Each person has different levels of sensitivity about problematic issues in books. Please pay close attention to our “comments” column so that you can make your own judgments. As often as possible we include page numbers so that you can more easily decide on a book’s appropriateness for a particular child or group. Please bear in mind that a book which may be acceptable for one child may be entirely inappropriate for another, depending on the child’s maturity, reading level, reading style (i.e., skims vs. reads carefully), and personality. Our main reasons for labeling a book as being problematic, fall into the basic categories listed below. Occasionally a book does not fit into any of these categories, but the overall tone is problematic. When this is the case, we will note it in the “comments” column.
Boy/girl relationships, Tznius, and Negiah
We are particularly sensitive to books that include this as a main focus, especially when the characters involved are not anywhere near marriageable age. Even minor boy/girl relationships will generally be rated with "Generally Acceptable" or "Questionable". We will note if the relationship results in marriage, and if it has only minor negiah described. Books which do not contain actual boy/girl relationships but focus on thoughts or dreams of such relationships can be equally problematic. We generally overlook acceptable illustrations or descriptions of girls who are wearing “regular” clothing, even if not tzanua (eg, pants and a t-shirt), while more extreme cases (eg, bathing suits) will generally be noted. Some of the terms we use in the comments include: minor romantic negiah – handholding, quick hugs, kisses on the cheek, etc, mentioned in passing: non-romantic negiah – usually between “friends” or cousins or step siblings, with no romantic overtones.
Books that actually glorify or describe in detail another religion, are considered "Questionable" or "Not Acceptable", depending on frequency, length, and importance to plot. When we feel that pages can be torn out or lines crossed out without ruining the story line, we note page numbers. Please note that we chose to use the term “J—“ or "JC" for the subject of Christian worship. (Please note that the comments are meant for use by frum people; please be sensitive if sharing the list with non-frum or non-Jewish teachers). Books that mention religion in passing, or use a holiday as the setting without discussing it in religious terms, will often have a "Generally Acceptable" or an “Acceptable” with comments. We will note if the religion is mentioned in a neutral way (eg: “he prayed” - without describing the prayers; quotes from the Old Testament; etc.). Books that bring up hashkafik issues (eg, evolution, dinosaurs, age of the world, etc.) will be noted in the comments section with a suggestion for parental (or teacher) guidance in discussing these topics with the child before he reads the book. Detailed hashkafik issues in a book will often render it “Not Acceptable".
Books that are filled with objectionable language are considered “not recommended”. Books with only a few unacceptable words will be generally be noted in the comments. We differentiate between major language (real curses), minor language (words that are not curses but we don’t permit in our homes), slang and street language (rough language, unrefined language that sets a tone that a parent or teacher may not like), and bathroom language (self explanatory – usually very juvenile). Acceptability of language is dependant on the age of the intended audience. Minor language that would be unacceptable in an early grade school book, may be noted with “Questionable” in a book intended for older readers. A well-written book for older readers which has no major issues other than a lot of minor language, or some major language, will generally be rated “Questionable”.
Often violence in books is not considered universally problematic; it can be hard to judge. For example, an historical fiction book about the Civil War will have some gory battle scenes; a survival book may have man vs. animal violence; a fantasy book may have fights with or between magical creatures who are obviously not realistic. We try to note violence in the comments section and leave it to the parent/teacher to decide. Real violence and bullying among real people, that is glorified or exciting, may render a book “Not Acceptable”.
Divorce, Death, Broken Families
When divorce is treated as a matter of fact, not glorified in any way, and mentioned in passing, we usually consider that acceptable. If divorce, death, broken families, or dysfunctional families is an important focus of a book, we will note that in the comments section. Children in similar situation r”l might find such books very therapeutic, but for others it might be completely inappropriate
Ideally, we wish all books would model good middos for our children, but this is unfortunately not the case. Books which describe truly horrible middos are considered “Not Acceptable”, especially when it is the main focus of the story. If minor, it is mentioned in the comments; we also note whether the character seems to learn his lesson at the end of the book.
Fantasy and Magic
We are not overly concerned about fantasy if a child is old enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and knows that real magic is assur. However, we recognize that there are varying opinions on this topic, and if it is a theme it is usually noted in the comments column.
Street Reality, “Gritty” books
Some books focus on the unfortunate realities of the western world, which we may not want to expose our children to, eg: drugs, homelessness, abuse, alcoholism, cults, etc. We note this in the comments section so that parents/teachers can make informed decisions.
TV, Movies, rock music, Internet, and other media
If a book glorifies the secular media or includes a great deal of its culture and language, we note this in the comments. If it is only mentioned in passing, we often overlook it, as this is, unfortunately, a regular part of the western world. Parents should be aware that some books provide web sites for readers to use in conjunction with the book. Our recommendation regarding the book does not include an endorsement of the content of the websites, nor does it sanction children’s use of the internet. We will note in our comments when websites are included in a book.