Thursday, June 12, 2008

Age Banding - No Thank You!!!

Those of you who live in the UK will have heard about this... there is a new "Industry Standard" looming. Childrens' books are to be "age banded", that is, published with a label that suggests an appropriate reading age.

I think that is an absolutely appalling idea! - I don't know about you, but I remember having a hard time in school for lots of things I did that weren't "proper". I wasn't wearing the right clothes, I wasn't listening to the right music... and it was easy for the other kids to decide what was right or wrong because it was decided via charts and labels and on a "surface" level. One of the few things I felt safe and happy about were the books I was reading, which included precisely everything I felt like reading. And one wonderful thing about reading books to me back then was that no one could instantly judge what I was doing. And believe me, they tried. I distinctly remember the looks of some of those kids trying to find something nasty to say, and all they could come up with was some lame thing about reading books in general, maybe something about the title or the cover - but the one thing they couldn't say was that some higher authority was disapproving of me reading that book and so giving them the right to take it off me and chuck it up into a tree with impunity.
I would like to keep things that way for curious children.

I understand that parents may be worried about the content of some "young adult" books, but this really, really doesn't seem like a good solution to me - but just like another way to put small people into small holes.

So I signed up at No to Age Banding.
Oof, feeling a bit better now.


Dave Shelton said...

Have to confess I'm kind of unappalled by all this but this may be down to ignorance (and, admittedly, the fact that it's not likely to affect me personally any great deal).

Is this being brought in by all publishers? By their own choice or because of the demands of booksellers or someone? Aren't kids going to read what they like from whatever age banding regardless? (With the exception of children of over-protective parents who probably restrict their choices even now in any case).

Viviane Schwarz said...

Hm, my own emotional reasoning isn't the best argument, really... kids like I was would still read whatever they like, they'd just get faffed about a bit. When trying to think less of myself, I am actually more worried about children who have trouble reading.
What if someone really wants to give books a go at age thirteen, for example, when books 13 are actually really hard for them and the books they would get on with are marked 10+? Wouldn't that be off-putting?

I used to work in a bookshop and every so often someone would come in - children and adults - looking for something easy but worthwhile to read, sometimes people who said they never read a book in their life and wanted to give it a go, and they really did need assistance to find something. I remember once handing over a book marked out very definitely for very young children to a grown-up man asking for "a book to start with" because it seemed just the kind of thing he'd like (seaside animals), and he was very happy with it, but I couldn't help feeling rude... I wouldn't like for ALL children's books to have a mark like that.

I don't actually know who is ultimately behind this - but from what I've heard it's meant to be implemented as "industry standard" by "the big publishers"... I'd like to know more before I shout stuff, but I dislike the mere idea so much that I'd rather not sit quiet and wait.

I am in favour of age-marked ranges of books being available though, to give another entry-point into reading for readers and book-gift-givers who really want that help... just not an "industry standard".

Viviane Schwarz said...

Ugh, I just realised something I hadn't even thought before... who will be rating these books? The publishers themselves? Hm, ok. But if some other independent body gets in there - that'll surely lead to books being edited in certain ways to "get that rating", whichever rating will be the best-selling one... and then we'll have to decide what is "appropriate" for children all across the board not in terms of reading level, but other values... suddenly it will become apparent what a jungle there is of moral grey zones, fearful monsters and questionable happenstances in childrens' books. Books can "get away" with so much more than films, for better or for worse...

Viviane Schwarz said...

"fearful monsters?" Fearsome I mean.

Dave Shelton said...

Having spoken to someone clever about this I've learned that it's largely the supermarkets that are demanding this and, since their buying power is so massive, they're pretty much getting their way. So anyway, if it's essentially a move to keep bloody Tesco happy then, suddenly, I find I am opposed.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Arrgh that sounds about right. Yep I see how childrens' books as such aren't quite fit for supermarkets as they are, seeing they feel the need there to label their radishes "crunchy, good in salads" to help the consumer make an educated choice. So obviously people would feel like defaulting to buying something else for the child, like a chart CD or a sized shirt, to make sure it's appropriate... so all books must be upgraded by the publishers!
Because supermarkets couldn't possibly, I don't know, employ a person who sorts or stickers their books? Using a list?
Grah. :(

Eric Orchard said...

Holy...! This made me so mad! I hadn't heard of this! This is a terrible idea, it would look like age ratings for movies or something. And it would totally discourage a 13 year old from reading a book at a 10 level. I work with high school boys at a catholic school and the kids having a hard time would be mortified to pick up a book marked even a year too young for them.
This sounds like lame marketing directed at lazy parents and distracted uneducated store clerks. Grrr.

alexia anastasiadis said...

Well said! Age banding if stupid idea and I'm not going to write any expletives because children might be reading this blog, but I would quite like to!

Knife and Spoon said...

Hear, hear!

As Philip Pullman said, it's an *opinion*, and at least when things get shelved in a bookshop you know whose opinion it is, but to have the book actually saying YOU SHOULDN'T BE READING ME is just a very teetery brink of a slippery slope to Problem City.

Knife and Spoon said...

I meant to add:

But your argument against is probably the best put of all that I've seen. It's about having the right to mapping your own bit of imaginative space.