Monday, June 09, 2008

No to Age Banding

The plans of UK publishers' plans to introduce age ranging guidance for children's books is meeting a storm of protest, with authors Philip Pullman, Anne Fine and Michael Rosen lending their voice to the opposition.

Why should it matter if there is a suggested age stated on the cover of a book? Consider these arguments taken from the online petition site set up by Steve Augarde (and found via Dovegrey Reader's blog) :
  • Each child is unique, and so is each book. Accurate judgments about age suitability are impossible, and approximate ones are worse than useless.
  • Children easily feel stigmatized, and many will put aside books they might love because of the fear of being called babyish. Other children will feel dismayed that books of their ‘correct’ age-group are too challenging, and will be put off reading even more firmly than before.
  • Age-banding seeks to help adults choose books for children, and we're all in favour of that; but it does so by giving them the wrong information. It’s also likely to encourage over-prescriptive or anxious adults to limit a child's reading in ways that are unnecessary and even damaging.
  • Everything about a book is already rich with clues about the sort of reader it hopes to find – jacket design, typography, cover copy, prose style, illustrations. These are genuine connections with potential readers, because they appeal to individual preference. An age-guidance figure is a false one, because it implies that all children of that age are the same.
  • Children are now taught to look closely at book covers for all the information they convey. The hope that they will not notice the age-guidance figure, or think it unimportant, is unfounded.
  • Writers take great care not to limit their readership unnecessarily. To tell a story as well and inclusively as possible, and then find someone at the door turning readers away, is contrary to everything we value about books, and reading, and literature itself.
Wondered what the parents among you thought? How easy is it for you to judge whether a book is at the right level for your children (especially as there is so little help and guidance available from bookshop staff and librarians usually)?


animah said...

For preschoolers, it's pretty easy. You can figure the book out in 2 seconds flat.

But it may be tougher for books for older age groups. Yes, I can pick up a book and decide whether the words can be understood by a nine year old, but what if the content is unsuitable for a nine year old? I'm not sure if I could work that out just browsing in a book store. I would need some help, and an age band would do that.

To me it's not about the intelligence or the level of the child. It's about content.

animah said...

If age bands are lifted, then books can't be wrapped!

bibliobibuli said...

you can unwrap 'em!

Anonymous said...

I'm being very KPC here, poking my nose into this discussion when I don't even have kids, but to Animah and others who do: don't you think the content, like the reading-level, depends on the individual child? From my limited experience with kids (and from my own childhood), I've found that different kids are "ready" for different things in the books they read and the movies they see. And yes, I think (others may disagree) that this applies to sex and violence, but also death, madness, political complexity, and all sorts of depravity. There's no fixed, universally applicable age at which a child becomes ready to face those things -- is there? So perhaps no one can judge what each child is ready to read better than an involved parent?

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

i was a depraved child (not a deprived one) ...

Abdullah said...


At last, I've found you here! I've been searching for years! Will be a regular visitor here from now on.

Who is this? hehehehe..

Remember the bloke (your ex-student) who used to go by the name of Lobo, and had a bona-fide London accent (though I don't sport that anymore)... Well, he grew up, got married, had a son, and is now a lecturer in UTM, training ELT teachers too! :)

Hope we can get together sometime!

bibliobibuli said...

hi Lobo! it's really lovely to hear from you and i'm glad you tracked me down. congrats on the marriage, the son and the job. an ELT teacher-trainer too - that's great! yes, we must get together sometime. my email is sharonbakar at yahoo dot com and i am also (like the rest of the world) on facebook so you can throw a sheep at me some time!

enar arshad said...

i read rich man poor man when i was ten.(it was the tittle that got me interested)
at the same time i read enchanted wood.
i was free to chose what i want to read and i am really really thankful for that!

Steve Augarde said...

I'm very glad to do my bit in guiding people to the site, Sharon, but it wasn't me that set it up. (And if I don't point this out, I'm sure somebody else will!)

In fact I'm rather a latecomer to the fray, having been given the heads up some weeks ago by Vanessa Robertson over at Fidra Blog, but I'm now linking where I can, and the response has been very encouraging. Interesting to discover that not all authors are against the idea of labelling, by any means. Meg Rosoff and Philip Reeve are two notables who see nothing wrong in it.

It would have been helpful if authors had been notified in the first place, and the subject properly debated before any decisions were taken.