered down version I can give them rather than fight or worse have them go find the less appropriate version from friends.

  8. vinnie says:

    OMG. but out lady!!! i do amazing in school, watch rated r movies, play rated m games, and, i m normal! you are judgmental, nosy, and a LOSER for butting in.

  9. Snow Wildsmith says:

    Nehemiah and Vinnie: I’m not saying that you aren’t both nice, intelligent teens. I do however think that things should have should be intended for a specific audience and that basing that on age is not inappropriate. You wouldn’t suggest that a third grader read Stephen King, after all. That’s also to protect you. If my library has a complaint about Naruto from the mother of a 7-year-old who picks it up, then it can cause the system to look harder at all of the graphic novels, even those that are for teens in the teen section. I want those books to be there and be available for you, not to have been challenged or removed just because they were being read by those too young for them.

  10. keresa says:

    look, I understand your point of view and what your trying to get at, but really, I think that your being too ignorant. kids aren’t stupid. they know that naruto or bone is fictional. i know that trying to restrict them will give you a worse outcome. children that are sheltered are usually the ones who get more curious. I’m 12, and I know from my friend that sheltered children are fine in elementary school, but once they get to middle school, they have an extremely hard time making friends because they don’t get refrences , and are usually judgemental of less sheltered kids. I have many friends who have been watching R rated movies since they were fine, and they are usually the smartest, kindest, funniest, most creative ones. They are all very mature, because their parents never tried to hide from them all the rotten stuff going on on the world. if they learn how deal with these ideas at early age, when adults, I know they will be able to calmly think of solutions to the world’s biggest problems instead of panicking. adults need to realize that, like I repeat, kids aren’t stupid, and they will, learn sooner or later, figure out these things for themselves, and wouldn’t it be better to learn from books at an early age when kids are more accepting, instead of learning from other kids in a way that could forever ruin their innocent, kind view of the world?

  11. keresa says:

    sorry for my typos!

  12. kabukihouewife says:

    This article really got me thinking. I actually sat in front of the book case that holds my manga and I said “Would I let my future children read any of these?” I eventually picked out a few and put them off to the side. Even though I’m 19, I’m very careful about what I read. It was sad that I had so little suitable for young ages
    .
    There are plenty of comic written for young children that haven’t been serialized here in America though. I had my uncle bring back a Chao magazine last time he was in Japan. Chao is a magazine for girls ages 7-11. After looking over it again I realized that these would be perfect to have for kids. However, only one of the stories is being sold here in America. So many books are available, but the companies focus on the teenage market. If I had children I would let them read every comic in Chao without worry.

    When I was preteen, I would watch Yugioh. One of my friends showed me the manga. The show had been edited to get that age group, but the comics had not. I’m still surprised about what’s originally in Yugioh. I later found that the company that dubbed it, 4kids, does that with all of their shows. If it has to be edited, it shouldn’t be advertised to children.

    Naruto is a big problem. Even if it is being edited on TV, the manga isn’t. Parents should be more aware of what they let their kids watch and read. However, they should still be open. There are plenty of titles that are appropriate; you just need to go searching for them.

  13. Snow says:

    Keresa–You make some very good points here. As you are closer in age to kids than I am, you definitely see things that I don’t and you’re right that kids aren’t stupid. I don’t necessarily want to shelter kids from everything. Children are well aware that bad things happen and I agree that books are excellent ways of learning about bad things and learning how to cope with them or to process them. What I’d like is to see that kids get exposed to media as they reach a maturity level for it. Some kids can handle Naruto at a younger age. They read it or watch it and understand that it’s not all about cool fight scenes, that the characters are dealing with serious issues, even in what is (on the surface) “just a comic book” or “just a TV show.”

    Unfortunately in libraries we can’t tailor our collections to each individual patron. We have to have a range in which to place materials. That is why it is helpful to have materials aimed a specific maturity level, whether it be “kids” “teens” or “adults.” That is by no means a perfect system, but it does help parents and librarians and, yes, kids, find materials that might be just right for them. Am I saying that kids shouldn’t be allowed to check out books from the teen section. No. Readers know their own maturity level. And, if they are kids and teens, their parents should know that level also and help them to find books in that level or just slightly above or below.

    No one is ever going to be completely sheltered, not within most of the United States. I, like most people, was both sheltered to some degree and exposed early to mature ideas to some degree as I was growing up. So there are no easy answers. In an ideal world, there would be no ratings and people would only get information as they were ready for it or almost ready for it. But we don’t live in that ideal world, so we muddle along as best we can. The answer probably lies somewhere in this discussion, so at the very least, I’m glad that you’re willing to debate me on it.

    (And I’ll ignore your typos if you ignore mine!!)

