Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Battle of the Bands

I'm officially a children's writer, or at least a young adults' writer, which I became by accident. I was aiming at Serious Grown-up Science Fiction writer, but I have to admit I like it here. When someone asks me what age I write for, I generally say something along the lines of "teens and up", which seems to cover it (and my own reading tastes).

Supposing I said "13 and up," and someone then asked "I'm 12, may I read your books?", and I replied, "no, absolutely not, stick to your own reading age until your voice breaks, you little punk."

Has anyone read To Kill A Mockingbird, in which at one point Scout is practically ordered to stop reading ahead of her age because it upsets her teacher's system?

Starting this autumn, various children's publishers are apparently going to start putting age bands on their books as a guide for who should be reading them. 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett and over 3500 other people, including myself, don't, and we've signed the petition to say so.

Bookshops already do this in their own way, of course - go into the children's section and you'll see the shelves classified by recommended age. No problem with that - it helps make the selection, especially if (most likely) you're a parent doing the buying. But honestly.

The publishers supporting the scheme say that, again, it's just guidance - it's not arbitrary. No child who reads a book ahead of his age will be shot for doing so. But look at it the other way round. Say your child of 10 has a less advanced reading age than his peers; say his reading age is 7. Will he be seen dead reading a book that's marked for 7 year olds?

It's one more symptom of our national obsession with getting everything classified. Tick a box on a form and you have apparently achieved something. But the statement "this book is for a x year old" is meaningless. The only meaningful statement is "this book is for whoever has the maturity to read it."

Oh dear. It seems I'm supporting the idea of making judgements based upon taste and maturity and insight, rather than because some unaccountable arbitrary authority tells us to. Can't have that, can we?

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