I recently discovered No to Age Banding, a group of writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, educationalists, psychologists, parents and grandparents who are protesting a recent proposal to put an age-guidance figure on children’s books. The site was launched by author Phillip Pullman.

Publishers (including Random House, Penguin and Scholastic) and proponents claim that this will increase sales, and help adults choose books for children, but the No to Age Banding members argue it’s ill-conceived, unlikely to increase sales, and is instead likely to backfire, for instance turning kids who might read a book off it if it is labeled below their age. “Everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out,” is the groups motto, if you will.

Here are some of their logical reasons:

  • Each child is unique, and so is each book. Accurate judgments about age suitability are impossible, and approximate ones are worse than useless.
  • Children easily feel stigmatized, and many will put aside books they might love because of the fear of being called babyish. Other children will feel dismayed that books of their ‘correct’ age-group are too challenging, and will be put off reading even more firmly than before.
  • Age-banding seeks to help adults choose books for children, and we’re all in favour of that; but it does so by giving them the wrong information. It’s also likely to encourage over-prescriptive or anxious adults to limit a child’s reading in ways that are unnecessary and even damaging.
  • Everything about a book is already rich with clues about the sort of reader it hopes to find – jacket design, typography, cover copy, prose style, illustrations. These are genuine connections with potential readers, because they appeal to individual preference. An age-guidance figure is a false one, because it implies that all children of that age are the same.
  • Children are now taught to look closely at book covers for all the information they convey. The hope that they will not notice the age-guidance figure, or think it unimportant, is unfounded.
  • Writers take great care not to limit their readership unnecessarily. To tell a story as well and inclusively as possible, and then find someone at the door turning readers away, is contrary to everything we value about books, and reading, and literature itself.

Joining the growing revolt against publishers’ plans to brand children’s books with “appropriate” age bands are famous names such as JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, and current incumbent Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen.

Market leaders can often secure exemption from such banding, but lesser known authors have seen them introduced without being consulted. Bloomsbury (Rowling’s publisher) is not using them, but hasn’t ruled it out.

You can sign the online petition of the No to Age Banding campaign online.

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