We consumers are so used to our prepackaged goods, whether they be bologna or books, that we’ve come to rely on numbering classification systems for labeling just about everything: this movie is suitable for children ages 12+; these eggs are best used before 10/11/08; this children’s book is aimed at ages 6-8.
I appreciate knowing when my sour cream may go bad, I really do. I realize juvenile titles are ostensibly processed and classified in such a way to make it easier for the consumer to sift through and find what they hope are appropriate books. But it’s a marketing tool for the easy sale of books. And it may not help your child.
I’ve never changed my thinking that the narrow age designations for books are not only trite but deceptive in their perceived “helpfulness.” In The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever, I’ve devoted nearly a whole chapter to this issue. I’ll quote a snippet:
“But what about the eight-year-olds who read on an ‘ages ten to twelve’ level? Or the eleven-year-olds who struggle a little more, but are attracted to books on the ‘ages eight-ten’ level? Are all children of the same age, really the same? Of course not. That’s why it’s my belief this system can inadvertently work against them. Slower-reading children might become demoralized or ashamed of being designated ‘behind.’ This will likely deter them from reading books ‘below their level’ that could have been terrific reads. All because they, and their unsuspecting parents, believe they’re intended for younger children.”
And I might add, the publisher or book reviewer has labeled it so — age designation most often has nothing whatsoever to do with the author’s intended audience.
In a Sunday story for the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, former librarian Barbara Julian reports an outcry among authors over just this practice, even calling age labeling “unnatural.”
A group of children’s authors in England has issued a formal statement condemning this juvenile publishing industry trend. Notoagebanding.org has reportedly amassed more than 3,300 interested people from authors to librarians to booksellers to sign the statement.
“Pinning reading ability to age level is an inexact science, as any teacher knows. An exceptional book won’t stay within an age-defined straitjacket, anyway,” Julian notes. “A clever, humorously illustrated picturebook gives as much pleasure to the parent reading it aloud as to the child listening and looking.”
I also love Julian’s quote of juvenile author Nikki Tate, who doubles as a publisher’s publicist: “A very young child with a strong interest in a topic may devour a book intended for adults, whereas even the simplest, most attractive book on the same subject won’t tempt someone with no interest in the content. A good book is a good book is a good book.”
Read the full article here.
OK, so how is a parent, educator, or other involved adult to make a decision as to whether a certain title is appropriate reading for a child? The key is not in thinking, “How old is my child?” but, “What is my child’s ability?” Add into consideration interest and maturity levels, and then you’ve got the recipe for finding a fantastic book.
In tomorrow’s blog I’m going to elaborate on these and other ways around the labeling gimmick, so stay tuned.