A leading publisher has admitted that the introduction of age banding to children's books has been poorly handled. The initiative has prompted a widespread rebellion amongst children's authors, with a website attracting almost 800 signatures from authors including Philip Pullman, JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson and Terry Pratchett.
"I would suggest – and I am speaking entirely as myself, rather than as the representative of anyone else or anybody here – that there were some regrettable errors in how publishers went about the introduction of age guidance," said Scholastic group managing director Kate Wilson. "I think most of them, if they had their time again, would do it differently and in greater consultation with authors."
Aside from the inherent problem of different abilities at different ages, it was a strange initiative in the first place, and that's because nearly every high street bookstore in the UK shelves book by age range anyway. Putting stickers on books seems... unnecessary. And I can totally understand concerns that slapping a label on a book will limit readership, even though it's meant to act as a "guide" (I refer, once again, to the huge coloured sign with numbers above the shelves).
What I find interesting is that many genre books have crossover appeal for younger and older readers. SF and Fantasy is a great next step for active imaginations. I wonder if readers suddenly care when someone says "You're too old for this", which is all a sticker might do. Would we be publicly ashamed to be seen reading books aimed at young readers? If that is the case, should we then logically want to read more mature and complex books as we get older? Would it help develop and defend the genre against those who thought it immature if we put adult warnings on selected titles, to clearly define certain books? I don't think so, but it's a useful reminder, perhaps, to consider more why we read the books we read, and if we should vary our tastes a little more.