Age Appropriate?

Has anyone else noticed the age recommendations on the backs of recently published children’s books?

When this was proposed a few years ago, there was a minor furore. Authors as diverse as Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson objected because children learn at different rates and therefore ought not to be discouraged from reading something a bit more challenging.

I agree wholeheartedly with the afore-mentioned authors. Tolkien once said children don’t develop a good vocabulary from reading at their level, but from reading above it. I have seen this with my own children, and it very much irritates me that some people are determined to have a one-size-fits-all system that will discourage adventurous reading. Children are not all the same, and some will learn to read much more quickly than others. Others may start slowly, but then their learning could massively speed up.

Proponents of this age recommendation system also claimed it would help parents steer children away from inappropriate material. That kind of censorial attitude bothers me for exactly the same reason – some children can cope with darker subject matter, some can’t. But there is no reason to issue what some parents will undoubtedly take as a blanket prohibition.

My father once made an excellent point on this subject, using The Hobbit as an example. The book contains unquestionably scary and disturbing sequences, but just how disturbing they are is dependent on age. For instance, the giant spider chapter is written in a comical fashion, so it is far more likely to disturb adults rather than children. However, when such images are placed on film (the spider chapter will be in the next Hobbit movie), the audience is then subject to an adult’s interpretation of the subject matter.

This is why I favour film certification as a means of protecting children from inappropriate material, but I do not favour what is effectively book certification. Besides, I think no subject matter is inappropriate for children if handled correctly. If you look at the diverse range of topics in children’s and young adult fiction, they are often far braver than many books aimed at adults, and tackle the really big, controversial, difficult questions.

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