Project Age Range

Plans are afoot by the Publishers Association to put recommended reading ages onto the covers of all children’s books. I’m off to a meeting at Random House at the end of the month where I shall argue against Project Age Range, but it seems the decision has already been taken.

I did wonder whether I was alone in loathing the idea, but I posted on the Arts Council funded writing site, YouWriteOn and the reaction was a horrified universal no.

The plan is to put one of:

    0+
    5+
    7+
    9+
    12+

onto every book. When children’s reading skills develop at such different rates, what better way to stigmatize a slow developer than by giving a clear indication before their classmates that they can’t cope with a book when apparently they should. And if a 12 year old loves a particular series, might they not decide it’s uncool to keep buying those books when they explicitly say 9+ or even 7+ on the cover? And imagine an author writing for a target age group, who may not want to risk the age category on the cover being altered. Surely the option would be to play safe, even when the characters and story demand a different approach to turn the book into a truly great read?

Bookshops already do a fine job of pointing uncertain adult buyers in the right direction (this is the target group for whom age guidance is apparently necessary). Prescribing reading ages on book covers is clearly to the detriment of the children themselves.
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~ by keithmansfield on April 6, 2008.

6 Responses to “Project Age Range”

  1. This sounds rather crazy to me. It may be useful for the parents, but it’s unlikely they’ll be the ones reading the books. I can’t help remembering how no respecting 17 yr-old would ever have bought Just 17 magazine – putting suitable ages on things just alienates people for one reason or another.

  2. […] Mansfield, over on his blog, has brought my attention to Project Age Range. In my ignorance, I knew nothing about this, but the […]

  3. I can see some logic to this – in terms of directing readers and parents to appropriate titles – but agree actual ages can be off-putting, overly simplistic and counter-productive. It also seems to imply that publishers are failing to use appropriate cover designs and blurbs to position their titles effectively – wouldn’t it be better to improve this rather than resort to sticking arbitrary classifications on the books?

    If they really *have* to do this, why can’t they use a similar approach to that used by the film industry. After all there’s no stigma in going to see a PG film. So instead of using age labels you could use keywords, icons or other devices to give a flavour of the type of book, complexity of language or plot used and the nature of the subject matter. Readers and parents could then use their own judgment – as they do with films – about whether it would be a suitable product for them.

  4. It does seem weird – although I do remember when I was a kid finding it quite helpful to know if a book was in my age range.

    I also used to happily read books by Enid Blyton or Roal Dahl when I was far too old for them – but I seem to remember it was usually before bed when no one was around to see me!

    At my school we were given lists of books that we should be aiming to read that year, and which were always designed to stretch us. I remember that it really pushed me to read Redwall .However, I suspect it also put some people off – especially books like the Wizard of Earthsea, which I finally read when I was in my late teens and actually thought was pretty heavy going for a kid’s book!

    But you’re right that it’s potentially very unhelpful for children who are struggling to read.

  5. Hi Katie – I think Anna’s put it well above, in that this could be done with subtlety, cleverness and good design rather than blatant age-banding. I loved the Wizard of Earthsea but (as you suggest) the appropriate readership probably varies from 9-19 (and of course beyond) depending on an individual’s capabilities and development.

  6. […] to Age Banding Back in April I wrote a piece about Project Age Range, the Publishers Association plan to start putting recommended reading ages on the covers of […]

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