Age Guidance For Children’s Books…No Thanks!

by Ana on June 6, 2008

That’s what Philip Pullman and over 80 other authors, illustrators, librarians, and booksellers are saying in their petition against the proposed age banding for children’s books by leading publishers. This proposal looks to add suggested age ranges on children’s books (such as ages 5+ or ages 7-9) in order to help parents, teachers, and kids tell which books are appropriate for children to read. This has sparked much debate amongst those involved with children’s books. The publishers claim that this will be very helpful to parents when choosing books for their kids at bookstores and for teachers selecting material for their students.

Is this really necessary? Has there been some sort of epidemic of concerned adults wandering the aisles at bookstores and libraries unsure of what material is appropriate for their children to read? I don’t think this age banding proposal is a good idea and here are a couple of problems I see with it:

  • Not all kids are the same: Every child reads at different levels at different ages! Parents who homeschool have much more control over letting their child read out of the “appropriate” range that will appear on a book’s cover, so I’m sure we will continue to make decisions that best suit our children rather than allow an unnecessary age range deter us from purchasing a certain book. Yet will kids who attend schools still have the freedom to choose the books they wish to read? Will the advanced 7 year old (like this one) who devours chapter books deemed for older kids be allowed to read them at school?
  • It may discourage readers or embarrass others: A child who is interested in dinosaurs may excitedly pick up a book about them only to put it down quickly once he realizes it’s a “baby book”. There’s no telling how much he could have learned or how much fun he could have had reading it because he never even gave it a chance. And trust me, kids don’t want to be caught reading books that are considered too young for them! So what about the kids who read below their current grade or age level? How would an 11 year old who reads at a 3rd grade level feel when they are given a book that says it’s for ages 8-10? My guess is that child would not want to read that book…or any other that reminds him how behind he is. Pullman says it best:

“…Everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out.”

I really hope that these publishers take to heart the wishes of the petitioners and decide against including these age ranges on their books. Parents, educators, and kids should enjoy choosing books based on interest and curiosity without such limits!

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  • Ditto!

    I remember going to the library bookmobile with my daughter. It parked at the local school and while we were there a class of grade 2 or 3 kids came in to get there books. All I remember was a kid who dearly wanted a certain book (a leveled reader) but the teacher wouldn’t let him borrow it because it was a level or two above what she thought he was reading at.

    I was watching the intentional killing of his interest. I think suggested ages would do the same thing.

  • Laura

    Reason #74 we now homeschool. My dd was in 3rd grade and I suggested she read The Secret Garden (One of my favorites at that age). She did and loved the book. At her school she took the Accelerated Reader test on the book and only got 60% on the test. Her teacher told her she shouldn’t read such hard books in the future and steered her toward the Animal Ark books. Needless to say I was outraged – it didn’t matter to the teacher that she had loved the book or had really understood it, despite her score on the test. They only cared about the AR score.

    She reread the book this year at home and loved it even more! 😀

  • I definitely agree! I have a 10 year old who reads about 3rd grade level. There’s no way he will pick up a book or a computer game that says an age or grade younger than he’s in, but that’s what he needs! We’ve been reading science books all week that say they are level 2 but he has not noticed this and has found them facinating, learning all kinds of things.

  • Ana

    Dawn, I hate to say that I’ve seen that happen several times too. It’s a real shame!

    Laura, good for your daughter and for you – it’s such a great book! Don’t even get me started on schools’ obsessions with AR! What could have been a good program to possibly spark an interest in some reluctant readers has turned out to be one that creates reluctant readers – too much emphasis placed on points and assessment percentages and not enough on reading for fun!

    Fatcat, you’ve made my point exactly! When a child finds a book fascinating…who cares what level it is!

    Like I said before, interest and curiosity is all you need!

  • Not to mention the tendency for children to want to read what is just above them? I mean how many 17 year old girls are actually reading Seventeen magazine. No they are busy reading Cosmo and Vogue while the 13-15 year old set is huddled around Seventeen.
    How about if publishers spend some effort on republishing classic and still good books in their inventories and great new books that aren’t all fluffy knockoffs of a certain popular wizarding series?
    And they wonder why I spend so much time in used book stores and library sales.

  • Ana

    Great point, Sebastian! I know I was definitely one of those always reading things meant for older readers.

    Gotta love the used book stores!

  • Pat

    This is so scary, especially for my special education students on the high school level. If I can get them to read anything that interests them, no matter what level, I am happy. This would definitely cause a lot of problems.

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