The Children’s Book Group of the Publishers’ Association in Britain announced last week that they will now start posting a recommended age rating on each children’s book that is published. This was decided after a huge survey that said that consumers were in favour of a ratings system to help them purchase books. You can read a copy of the article written in The Guardian.
The aim is “to increase consumer confidence”, according to Rebecca McNally, publishing director of MacMillan’s children’s division. However, as you can imagine, this is drawing some negative feedback, mainly from authors. Although the article in the Guardian claimed that authors were asked about the ratings idea and many responded favorably, it seems that many others are highly against a ratings system.
Phillip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass, is leading the pack against the proposed system, claiming that children should be allowed to choose what books they’d like to read, according to the covers or their description. He says that he writes his books for absolutely no age frame in mind, and that children should read something they are interested in, not just because it is in their age level.
So what does this really mean? Is it a way for publishers to try to market books in more areas, such as grocery stores and corner shops, rather than limiting choices to a bookstore where someone can recommend a book? Will this make bookstores less appealing or less useful? And what about libraries? Will it be easier for a librarian to recommend a book because it has an age rating on it, or will it cause more grief to parents who see the ratings and decide their child cannot read something because they are not in the targeted age?
If you think about movies, ratings are awarded based on content so that something inappropriate will not be seen by a young child. Will the books ratings be similar? Will it be purely based on content rather than what publishers believe children should be reading at a certain age? I think the lines are easily crossed here. What would have happened had this ratings system been around when Harry Potter was first released? It might not have been the runaway bestseller that it is now if it had been targeted only to a certain age group.
Choosing appropriate books is always a tough task for a librarian. Often, we select books for our libraries based on catalogues from booksellers that only show a cover picture, a brief description, and sometimes an age recommendation. And for the most part, once a book is delivered, it is just fine. However, on occasion, the book turns out to be for someone older (although you wouldn’t have known that from the description), or just wildly inappropriate. For example, going to a book fair this past winter, some of my co-workers were helping to choose children’s picture books, and we were all stunned by the difficulty in choosing great books. What appeared to be a nice, friendly cover could sometimes end up having scary looking illustrations or characters that did things we thought would send the wrong message (such as ripping pages out of books as a joke).
One great find I’ve come across for children’s picture books is this site:
It allows you to look through quite an extensive list of picture books, and actually flip through them page by page so that you can see illustrations and content. This has helped me make a selection more than once when I wasn’t sure on title alone.
I guess the concept of marketing books toward a certain age group will never change, but do we really need someone to tell us what to read? It might work for some, but children are not like cookie-cutters…..they are all a little different and we must remember that.