This term I am taking an optional module in Publishing. Taking this module was the result of a last minute change of plan, but it has turned out to be my favourite module this term. We recently had to write a short piece either for or against putting age bands on children's books. This isn't a new issue (it was a fairly hot topic in 2008) but I find it an interesting one. Amy has just blogged her arguments for age banding, so I thought I would stick up my arguments against it.
I am against putting age bands on children’s books.
My main reason for holding this position is that I believe that children should not be being told a book is too old or too young for them. I have always been a voracious reader, and like Terry Pratchett1, I often as a child read books too old for me, and sometimes too young for me. I still do this now that I am an adult! I am not alone in this, as can be seen by the popularity of “children’s” books such as the Harry Potter series amongst adults.2
Children’s reading ability develops at different rates, with a child’s “reading age” often being very different from their physical age. Indicating recommended ages on books may well lead to more advanced readers sticking to “safe” books in their physical age range, and discouraging them from reading harder books. It will also put off those already struggling with reading, as books will be explicitly branded with the message “this book is for little kids”. Any child would be reluctant to read something they can clearly see is meant someone younger, and they may be worried about being bullied. I think Michael Morpurgo is right when he says “[i]f you say a book is for a seven-year-old, the nine-year-old is going to be trying to cover it up at the back of the class.” 3
Publishers seem to be aiming this idea at adults buying books for children. However if an adult is buying a book for a child they know well, they will surely know which books and which authors the child likes, and so will be able to choose a book without resorting to looking at age bands. On the other hand an adult that does not know the child well enough to have this information will most likely have little idea of the child’s reading age.
Finally, who is going to make the decision of what book is appropriate to what age? Publishers know the audience they are marketing at, but in many cases even the author does not know for sure who is going to read and love their books. If age banding is going to happen, I would like to see panels of children involved in these decisions.
Indicating age ranges on children’s books can only serve to narrow the range of literature a child is offered. I believe parents, teachers, librarians and publishers should be trying to widen children’s reading repertoires, not narrowing them.
1‘Authors’ and illustrators’ comments’. No to Age Banding. Available at: http://www.notoagebanding.org/index.php?comments/authors [Accessed February 11, 2012].
2Byatt, A.S., 2003. Harry Potter and the Childish Adult. The New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/07/opinion/07BYAT.html [Accessed February 14, 2012].
3McLean, P., 2008. Concern over age bands for books. BBC News. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7568992.stm [Accessed February 14, 2012].