  14. Snow says:

    Kabuki–The issue with a lot of Japanese children’s comics is that American publishers often have trouble finding titles that will translate well. They are often filled with cultural references that just won’t be understood by many Americans. And the reason why teens are the main manga publishing focus is that they are who buys manga for the most part. I believe that things are starting to change, however. More publishers are publishing titles for adults and for kids and the American manga market will start to open up more, with fewer teen titles, but more for everyone else. At least that’s my prediction!

    And I agree with you that things shouldn’t be edited to make them appropriate for children. My reasons are selfish ones, though. I want to be able to watch as an adult, not to feel like a cartoon has been “sanitized” for my (or my kids’) protection. But cartoons are still consider to be for kids by many Americans, so if a cartoon comes out that has mature situations in it, then there is an outcry. “It’s not appropriate for kids!” Well, no, it’s not. And that’s okay. I don’t think that everything needs to be appropriate for children.

    And I, too, look at my manga collection and wonder what the kids I don’t yet have would be able to read!

  15. Momo says:

    I’m currently in an adolescent literature class, where we have been discussing censoring for children and what is considered “appropriate” literature for children and what isn’t. What has been interesting for me is the idea that, as adults or even as older teens, we see children as ignorant. We view kids as something to be protected or sheltered and though I agree that children shouldn’t be sheltered, I also have to agree with the idea that children shouldn’t always be exposed to certain things right away.

    However, the biggest point on this is that it honestly depends on the child. Some of the young adults posting in this thread are saying that they’ve been playing certain violent video games since they were 8 and are currently reading Naruto. You maybe mature enough to handle that content. If that’s the case, that is awesome. We’re not ones to judge as to if you are mature enough or not.

    There are teens and even adults in this world that aren’t even mature enough to handle something like Fruits Basket. I feel like we aren’t the ones who should be making the decisions on what Young Adults should be reading. I also think that we’re all guilty of supposedly reading something out of our maturity level at one point. I also think that if they’re old enough to be defending themselves, then they’re old enough to make their own decisions about what they should read.

    Try researching a little bit on teens and comics and reading the responses that teens have come up with.

    I support reading anything that you love and are passionate in reading. For some, the only way to get students to read. Let them read what they feel is right. Give them more faith in self editing.

  16. Snow says:

    Momo, Thank you so much for commenting! You make some very valid points here. I think since I wrote this post originally my views on the subject have mellowed.

    I believe, and have always believed, that it is up to the parent(s)–hopefully working with their children–to decide what is appropriate for their kids to read. Naturally as kids grow up, they begin taking over the duties of selecting their own reading material. And you are correct when you say that everyone has had the experience of reading above their maturity and/or comfort level.

    But it still frustrates me as an adult to have material marketed to an age group it is not intended for. I’m not against people finding reading and/or viewing material that isn’t on their perceived level and I know that they can enjoy it and get a lot out of it, but I don’t like it when companies specifially market a product or part of a product for kids when the product is actually for adults. I feel the same way about the current marketing of the new Iron Man movie. Can’t there be material left solely for teens and adults to enjoy? Must everything be given a “child-friendly” spin?

    But I do want to support what you said about giving kids and teens faith in self-editing. You’re right and I will make sure I keep that in mind.

  17. Manga mum (& closet librarian) says:

    This all reminds me of something that happened to me the other day, My daughter and I were looking at some very fragile glass animals, and she wanted to get one. I said that would be ok as long as she understood that she would only be allowed to look at it with mummy or daddy. The guy selling them pointed out they aren’t toys. I get that. I get that it isn’t appropriate to give the 4 year old something glass to play with because hey glass breaks. But I also decided that if her daddy or I hold it or she can see it on a shelf to enjoy it then that’s ok, and when she is a little older she will be able to enjoy its fragile beauty just seeing it sitting on a shelf somewhere without the need for a parent to bring it down and hold it for her. But that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy it with parental supervision and assistance. Similarly she enjoys Ponyo, and other suitable Ghibli films, however I won’t let her watch Princess Mononoke, because frankly I think that a war between industrialisation and the spirits of the forest is a bit over the head of a 4 year old and the violence is too complicated for her to understand. So that one ‘is for big girls’ and she will be able to watch that later. Similarly we had to review letting her watch ‘Whisper of the heart’, generally unobjectionable, except that she apparently can’t yet handle the idea that though the main character in the privacy of her own home calls someone who was rude to her a ‘stupid jerk’, that isn’t an appropriate phrase to use, especially to people (especially to mummy!). But this is where the importance of parental input and awareness comes in, you try to gauge what is appropriate for your own child’s ability and personality, and then go from there. I definitely think that when companies attempt to market materials likely to be inappropriate for children directly to children that makes a parent’s job harder (and that is what they are counting on).

