Friday 22 August 2008

Age-banding or not

There is quite a lot of debate about this at the moment. Should we put the age of the reader on the book? Straight away, I see a problem. Who is the reader and which of their many ages do we mean? Reading age rarely matches biological age, and then there is mental, emotional and spiritual age to contend with. The combination of these “ages” plus children’s personal tastes will determine which sorts of books they might choose – or even more likely, have chosen for them by an involved adult. That all important cover, blurb and first page will give even more information. But if the child / adult suddenly sees that this book is suitable for 6-8 and they are five or nine yet in every other way the book really appeals, a potential reader is lost. How devastating for the twelve-year-old slow reader, perhaps also a little emotionally immature, to find the book that (s)he finds palatable is meant for nine-year-olds.

This is a world away from general cataloguing and shelving that already exists, and that can be problematic enough. Just think, in a bookshop, you start off at what has roughly indicated as your age group and you move along the shelves to find something harder or easier. You don’t notice, probably, because you’re short and the labels are up high on the shelves that you’ve wandered out of your zone.

Interestingly, it is Philip Pullman who is leading the anti-age banding campaign. Just think, how would you label His Dark Materials trilogy? I’ve said in my Ph D thesis that it is a Young Adult novel. It has the feeling of quest about it that many Young Adult novels do. Lyra and Will are young adults. Many young adults have read and enjoyed it. Yet is has been read and enjoyed by younger people – despite a rather high reading age register. Many adults have also enjoyed it. So, which age band do we put it into and would that put readers from other groups off?

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