To age band, or not to age band, that is the question

There's something of an unseemly struggle going on in children's publishing in the UK, usually a very civilized place. Most of the children's publishers feel it would be a good thing to put an age label on the back of the book, along the lines of 9+, 11+ or whatever to indicate the target age range. A large group of authors, including big names like Philip Pullman, plus many librarians, are dead set against it.

You can see the anti-banding concerns at their website. In essence the argument is that many people either to match their ability or for fun like to read books that technically aren't aimed at their age group. Putting suggested limits on a book would stigmatize those who like to read a 'younger' age book, and put young people off stretching their reading beyond their age band.

The publishers, genuinely bewildered by the reaction, I think, don't see the problem. It will just be a little label on the back. Many books are bought by an adult for a young reader, and this will help them choose something appropriate.

I have to admit I can see both sides of the argument. I know just how sensitive children are - anything that suggests they are reading something for a younger child will put them off, and the last thing you want to do is put children off books. On the other hand, it can be difficult to know what will work for your friend's eight-year-old when buying a present. Some kind of guidance in the shop is handy.

In the end, I signed up with the No to Age Banding site because I think the labelling misses the point. Labelling on shelves already directs people in bookshops and libraries to the right kind of books. But by not putting the label on the book itself, there's no stigma to being seen with a book that's 'too young for you'. There is simply no need for age banding, it could put some youngsters off, so let's do away with the idea and move on.


  1. I’m on the other side of the fence on this – young readers are already highly aware of what’s “too young” or “too old” for them – and mostly, they go ahead regardless and read what they feel like (btw, why not print the things on removable stickers? Then they can be there as guidance for adult purchasers – their intended use – but not be a barrier to reading out of one’s age group).

    The real tragedy of this issue is that so much hot air has gone into it, when far bigger issues (e-royalties, anyone?) truly jeopardize the interests of authors – and are largely being ignored...

  2. I think I must be one of the few members of the Society of Authors that voted for banding. Having seen what was being proposed (via a powerpoint presentation on the Society of Authors website) I thought it suitably subtle (it was truly tiny - next to the bar code) and helpful for people buying books for children as presents.

    A removable label is an excellent idea too! Can't think why this hasn't been mentioned before - or if it has I have not heard of it!

  3. Peter -
    If they were removable I think I could jump the fence... but I've not seen anything that suggested they might be.

    However I still think there are some stigmas - or why would they bother printing crossover books with childrens and adults covers? I always buy the children's cover on principle.

    Yes there are much bigger issues - I'm happy to put this one aside now and get onto bigger ones!

    Clare - I can see both sides, but until Peter's cunning sticker idea I went the other way. I still don't see why it's necessary, though, and since so many authors are against it...

  4. This might be a bit of a sidetrack...

    While I agree with you, Brian, I remember being quite disturbed-is-perhaps-too-strong-a-word to find the Philip Pullman books in the young-reader part of the library i.e. Next to stuff like the Famous Five books (in Manchester).

    I don't have anything against Pullman's books, but I think that they do require adult "supervision" in a way that Enid Blyton's books don't. Perhaps the parent just needs to be aware of what the child has picked up, and be ready for a little talk if a little talk is required. Please don't misunderstand me - I was brought up reading everything, but my mom would make a point of discussing books that had adult-ideas, and I think that this is a good thing.

    I agree that the removable label is an excellent idea - especially with Christmas coming up. :)

  5. Bronwen - I don't think any librarian would do this. The chances are that a reader has picked it up flicked through it and stuck it back randomly on a shelf.

    If you don't believe do this kind of thing, try going round a supermarket with one of my teenage daughters. They will stick something in the basket I don't want to buy. When I say 'put it back' they horrify my sense of order by putting it on the nearest shelf, whatever that shelf holds.

    I don't think labelling will prevent this! But I do think the removable label idea is so good I'm going straight over to the anti-labelling site and see if there's any way to pass on Peter's excellent idea.

  6. Latest hot news on the Peter Cox patented age banding sticky label. I emailed the No To Age Banding people to suggest it. Here is the reply from no less a personage than ex-children's Laureate, Anne Fine:

    "The idea of age-banding by easily peel-off stickers has been raised before, several times, over the spring and summer. Interestingly, the publishers have so far dismissed it outright on grounds of expense. And it seems that the big supermarkets have rejected peel-off stickers on the (somewhat undeniable) grounds that 'they might peel off'."

    Hey ho.


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