At Book Cave, we’re often asked what the appropriate rating is for cozy mysteries, clean romance, or children’s fiction (particularly middle grade). Some authors may worry that anything higher than an All Ages rating will turn away their audience, but in truth, an All Ages mystery or romance would be boring! Let’s take a look at what the ratings really mean, and what ratings these three genres usually fall into.
What Is All Ages?
Of course, All Ages means the book has no crude humor, no nudity, and no references to sex. These levels are easy to get right, and there are often All Ages in cozy mysteries, clean romances, and children’s fiction.
However, even very clean romances also often have nongraphic sexual references. An All Ages book has no kissing, except for kissing on the cheek or a quick peck on the lips. But what is a romance without a single romantic kiss? How likely is it that two characters fall in love and only briefly give each other a one-second peck on the lips? Almost all romance will have at least the mild level of kissing.
Of course, any murder-mystery is going to have a death, even if the death is off-screen, so it cannot be All Ages. An All Ages book has no violence. This means absolutely no death—not even a mention of death. Only minimal cartoonish-like violence is considered All Ages (like a character slipping on a wet floor and landing on their knees).
Many children’s books also have mild violence, so before marking All Ages on your middle grade book, you’ll want read over the action scenes to be sure the violence is actually minimal and cartoonish. Children’s fiction often has mild crude humor in the form of fart and other jokes, so be aware of that as well.
If your book is All Ages, that means it has no drug or alcohol or tobacco use (beyond a small mention by adults, such as drinking a glass of wine with dinner). So, if your character goes to a bar and has a few drinks, that increases this level.
All Ages also means the book has absolutely no profanity. Yep, not even a “Thank God” that isn’t truly a prayer to deity. You can see what Book Cave considers profanity here.
As you can see, an All Ages cozy mystery or clean romance would read as if it were written for a four-year-old, with little action, no death, no sexual tension, and no kissing! This ultimately means that only books meant for the very young (usually picture books) should be All Ages. Basically, as stated at the beginning, All Ages is an easy call. It’s only when we get into the other levels that things start to get tricky.
What Level Are Cozies, Clean Romances, and Children’s Books Usually?
Most of the cozy mysteries we receive are rated Mild+ or Moderate, with a few being Mild or Moderate+ for the violence level. You can see these books and their ratings here.
Most of the clean romances we receive are rated Mild or Mild+, with a slightly lower number of them being Moderate. You can see these books and their ratings here. Once you get to the Moderate+ for the intimacy level, it is not considered a clean romance for those who crave clean reads, even though the actual culmination of the lovemaking for Moderate+ must be off-screen. (Keep in mind that it is also possible the Moderate+ rating came from the violence or language level instead of the intimacy level. For this reason, we always tell you WHY a book is rated at that level. Read more about how our rating system works here.)
Most of the middle grade books we receive are All Ages, Mild, and Mild+.
Do the Content Levels Equate to an Age Range?
Book Cave’s content levels do not equate to an age range, since we understand that people have different opinions about what is appropriate for different ages. Instead, we aim to describe the content, so individuals and parents can make their own choices based on what they are comfortable with.
That being said, if we compare our system to movie ratings, we get this rough correspondence to age ranges:
0 and up — All Ages
8 and up — Mild
10 and up — Mild+
14 and up — Moderate
16 and up — Moderate+
18 and up — Adult
Again, these ages are suggestions only; it is not a one size fits all, but rather a way for you to get a better feel for what the ratings mean.
Let us know if you have any questions about the appropriate content rating for cozy mysteries, clean romances, and middle grade children’s books in the comments below.