How old should you be?

It seems we are to get age guidance on children’s books. The question is whether this is helpful or not.

Some quotes from yesterday’s Guardian Review; “which seven-year-old?” and “it’s not the age that’s important, but who the child is”. True. But if the book says age 7+ and you are buying for an exceedingly clever seven-year-old, you might decide to go for a 10+ instead. And some people are so out of touch with children’s reading, as well as with the child they are buying for, that any guide will be a help. Kind of the book equivalent of remembering that a two-month-old will neither resent the fact that her older brother gets chocolate for Christmas, nor that she won’t be able to make much use of the chocolate buttons offered as being more baby-ish.

Last week’s meeting with Derek Landy I was accompanied by a borrowed nine-year-old. Giggly, spontaneous and friendly, and so very mature. I wish they were all like that…

Some years ago I picked up a very tatty copy of Nina Bawden’s The Witch’s Daughter (how apt!) in the school fair. It was the original Puffin from the sixties, and the reading age was given as 8+. I thought it sounded a bit young, for me, but decided to push on with reading it anyway. Not only is it a good book, but it’s not that easy a read either. I came to the conclusion that an eight-year-old forty years ago was supposed to be more advanced in their reading.

Dumbing down. So, consider who gives the advice, and how many decades ago. Then adjust to what your needs are.

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6 responses to “How old should you be?

  1. I’d heard this was coming in and was initially concerned it might put some potential readers off buying or reading a book they considered might be seen as too young for them. It’s been included on a book of mine that comes out at the end of the year and I was relieved to see just 7+ and not a 7-10 so hopefully this won’t put any older readers off. I’ll be interested to see what children seem to think though. Whether the guidance proves useful for adults buying the books is to be seen, though I’m not sure we’ll be able to judge this anyway.

  2. As such a huge proportion of children in our shop seem to be “very advanced readers for their age” – according to their parents at any rate – I’m dreading this.

    I’m told that it’s supposed to be based on the content of the book to help parents choose books that are “appropriate” so that 9 year olds aren’t heading off with books with more adult themes, but I fear that all it will mean is that parents of 8 and 9 year olds will refuse to contemplate a 7+ book for their little prodigy and will insist on buying books aimed at 10+.

  3. Yes, all our children are really advanced, aren’t they? And some children who have reached the age of ten, can’t possibly read a book that says eight. And then there’s the dreaded sex, and the parents who won’t want their darlings to read that at any age.

  4. Ah yes. The dreaded sex. There’s a tale about that that I will email you directly about as I’m not sure your readers are ready for it! And I don’t want to broadcast it in public as one never knows who’s reading!

  5. I think age-ranging should be the responsibility of the bookseller rather than the publisher. One danger of hard-wiring an age group into the ISBN is (as a blogger in the industry pointed out) that errors do happen, and correcting them is an arduous process. An 8+ book might end up listed on Amazon as 12+ and there’ll be little the author can do about it.

    Guides are useful, though, especially for people who are a bit kid-clueless.

  6. The Guardian have wisely followed suit today. Read more here:
    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/04/dont_tell_me_how_to_buy_books.html
    My regulars have all turned up with their opinions.

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