age appropriate books

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for as long as i can remember, my mother didn't limit me to what books i was allowed to read. i was never told that i was 'too young' for a book, or told not to read something because it was for 'big kids', or anything like that. the way my mom saw it, i was taking an interest in reading, and that was something she couldn't justify stifling.

now that i think about it, what is an 'age appropriate book'? what makes things inappropriate? what comes to mind is

  • explicit sexual content
  • heavy violence/abuse scenes
i know a lot of parents get upset over books that have a lot of swearing in them, which makes sense in a way, but i don't understand when they say, well, this book talks about racism, or there's a gay main character, so that's not appropriate for my child.

what?

it's like they think, if my child reads about the civil rights movement, they'll become more educated on history and real world problems, that can't happen! or, if my child reads a book about a lesbian, she will turn into a lesbian, too! what's the logic behind that?

i'm currently reading a tale for the time being by ruth ozeki, which i suppose wouldn't be age appropriate in the eyes of some parents, because it deals with a lot of themes of suicide and death. but if we're sheltering 17-year-olds from books about this because we say they are too young to be exposed to such ideas, then what's the proper age? is there a proper age?

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