A blog by Nikki Dudley about the gaps in everyday life...


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Do you have any ID?

So Christmas is fast approaching and some children's books will be seeing a whole new era of age banding. Yet, not all publishers are opting in, as this article from The Bookseller below points out.

Bookseller article: Age guidance divides trade as first Christmas approaches

The scheme will see age bands put onto the back of books, to show which children 'should' be reading them. This was put into place by some publishers after research by the Publishers Association (PA) showed that parents and gift buyers found it difficult to select age-appropriate books for children.

Hmm, what a reason...

I find myself on the side of some of the publishers who have failed to take on the scheme, for example Bloomsbury and Usborne. Also, many high profile authors are also against the scheme, such as Phillip Pullman, Anne Fine, Darren Shan, to name a few.

Although this scheme will of course make it easier for parents and gift buyers to choose age appropriate books (although it is beyond me why they can't look at the shelf headers in bookshops- they usually have age ranges), I feel this scheme is bad in two ways: 1) some children have a lower reading level than their age group and having age banded books will lower self-esteem and leave them open to ridcule, and 2) some children read above their reading age and although this may not seem something to be ashamed of, can lead to alienation and feeling self conscious.

As I a child, myself and a friend of mine had higher reading levels than some of our peers and it did create some tension. Some of the other children noted that we were reading above our reading age and with branding, I just feel it's an unneccesary addition, making this all the more obvious. Similarly, someone else I know had difficulty with reading and writing, always being far behind other children. I'm sure it's difficult enough when you are behind others and you have to get through the simpler books before you can progress. Therefore, should there be an age band making the child conscious of how far behind they are, just to please parents and gift buyers?

Not only for children's esteem, authors have also complained that age banding will mean certain age groups are excluded from reading their work. Children will feel less able to identify with certain characters if they have an age in mind when reading. Often, authors leave the age of their protagonist out for this very reason. Also, books often cross over between children, teen and adult genres. Readers are a mixed bag so why do we need more categories!?

I can see some of the benefits I suppose- it can be difficult shopping for a child in bookshops. Yet I feel that is what the staff and the visual pointers are there for. I'd much rather have a bit of hard work shopping to save the children of tomorrow feeling ashamed or conscious when reading.

Perhaps above all out of this, someone should've asked the kids?!

More information on age banding can be found here


  1. Well said Nikki. Some people won’t be happy until we're all placed in our own little box of whom we are and who we aren’t!

  2. Well said, Nikki. I don't like age branding either.

    The problem is that marketers have realised that what matters is making life easier for the people who hold the purse strings (i.e. parents and gift buyers). Whatever makes them more likely to spend money, or maximise how much they spend, is inevitably going to be a popular choice.

    And in a purely financial world, this makes sense.

    But the problem is that I don't want to live in a world in which money rules everything. Some things are not money decisions. People say: 'what harm is there in this, it just makes it easier for people to buy books for kids' but does it get kids the books they want to read?

    Well, no, probably not. Kids rarely want to read the books they should do, whether that means reading books for a higher or lower reading age than their chronological age. I like reading teenage fantasy books, is that a comment on my reading age? I think not. Megan grew up reading classic literature and now reads some books for under 10s! So what. Reading age doesn't equate to the style of book you want to read. Why should it?

    Joe is right, putting people into boxes doesn't help anyone except the lazy and greedy marketers. And that is my problem with age-branding.



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