Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Do children's books need age certificates?

The author GP Taylor appeared on BBC Breakfast yesterday to argue that that children's literature has become too frightening and should be marked with an age certification system. There was a debate a few years ago about age-ranging (see previous posts), and some publishers do now put guidance on the back covers of their books, but it was largely considered a bad idea. At least, however, it was guidance they were talking about and they weren't saying that no child under a certain age can read a certain book. Guidance is fine, as long as it is not totally prescriptive (and doesn't appear on the book cover to embarras the nine-year old whose favourite book is labelled 7+). Children develop and mature at different ages, both emotionally and in their ablity to read, so the same book can be enjoyed by different people at different stages. Librarians want to encourage young people to read, and telling them they are either too young or too old for a book is likely to hinder that process in my opinion.

The counter-argument was put by Patrick Ness who appeared on the BBC alongside Taylor. The Guardian published a summary of both sides and today has Charlie Higson arguing "Let's not revive this dead debate about reading ages on books." The debate has also spilled onto Twitter, between these three (@GPTAYLORAUTHOR, @Patrick_Ness and @monstroso) and others. Which side are you on? I'm with Ness and Higson, as you can probably tell - this seems to me to be verging on censorship. If you want guidance on children's books, either for your own children or for those you teach, ask someone who knows about them - but remember, you are the one who knows the child, and the child is the only one who knows for sure what he or she likes. You won't get expert advice if you buy books in the supermarket, but independent booksellers can help, or, of course - ask a librarian! There's a very sensible post on Voices for the Library which makes exactly that point.

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