Sunday, June 08, 2008

Absurd age-branding of books

Can you tell from this picture which child is the most competent reader?

Can you tell which one loves books and which needs encouragement and support?

Can you tell which child enjoys fairy stories, which likes poetry or which one loves mystery and adventure?

Only a fool would judge a book by its cover and only a bigger fool would attempt to assign books to particular age groups.

And yet, if you look around the book blogs this morning you will see that, based on research done by a marketing company, many publishers are planning to affix stickers with age-bands on the covers of their children's books. You can read more about it on Musings from a Muddy Island, Vulpes Libris, Fidra and by following many of the links recommended on those sites.

As a teacher and a parent, I know that the best gift I could give to a child is a love of books. I know that reading skills are easier for some children to acquire than for others. I know that coming upon a book that is just right for a particular child can spark an enthusiasm which will last for life. Imagine finding just such a book but with the 'wrong' age label, the youngster refusing to read it because it is meant for younger children; opportunity not only lost for this occasion but perhaps for the child's reading future.

All the arguments, from the writers' perspective as well as parents and teachers can be found on the links I've suggested above. Then go to sign the protest on No to age-branding.

I know that I'm fond of absurdities but not this one!


  1. I'll beat my tired old drum again. Just another in a long line of absurdities. Our betters are trying to take over our lives in every way and from every possible direction. You really think they're trying to encourage reading? What 10 year old will admit to liking a book labeled for kids 6-8 year olds. Will kids be forbidden to read books outside their age bracket?

    When I was a kid you had to be twelve to get an adult card at the library. By then I'd probably read every book in the children's section. Only getting my driver's license was more exciting than being allowed into that vast treasury of books.

  2. e, I think that very soon there will be no area of life free from regulation by some organisation or another. For me, anything that might prove a stumbling block to children learning to read for pleasure and for information should be regarded as a crime against humanity!

  3. Well said, M. The protest is gathering pace amongst the bookbloggers, which is good to see. Everyone has their own personal tales of how age-branding would have held them, their children or their pupils back in their reading journeys.

    I'm just waiting for the idea to spread, and then we'll find we have to show ID before we can enter the 'fortysomething' or 'sixtysomething' sections of our local bookshop or library!

    (And we can all peer at each other's bookshelves and say 'What's that book you're reading? Oh dear, I really think you should have grown out of that by now?'!)

  4. Yes, J. I still have my old Katy books, Little Women, Tom Sawyer and a host of others. Dare I add that shelf to Book Rabbit or will the age-banding police come and get me?

  5. What everyone else said goes for me - but I'm a librarian, so you know I'm subversive. My philosophy: the only people who can decide for a child are the child's parents - and even then, not always!

  6. Well, Teabird, I hope you'll go on being subversive.

  7. Monix, I've added you to my blog roll over on the Exmoor photography site. (I spotted mine on yours :-))

    On the subject of regulations, I've been worrying about the Children's Act etc. because a friend brought a load of children along to the Wessex Folk Festival and I wanted to photograph them and put them on my site with other photos I have been publishing with the agreement of the festival organisers.

    I took 'back' photos (avoiding the children's faces) which I suppose I could use but it is a shame because the normal photos of them in front of the stage in Hope Square, Weymouth playing for hundreds of the public look so good.

    I noticed you had books covering the children's faces in another post.

    What's your take on this issue?

  8. Rob, I run a summer camp for children as well as doing voluntary work with groups in my church. I have to have written consent from parents for photographs of their children to be published in newspapers, magazines or on the internet. For group photos, I have to have consent for each child. I am not allowed to publish names or anything that might identify the children.

    I don't know what the situation is with news photographers at village fĂȘtes etc. Perhaps they get consent from parents before they print pictures but they may operate under different regulations. All I can say for certain is that the whole Child Protection issue is a minefield!

    Thanks for the link from your Exmoor blog.

  9. Monix, thanks. It looks as if I was right to be cautious.

    I'm too old to be bothered with stepping into minefields. It's better to keep life simple :-)

  10. I think you people are blowing age branding out of proportion - its a guide to consumers buying the books for children and i say the sooner the better - i recently bought two books for my 10 year old niece, the author being well known childrens writer, Jaqueline Wilson, which seemed to glamourise underage sex, underage alcohol abuse, promiscuity it mentions rape and underage girls throwing themselves at male teachers.
    I found it shocking and the graphics on the cover of the book depicted something entirley innocent and aimed at younger girls, so how could i tell, without reading it, that this was harmful to such a young mind?
    We certify films and plenty of older kids go to see U or PG rated films so whats to stop them reading a book with a certification?
    I feel this is a really positive step and can only help people wishing to choose age appropriate material for children.

  11. Dear Anonymous, I don't pretend to speak on behalf of other people so the views expressed are my own. You are most welcome to disagree with me. However, having been a teacher for 40+ years, a mother for 31 years, I have based my opinion on a great deal of experience of teaching children to read and to love books.

  12. Age-banding is just another step down the road of absolving parents from any sort of responsibility. Parents should be taking an active interest in what their children are reading - and watching - and there is an enormous amount of well-informed help available, in libraries and bookshops, for example, for anyone who wants guidance on what might be an enjoyable and appropriate book for an individual child. Book choices, on the part of children and adults, are determined by so many more factors than age.


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