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 http://www.notoagebanding.org/
"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.