(Note this question will be based heavily on my experience as an American and the systems we have in place.)

I was reading some questions on this and another SE site about age appropriateness for so called "children's books". It seems that are many sites that do rate books and will give a general age bracket such as "middle grade" or "young adult" but I noticed these are generally just review style sites and not a governing body like other media has;

Why does literature not have a similar rating system? Is it because there are different categories such as fiction and non-fiction where non-fiction cannot be rated, was there was early precedence that "books are for everyone", was it to stop over-zealous puritans from banning or burning books?

I am willing to except a global view on this manner but personally would be concerned more about the history as it pertains to the United States.

  • I think the question needs revising — there certainly exist agencies that classify books, for example Common Sense Media in the USA, and Australian Classification. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 19:32
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    @GarethRees I think those might be along the lines of an answer. If I have a faulty assumption then I would like to know about it as well. So for example, does the Australian Classification put a label on all books for sale there, as say the MPAA does with will all movies released here? To my knowledge there is nothing like that in the US.
    – Skooba
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 19:38
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    The MPAA does not put a label on all movies released in the USA — it is a voluntary system and it is up to movie-makers whether they pay the MPAA for a rating. A well known case is This Film is Not Yet Rated which was released without a rating. Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 20:16
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    The lack of "official" rating comes most likely from the fact, that the books are not an easy medium to digest as are movies or video games. 12 year old might try to read Lady Chatterley's Lover or Stephen's King horror but it will be most likely too difficult to properly understand. In contrast, graphic novels have often age rating - exactly because they are "easier"
    – Yasskier
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 21:47
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    I've always been astounded at the filth you can read, but not see on the TV. Some books have truly appalling content.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


Since there is no answer, let me try to provide one:

First, the two misconceptions in the OP:

  1. Movies need to be rated by MPAA.

    Not true, this is a voluntary process. From the Ratings guide:

    WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE RATING SYSTEM? Movie ratings provide parents with advance information about the content of movies to help them determine what movies are appropriate for their children at any age. After all, parents are best suited to knowing each of their children’s individual sensitivities and sensibilities to pick movies for them. Ratings are assigned by a board of parents who consider factors such as violence, sex, language and drug use, then assign a rating they believe the majority of American parents would give a movie.

    DO ALL MOVIES HAVE TO BE RATED? No. Submitting a movie for a rating is a voluntary decision made by filmmakers. However, the overwhelming majority of filmmakers have their movies rated, and each member of the Motion Picture Association has agreed to have all its theatrically released movies rated.

    What's more, the age rating is not legally binding (with an exception for obscenity - in many places worldwide it is illegal to expose minors to overly sexual material), so if a movie theatre owner will let your kid watch R-rated "The Passion of Christ", there is not that much you can do (I've actually seen people encouraging their children to see it "because it is religious").

    However, if the theater sold you a ticket to an R-rated movie, even though you're under 17 and not accompanied by an adult, then you have a right to be there. If you are removed, the theater will likely have to refund your ticket.

  2. There are no agencies that rate books

    As @GarethRees pointed, there are such agencies, for example Compass BookRating:

    Compass Book Ratings provides a standardized rating system so everyone can more easily evaluate their reading options. These book reviews are for parents, teachers, librarians, readers, and anyone looking for a book that best fits their preferences for story and content.

    Again, their purpose is not to enforce some legal control, but to provide easier guidance system.

Of course, there is quite a long list of books banned by the various government at various times. The reasons also vary - from "obscenity" (The Decameron, Lolita, 120 days of Sodom), through religious (The Satanic verses, Quran) to political ones (Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Catch-22).

But if we get back to the age rating, I think it boils down to the old saying "The picture is worth thousand words": It is easy to look at the picture and see all the gory details, getting all that just from plain text is not as easy and strong. I can write "the executioner cut Jane's head off; blood splashed on the onlookers" and no one would probably think twice about it (ok, it might not look good in a kids book but even then there are exceptions - some old nursery rhymes are much creepier than you think), but if I'd try to draw it or show it to on a movie... Which is why you will notice the age suggestion more often on a graphic novel

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than on a book:

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  • "each member of the Motion Picture Association has agreed to have all its theatrically released movies rated." Could you imagine if all books sold on Amazon had to have a rating to be sold?! While I understand not all movies have to be rated, you have to admit the MPAA is governing body sorts while a "rating" sites like Compass Books Ratings are not the same.
    – Skooba
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 12:30
  • @Skooba In USA last year 786 new movies were released. In comparison, in the year 2018, about 306 THOUSAND books (new and re-editions) were published. An average movie takes 90 minutes to watch while a decent reader can take about 300 words per minutes, which gives you about 4.5 hours to go through a book with 80,000 words. There is simply not enough time and people...
    – Yasskier
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 21:29
  • @Skooba given how badly some books blurbs correlate to their actual content I can't imagine how terrible book content ratings would actually be.
    – Jontia
    Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 9:24

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