Thursday, June 12, 2008


There's an interesting post on lovely literascribe's blog about the decision by some publishers to provide an age rating guidance system for children's books this autumn. Book covers will have a sign stating that they are intended for readers aged 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen.

This is considered a Bad Thing for all the reason's Lorna has eloquently stated and I tend to agree. In the Telegraph, Phillip Pullman said "... I don't want to see my book declaring officially, as if with my approval, that it is for readers of 11 and upwards or whatever. I write books for whoever is interested. When I write a book I don't have an age group in mind."

However, being a librarian and busybody, I decided (all by myself - you probably heard my brain whirring into action) to conduct a discreet study at work today, and asked some mums what they thought about the proposal while pretending to shelve the children's books. (I did do SOME shelving, in case The Boss is reading. She won't be. Not that I MIND if she is. But she won't be.) To my surprise most of them thought it was a brilliant idea. Why? I wondered, having already signed the petition at

"because sometimes it's hard to tell a book by it's cover"

"films have a rating, why not books?"

"it would be useful to have a guideline"

"my kids aren't very good at picking books, they get confused"

"I wouldn't mind if it was on the back of the book. Or on a removable sticker"

Hmmm. Pauses for thought.

Maybe it's about parents wanting control. On the other hand one of my favourite writers, Meg Rosoff , makes a fair point. She says, "Age-ranging is not about restricting the liberty of motivated middle-class children. It's aimed at parents and other book purchasers who want to match a book with a child who isn't the world's most inquisitive reader. Which (and I speak from experience on the front lines here) is about 90% of all children. Maybe more. "

Which I hadn't considered.

Either way if age-banding had been around when I were a lass, I doubt it would have stopped me and my friend creeping into her parents bedroom to hunt down an elusive copy of "The Joy of Sex," rumoured to be hidden under a loose floorboard. It was. I've never been the same since.

Case closed.


Tam said...

Hmmmm. I speed read most of TD's books before I buy them and I think I get an idea very quickly if I think it's suitable. To get some idea of the diversity of her tastes she has recently read The Other Boleyn Girl, Let the Snogfest Begin and one of the Harry Potters.
I think I'd just ignore an age rating anyway, if I thought she'd enjoy it :-)

SpiralSkies said...

Waterstones tend to group kids' books in age clumps and I find it hugely helpful when buying for my boys. I can take the point that Pullman makes but so long as it's only a guide, it's can't be anything but a good thin, can it?

Anything that makes book-buying easier for the masses I'm in favour of.

KAREN said...

tam - My Teen Daughter's the same. When she was younger, I'd read a couple of pages myself to assess suitability!

sprialskies - I agree - it can be overwhelming otherwise. As long as it was discreet because I know my son would be embarrassed to be seen reading a book with a younger age group banding!

JJ said...

Oh Karen, I did wonder how that post was going to get around to the Joy of Sex. Well done - it made me laugh out loud.

Debs said...

It's hard to buy books for youngsters, so this is probably a good idea.

Mind you, I agree with you that it should be printed very discretely somewhere.

Kerry said...

I'm not a parent so probably not qualified to give my 2p worth but I don't like it. It surely limits childrens horizons? Many children can read more advanced books for their age so what happens to their love of reading when the find books under-stimulating? Not sure about it at all really :/ But maybe when I am a Rent trying to stop 9 year old from reading Carrie I'll have different perspective!

Lorna F said...

'the lovely literascribe' - you've made my day! I take on board the comments parents made to you - with regard to films, I would argue that they're not so narrowly age-ranged. I think removable stickers could work - anything so that the child doesn't feel branded in the eyes of their peers. But I do still think that shelf guides help - as do booksellers and friendly librarians who know their stuff! Lorna x

Bernadette said...

I have no children, but do have god-children, nieces and nephews for whom I like to buy books. Usually I haven't got a clue what is suitable for them and shop assistants are often less than helpful. So I think it's a great idea, as long as it's discreet.
It's not as though children will be banned from reading outside their range, like with a film certificate. It's just for guidance, for idiots like me!


Clarkey, I've got me old probing hat on today (just like the pointy one that Pete the Gnome had!) ;-)

What would happen if a child tries to take home a library book that is deemed unsuitable i.e. strong adult content. Just curious.Tommox

Maddie Moon said...

As a parent, I think it's a good idea, but only as a guide to the intended age-range.

When Lizzie discovered Jacqueline Wilson and wanted to read everything she'd ever written, it was difficult knowing which books were suitable for an under 10, as a lot of her stories are targetted at teens. It would have been helpful to have some kind of rating on the books.

Paul Capewell said...

It's an interesting problem. I had to deal with a woman a few years back whose (14-15 year old?) daughter had borrowed one of the Black Lace books and she was complaining that her daughter had been allowed to check it out, despite it having an advisory message on the back, near the barcode.

I could see her point but I explained that books (and therefore libraries) don't have age restrictions, and afterwards I mused how it was better that her daughter was getting her jollies at home curled up with a good book (so to speak) rather than.. Well, whatever else.

Also: in case The Boss is reading - what a horrible thought! That said, after two rubbish days, I am close to ranting on my blog. Thank god I have a personal livejournal for such vitriolic pith.

Cait O'Connor said...

Great blog.

I wonder if we FRONT LINE librarians were consulted on this? I agree with you entirely and will sign the petition. I am against labelling.
We have a restriction on Teen Fiction, it can't go out on a younger child's ticket and they are kept in the Adult section in my library. This makes sense considering the content of some of them. But some parents write a letter saying they give permission for their younger child to borrow them. Fair enough.

Lane said...

Initially I was a nay but I agree with some of the other comments esp Maddie re. Jacqueline Wilson.
It's a guide, it's not the law. They're colour coded in primary schools, and grouped in bookshops anyway.
My ten year old has just finished Marley and Me but she'll also read every single kitten/puppy/fairy book that if age banded would be 'officially' too young for her. For me it's no big deal but I can see the problem.
Don't you just love that illustration!:-)

KAREN said...

jj - Such a hairy man! It quite put me off :o)

debs - It is hard sometimes, and parents (or grandparents) don't always have time to have a read through.

kerry - I think most children are capable of finding their own level - even if parents disapproved I doubt it would make much difference!

lorna f - The main problem with shelving at the library is that things get put in the wrong place at times. We've had many an irate parent brandishing something highly unsuitable they've found in the toddler section!!

bernadette - You're right, and even though I'm happy to recommed things to customers at the library I'm still aware that it might not be right for that child. It's a minefield!

tommo - It's a tricky one. With films it's clear-cut - if they're under 12 we literally can't issue 15s and 18s to their card (the system flashes up a warning) but books...I have said before 'do you know that's an adult book?' to no avail, but luckily it doesn't happen often :o)

maddie - I was the same with the Louise Rennison books for my daughter. I finally read one of them myself and realised there was nothing 'rude' in them, but the title "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" put me right off initially!

paul - It is tricky, and I don't think it's our job to monitor what youngsters are reading (I read Erica Jong around that age, which was probably ruder but had a more innocent cover!)
I'll look forward to reading your rant...

cait - That's interesting that the Teen Fiction is in the adult section in your library. We've recently had to move the graphic novels over there, as a parent complained about her young son flicking through them thinking they were comics.
As with most issues, a lot of it is down to Common Sense :o)

lane - It's soooo dated, it makes me laugh!

I was a nay to start with, but can definitely see the other side. Like you said, it's just a guide. As long as it's discreet, because one of mine likes books for a 'younger' age group and would be mortified if he were caught reading them, but then again the covers can be a giveaway anyway!

Mickmouse said...

Hi Karen, love your blog. There was a big discussion on the Wrodpool about this issue recently. the concern was about whether the publishers had too much control over authors in terms of the target range.
I can see both sides, personally I would like it to be subtly on the back cover somewhere as by putting an age on it, some people may disregard it as too old or young for their kids. It is useful when choosing books for kids, however as I am planning and beginning to write my novel, whether it falls as a 'tween', 'Teen' or 'Young adult 'remains to be seen. I tend to agree with Tam and thinh that if my son would enjoy a book, then i would buy it for him. Great market research technique by the way!

Ernest de Cugnac said...

Generally feel that banding is a good idea. For example I would hate a child to read "Naked Lunch" by Burroughs by accident. And like others I feel that it could help someone, who doesn't know children well, to buy a book as a present.

I too recognised the illustration from Joy of Sex, but never owned the book! Obviously thumbed my way through it in WH Smith.

KAREN said...

mickmouse - Thanks for dropping by :o) I think it's the Teen/Young Adult section that causes the most confusion. Meg Cabot's books, for instance, are always shelved in the Junior section, for some reason, yet her books are definitely aimed at Teens. Most confusing!

ernest - It's funny how recognisable that illustration is! Still sends shivers up my spine...and not in a good way :o)

Josefine said...

I agree with Bernadette, a guidance for us non-parents trying to buy a suitable book for nephews, nieces etc. would be good. But I also think that in the end, it is up to the parents to decide what their children can read.

It's beginning to look a lot like...

...Christmas!! It was bright sunshine and 32 degrees about five minutes ago, but now the fairy lights are untangled and on the tree, the...