Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chris Powling: Now don't get me wrong...


Chris Powling

Number 26: Age-Banding Books

…I’m all for keeping book buyers informed. That’s what reviews and the reviewing media are for (not least this very journal). Where books for children are concerned, with choosers who may well be someone other than the intended reader, a bit of preliminary reconnaissance is especially helpful. That’s where the blurb on the book itself comes in – not to mention the hard-to-miss signals provided by the lay-out of the pages, the size of the print, the style of the illustrations and a sampling of the actual text. With evidence like this as a guide there’s nobody, so far as I know, who has ever confused the intended readership of, say, THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER with that of TREASURE ISLAND.

Why, then, are publishers now insisting that all children’s books carry a prominently displayed ‘age-band’ to indicate that a particular title is for readers of 6+, or 9+, or 12+ or, in the case of Adrian Mole perhaps, 13 ¾? Getting a ‘fix’ on a book is one thing. Getting a Kwik-Fix is entirely another.

I’m not surprised there’s been a back-lash. Go to to see what Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Jackie Wilson, Michael Rosen and Adele Geras think…along with about 2000 other writers, illustrators, librarians, academics et al. The list is growing steadily as I write. No need to repeat the website’s arguments here but Philip Pullman sums up his objections thus:

“You simply can’t decide who your readership will be. Nor

do I want to, because declaring that it’s for one group in

particular means excluding every other group, and I don’t

want to exclude anybody. Every reader is welcome and I

want my books to say so.”

For me that settles it. Well do I remember, for instance, my first encounter with TREASURE ISLAND. As a ten-year-old, I was equally impressed with the half of it I understood and the half of it I didn’t. Much more puzzling was THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER which I came across at about the same time. How could such a ‘baby’ book make me laugh so much? If the first had been banded at 12+, say, and the second at 6+, I’m pretty sure I’d have rejected both. As it was, I was happy to find out for myself if these were books for me...because neither of them made me feel unwelcome.

Chris Powling – June, 2008

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