Thursday 1 May 2008

The Age Ranging Debate

My grandmother was not allowed to go to school beyond a certain age because she was a girl. She was desperate to improve herself and read voraciously, usually romances and serials.

When I was six, I opened one of her favourite book series, a 1930s serial about a character called Beverly Gray, and realised that I could read. I remember it to this day, that lightbulb going off in my head as I discovered that words together formed sentences and sentences formed paragraphs formed chapters.

I couldn't stop reading after that. I read the whole of the Beverly Gray series that long hot summer.

When I went back to school (age seven), I headed straight for the library in search of more books to read.

When I presented my stack of chapter books to the librarian she said, no, you're not allowed to borrow those books. The books were classified according to age.

I must have looked miserable because she sighed and said, all right, read this one aloud and prove that you can read. She made me read a paragraph from one book. And then another. And then another. And then she compromised and allowed me to borrow one of the books if I took one title from the younger reader section.

The majority of book publishers have just backed plans to print age guidance on their books.

In a Guardian piece titled Don't tell me how to buy books , Jack Hope denounces the idea as cynical:
The proposed move fundamentally misunderstands the egalitarian nature of reading - the idea that any reader can choose to read any book - and the choices all readers employ at times to challenge or soothe themselves. It also fails to understand the complex process of choosing the right books for the right child.
It does make me wonder. What will the kids make of it? Will the slow readers skulk around pretending that they are looking at picture books for phantom baby brothers? Will those kids who've had the reading lightbulb go off in their heads find themselves banished to the early reader department?

Here we go again.


  1. This does raise some issues doesn't it and I can see your point...I guess the idea behind it is the suitability of the material? Sexually explicit books may be readable for eight year olds but do we want them to read them? Also I know from experience as a teacher that many parents don't know what books to guide their kids to- I'm always being asked for suggestions. I know what you're saying about the flip side and possible difficulties but I can also see why this may have happened. Let's just hope it doesn't make writers' lives more difficult.

  2. good point, jude.

    i've been reading a lot of stuff on american bookseller's sites about handselling - which differentiates independent bookshops from conglomerates. in a good independent bookshop like the children's bookshop in muswell hill or the big green bookshop in wood green, you can walk in and say, i'm looking for a book for ... and they will know the answer. this is because the independent bookshop is a place where the seller actually READS the books.

    i suppose age-ranging is a reflection of how that kind of personal contact in bookstores is fast disappearing.

  3. What I don't understand is what's to stop a child from just picking up an ADULT book and reading all the sexually explicit/profane/blasphemous stuff he wants? I remember those warm summers when we'd pass around a well-thumbed copy of Eric Van Lustbader's 'The Ninja' or 'The Black Heart' to satisfy all our 'sex and violence' cravings! Are they going to introduce 'top shelves' at Waterstones? Are children going to be carded? Have to prove their age before they can buy a book? I assume (hope) most kids will have the good scense to ignore any age restrictions. What really worries me are the grown ups caught reading (for example) HP with 'Suitable for 8 year olds' plastered on the front.

  4. The system chosen just says 0+ 5+ 7+ and is printed quite unobtrusively on the back jacket. There is no colour coding and no triangles or diamonds.

    It is really to help those buying books for children who are not informed about children's books. It makes it easier to make the right choice.

    Most children's books are not bought by children but by confused adults who want to make the right choice. Not knowing what the age range is often puts them off. The research showed a lot of goodwill for books over cds and dvds and games, but it's a harder decision for oldies to get right..

    Children are quite used to age-ranging on all their other entertainments.

    I think it might get more problematic for teens, but then again it's to help younger kids who don't want to read the stuff that IS to old for them. Not every ten year old wants to read Junk.

  5. hello candy,

    i don't think it should be up to the publishers. it should be up to the children who read it. some films people think are overrated or under-rated (like some films are 12A and stuff but they are like really gory). like that film about juno which was a 12. i thought it had too much swearing in it. it should have been a 15. children know by reading the blurbs. the blurbs should tell us how gory something is.

    from aisha (i am 10)

  6. It is a buying guide but no child over 7 I know will touch a book with 7+ written on it. It will stop children from revisiting books they loved in younger days. Children who have trouble reading will be more easily ridiculed for reading 'baby' books. It's a bad move. So called confused adults will buy books two or more years beyond the range of the children they are buying for because they don't want to patronise. Don't think it's confusing buying a book? grrrrr

  7. i asked Sarah McIntyre who attended a heated society of authors meeting about it what she thought, having heard both sides of the argument. this is her response on her blog. Shoo Rayner also comments on his blog.

  8. Age guidance on the back of children books finally enters the repertoire of miseducation of this and the last century. Instead of educating both children and parents in more sensible ways (some are and have always been out there, e.g. Book Guides, newspapers, or even the shelves the books are on in the bookshop), publishers go for the easy way out: stamp all the books with an age guidance. Why? Because the audience is ignorant and they know best. That's all they are saying. And instead of letting us (the readers or the parents choosing the books for their kids) learn what's good and what's bad, we are guided along with 5+, 7+, 9+ etc, so that we don't get lost.
    I'm not surprised of this move, it's part and parcel of the great regression we are living in. In the middle ages knowledge was kept at bay to keep the crowd in control under the thumbs of the overlords. Nowadays, we are guided, we are turned into automatons to ensure we follow along with the rest of the herd.
    The freedom to pick up a book and read it is dead. Long live age guidance!

  9. This is just a silly and limiting idea. Kids will always read what they want to. Tell them it's something they can't read, not suitable for your age group, and they'll be sure to read it. And tell them this is something they should read and the likliehood is they won't. While I can understand some of the logic behind it, book reading isn't a logical thing - we read what we must and like. It strikes me that this borders all too closely on just another form of censorship. It's not healthy territory.


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom