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Sunday, May 14, 2006

What is your daughter/kid sister reading?

Watched Oprah today. The show touched on a topic that's been at the back of my mind for quite some time. The mental rape of young kids everywhere. Almost every kid today has been violated in some way and the sad thing is that no one realises it. Its considered 'normal'. No one is panicking yet cos this generation isn't grown up yet. We can't see the long term effect of the 'popular mass media' yet.

Consider this, when my sister was a kid she was a devout reader of the 'sweet valley' series. A series that dealt with emotional drama of the 'Bold and the beautiful' variety adapted to kids of a younger age. At an age when I had been reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, my sister was wondering what a size 6 is, and how she could be one. While my reality and my mind has always been grappling with question of 'good v/s evil' and how one girl could nab a whole bunch of bad guys and kick ass, my sister's mind was exposed to issues of winning popularity stakes in school and how to get the attention and favour of the cutest boy in class. I'm scared she's gonna be one of those girls who's desperate to have a boyfriend, who thinks marriage is the ultimate goal. A person, who measures her self worth not by what she is, but by how much a guy or the 'cool' crowd values her.

You can probably tell I'm not a fan of sweet valleys, well trust me when I look at what's out there these days I fervently wish for the return of the days of the sweet valley series' popularity.

I'm adding an excerpt from an article that deeply disturbed me here. For the full article and reviews of many of the books mentioned please click on the title link.

Hilary Armstrong was happy to see her 12-year-old daughter Katherine reading at the kitchen table one afternoon -- until, that is, she glanced at the back of the book jacket. "I was mortified," says Mrs. Armstrong. The book, which her daughter got from a friend, had a blurb on the back that read, "After all, no one really wants to go to college a virgin."
The San Francisco mom allowed Katherine to finish the novel, one of the popular "Gossip Girl" series, but started keeping closer tabs on her daughter's reading material. She wishes the book business would help out. "It would be nice if they had a big rating on it, like at the movies," Mrs. Armstrong says.

It's the summer book season: Do you know what your child is reading? To appeal to teens brought up on suggestive music videos and cable-TV shows, publishers are releasing more books full of mature themes and unflinching portrayals of sexual activity, with young protagonists the same age as their target readers. One publisher is venturing beyond its titles on dragons and bunnies with "Claiming Georgia Tate," about a 12-year-old girl whose father pressures her into a sexual relationship and makes her dress like a prostitute. In "Looking for Alaska," prep-school students watch pornography and pass the time binge-drinking. Coming this fall is "Teach Me," in which a male high-school teacher has sex with a student. This season's book offerings for young adults include novels about basketball and elves as well as more risqué titles.

And kids seem to be responding: Young-adult fiction -- which has come to be associated with the edgy titles -- is one of the book industry's healthiest segments. Targeting the 12-and-up age group, the segment's sales are up 23% since 1999, according to estimates by industry analyst Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor. (Adult sales in the same period were down slightly more than 1%, according to the Book Industry Study Group.) The young-adult category's top seller by far is the "Harry Potter" franchise, and when the series' last book came out in 2003, Mr. Greco estimates it accounted for almost half of the segment's $406 million in sales. But for children who've outgrown young wizards or just want something else to read, publishers are releasing more risqué titles in the young-adult segment, many of them aimed at teen girls. Last year, even without a new "Potter" book, overall revenue in the young-adult segment increased to $410 million, estimates Mr. Greco. In all, there were more than 21,000 new kids' titles released in 2004 -- double the number in 2002, according to R.R. Bowker in New Providence, N.J., which collects publishing data.

To offer some parental guidance in this fast-changing arena, Weekend Journal sorted through more than 100 of the season's talked-about teen titles. We kept our eye out for literary merit and great stories, and also looked for themes that parents might want to know about. One discovery: The subject matter is rarely clear from a book's title or graphics. "Rainbow Party" features tubes of lipstick on the cover -- though it isn't about girls discussing makeup, but a teen oral-sex party. We also found that girls are the main target audience here, reflecting publishers' belief that more teen girls than boys read. (The idea is that boys stick to fantasy epics.) That helps explain why there are more controversial girl-oriented titles, like "Alice on Her Way," about a 16-year-old who spends a weekend in Manhattan on a class trip.

Publishers say the mature material simply reflects the culture teens are exposed to today, and may help them to process situations they've heard about or experienced. In some cases, they add, the themes help advance a moral message: "Rainbow Party," for example, teaches children about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, says Rick Richter, president of Simon & Schuster's children's division, which published the title. He adds that he'd be happy to have his 13-year-old daughter read it.

Industry analysts say editors have been emboldened to go beyond the bad behavior of the '80s "Sweet Valley" novels, because of a few risqué-fiction success stories. Last year's "How I Live Now," aimed at children 12 and older and featuring an affair between teen cousins, won the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult literature. Many more have been commercial hits, including the "Gossip Girl" series, for readers 15 and up, with seven installments since 2001 and more than two million books in print. (Most young-adult titles sell fewer than 20,000 copies, analysts say.) The "A-List" novels, about rich teens looking for trouble, have had 945,000 books printed since 2003, while last year's "The Clique," a chronicle of spoiled middle-school girls, is already a three-book series with 1.15million copies in print.

*'You're Reading...What?'* This season, publishers are rolling out more volumes for teens that are full of heavy themes, from binge drinking to incest.