Sunday, 26 February 2012

Age banding for children's books

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: [Accessed February 11, 2012].
2Byatt, A.S., 2003. Harry Potter and the Childish Adult. The New York Times. Available at: [Accessed February 14, 2012].
3McLean, P., 2008. Concern over age bands for books. BBC News. Available at: [Accessed February 14, 2012].


  1. I know, and I'm actually still on the fence! There are good arguments to be made either way.

  2. For (my own) young children I've found some books can in fact have two age bands: once when they're being read to, and again when they're learning to read for themselves. A picture book with a few words is good for a toddler because of the pictures and then be good three years later as they start to read. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a good example of a book which can be appealing as a tactile book, an excellent picture book, and a reading book at different stages. Including adult.

  3. I'm very much against it - both for slow and advanced readers. My son stuggled to start off with, and as Orangeaurochs says - loved books that he was not yet confident enough to read but understood the story... around ten he had all the narnia books read to him (one chapter a night for weeks !!)

    My daughter was a quick reader (off the top of the scale in junior school - reading at about age 16 level!) -she would read anything she could lay her hands on.

    Regarding subject matter - kids are quite good at putting down books if they find the subject too tricky... or even just gloss over what they don't understand. Clare picked up Duncton Wood, thinking it would be like the Redwall books - the darker themes of the book just went over her head. Reading the book again many years later, she was quite surprised by the dark nature of the book - it had completely passed her by on the first reading.

  4. One of the things I love about being a voracious reader is that I'll likely read through any books my kids would want to read first, rather then rely on some publishers age recommendation.

    I wasn't even aware this was a thing, but as a kid who got in trouble for talking about reading "Moby Dick" in the 3rd grade (my teacher thought I was just using it as an excuse to say 'dick'. I had to basically tell her the entire plot to keep from getting sent to the principals) I can see how this would be limiting to kids. And being a voracious reader in elementary school, I remember reading anything and everything in the library we had...including the books for younger and older readers. I think I even read the books that were clearly aimed at girl readers just so I would have something new to read.