  18. Snow Wildsmith says:

    Manga mum, what a beautiful way to say what I was fumbling to express. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful reply.

    I hope that you will consider someday being more than just a closet librarian. We’d love to have you join the fold. :-)

  19. Mary says:

    Hi, I am a comic reader and aspiring comic artist in my late teens. When I read manga for myself, I try to find ones that I view comfortable and suitable in content for me. I don’t mind bad language as long as it is used mildly (overuse gets annoying for me) and the same goes for violence (if its in black and white, I’m fine, but when it is graphic violence in color… that’s another story). Anything else that falls under the line of teen and up is out of the question for me, because it conflicts with my viewpoints and belief.
    I find it difficult to find an in beween manga for myself: not childish, yet not mature. I am not familiar with manga except for a few main ones, so please feel free to post any manga titles that fall under this category. I am interesed in sci-fi, some fantasy, and any other action oriented genres out there. Of course my opinion of what I find okay for me to read is different from what I believe a kid should read, I am just stating my own viewpoint.
    Parents, I recommend the Archie comics co. Comic books and Viz Media Viz Kids manga. I’m not familiar with all of the current titles of the latter, but Viz media on their site state the listed viz kids manga as for all ages. Pokemon is definitely a good manga, however I haven’t read all of them.
    After reading a few pages of the first naruto manga myself, there is another concern that should be brought up when having a young reader read this series: a specific ninjitsu the character, Naruto, does. I view it unsuitable for kids and teens. I personally find it insulting for females as well. Other than that, the story itself did catch my interest as does the art style.
    I view comics and manga to be an interesting and creative medium that combines art and literature into a unique form. I think comics in general should be viewed as the visual book form of movies. There are all different genres and age levels for movies and I have no problem with the variety comics also provide. However, there should be more specific age content labeling on comics. This is not to censor the reader, yet inform him or her beforehand so that one can easily decide if it fits with one’s personal viewpoints and interests. I do find a more specific age rating system, such as a brief list of the reason why the comic or manga was given a certain rating helpful when parents buy their kids comics. I apologize for insulting any naruto/manga fans for my above comments. I just wanted to voice my personal opinion of manga and such and I had no intention of angering any viewers reading this post.

  20. Mary says:

    I wish that specific ninjitsu in naruto was left out because it was good from the point that I read up to in the first book otherwise. I only read the first two chapters of the first book and that is what I have based my opinion on and I did not watch the anime when it was aired on cartoon network. I just would like to point this out. The art style used in naruto is really cool. I have seen the manga book covers and video game art in magazines.

  21. Snow Wildsmith says:

    Mary,
    The funny thing is that the specific ninjitsu you mentioned (Naruto turning into a busty woman) didn’t bother me at all, though I can certainly see your point about it being insulting. It just goes to show that people are all very different and there’s a lot of difficulty in finding what is “appropriate” for either a particular person or for an age range. I think this is one of those issues that librarians, teachers, parents, and readers in general will have to keep struggling with as they help kids and teens find books to enjoy.

    Thank you for visiting and for your comments! I appreciate you keeping the discussion going!

    snow

  22. Kate says:

    I love anime and manga and have read a-lot of manga I also volunteer at my library. I’m old enough now I know what I like and don’t like in my manga or books for that matter. I know censorship is a big no no at my library but the one day I saw a tween looking at the manga and she picked out Death note vol one my otaku button went into panic mode. I then walked over and flipped the book over and explained to the mother that “this book might be to scary for her and might be to complex for her” I then explained that manga has ratings on the back as I don’t think many non anime people know this (seeing as books don’t have ratings why should a comic right?) I then pointed out some Teen friendly manga I thought she would like.

    Death note has also been one of those challenged books due to adults thinking a kid is a terrorist for making their own fake death note (oh yes this has been a thing) so that one is always on my radar of be careful I try to tell parents who are looking at the manga that there are ratings on the back I don’t say “this is not for your kid” or anything like that I just inform them of “This book is rated like a movie”

    On a side note check this out http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WhatDoYouMeanItsNotForKids?from=Main.ptitlerax1116nu5ji

    • Snow Wildsmith says:

      Hello Kate! I think your way of handling that sort of issue works very well! You’re exactly right that using the example of movie ratings is a good way of helping non-manga and no-graphic novel reading parents to understand the rating system. Good work! Thank you, also, for volunteering. Library volunteers are worth their weight in gold!

  23. nepetafan_spellchecker says:

    The problem with ratings is that kids are smart. They are naturally curious, and want to read things that interest them. Modern kids’ media just doesn’t do this job most of the time. Let them watch Coraline, and read the original versions of fairy tales- those are/were meant for kids. I read the Harry Potter novels in third grade, and those aren’t much worse than some stuff you are looking to ban.

Speak Your Mind

*