No to Age Banding
... the neat sorting-out of books into age ranges, so dear to publishers, has only a very sketchy relation with the habits of any real readers. Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.
CS Lewis (1952 essay
On three ways of writing for children, collected in Of Other Worlds (latest edition, Harvest Books 2002)
This website was set up by writers and other professionals who believe that the proposal to put an age-banding figure on books for children is ill-conceived and damaging to the interests of young readers.
The growing concern shown by a wide range of experienced professional groups about the dangers of age-banding books is reflected in a number of statements of support for the No To Age Banding Campaign sent to this website. You can read the full text of all these statements on a page we have added to this site.
CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (formerly the Library Association, and incorporating the Youth Libraries Group, the School Libraries Group and the Education Libraries Group), believes age banding is potentially harmful, making reluctant readers think a book appropriate for their ability is too young for them, putting them off reading altogether, and that a confident reader may feel that a book appropriate for their ability is too old for them. It considers it much more important that the needs and tastes of the individual child be considered, in line with the present educational commitment to a personalised approach.
The Association of Senior Children's & Education Librarians (ASCEL) were concerned about the research that led to this proposal, the size of the sample, and the precise questions asked. They expressed the view that reading is not hierarchical and progressive. Children read up and down the age range and not always correlating directly to their chronological age. Children can read at a level higher than their apparent reading level if motivated by the subject matter. ASCEL were concerned that agebanding will reduce choice as parents and carers will be led to a defined, limited range of age-related titles, and claimed that staff in public and school libraries report the impact of this factor time and again. ASCEL stressed the paramount importance of ‘the right book for the right child at the right time’.
The Library Association of Ireland called the age banding scheme ‘a brake on individual reader development’ attempting to put a permanent series of imposed categories on what should be a continuum of development. They, too, were concerned that weaker readers may make wrong choices or be discouraged from making book choices at all by being stigmatised by low age bands.
The School Library Association is concerned that school librarians can be placed in extremely difficult positions when they have, in accordance with best practice, allowed young people a choice in reading material. Agebanding books can ‘create a barrier’ against children enjoying the books they need at specific times in their lives.
NASEN (formerly the National Association for Special Educational Needs) mirrored these anxieties, stressing, amongst other concerns, that the self-esteem of reluctant readers will be reduced and vulnerable children could become even more exposed to bullying from their peers if they are perceived to be reading a “babies' book”.
Seven Stories (The Centre for Children's Books.) said that the enjoyment of books is about so much more than the mechanical process of reading. Age banding ignores the fact that children's reading choices slide up and down the “age range” – and so they should. It runs the risk of “pigeon-holing&lrduo; children, discouraging less confident or emotionally developed readers and limiting the potential of ambitious readers.
The Oxford Story Museum agreed that age-banding will ‘turn off as many kids as it attracts’ and claimed ‘it is impossible to age-band many books meaningfully and accurately’.
NAWE (the National Association of Writers in Education ) said they believed the limitations implicit in age-banding do readers of all ages a profound disservice. Members of NAWE are ‘especially well placed’ to know how positively young people respond to a very wide range of literature, certainly beyond the prescriptive diet associated with a narrow ‘age-appropriate’ approach. NAWE therefore urge the dismissal of age banding schemes.
The age-banding of children's books was discussed at an eagerly-awaited and packed session held on 31st August 2008 at the Society of Authors' Conference at Robinson College, Cambridge. We have set up three pages on this site, containing a summary of the session, Philip Pullman's, address attacking the idea of age-banding books and Anne Fine's report of the current state of affairs between dissenting authors and their publishers.
We are writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, educationalists, psychologists, parents and grandparents. Some of the writers and illustrators have a measure of control over what appears on the covers of their books; others have less.
But we are all agreed that the proposal to put an age-guidance figure on books for children is ill-conceived, damaging to the interests of young readers, and highly unlikely, despite the claims made by those publishers promoting the scheme, to make the slightest difference to sales.
We take this step to disavow publicly any connection with such age-guidance figures, and to state our passionately-held conviction that everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out.
Here are some of our reasons:
- Each child is unique, and so is each book. Accurate judgments about age suitability are impossible, and approximate ones are worse than useless.
- Children easily feel stigmatized, and many will put aside books they might love because of the fear of being called babyish. Other children will feel dismayed that books of their ‘correct’ age-group are too challenging, and will be put off reading even more firmly than before.
- Age-banding seeks to help adults choose books for children, and we're all in favour of that; but it does so by giving them the wrong information. It’s also likely to encourage over-prescriptive or anxious adults to limit a child's reading in ways that are unnecessary and even damaging.
- Everything about a book is already rich with clues about the sort of reader it hopes to find – jacket design, typography, cover copy, prose style, illustrations. These are genuine connections with potential readers, because they appeal to individual preference. An age-guidance figure is a false one, because it implies that all children of that age are the same.
- Children are now taught to look closely at book covers for all the information they convey. The hope that they will not notice the age-guidance figure, or think it unimportant, is unfounded.
- Writers take great care not to limit their readership unnecessarily. To tell a story as well and inclusively as possible, and then find someone at the door turning readers away, is contrary to everything we value about books, and reading, and literature itself.
To sign up and show your support for this statement, send an email to . We will publish your name and any relevant description (eg author, librarian, bookseller) on this web site. We'll keep your email address confidential and won't pass it to anybody else, but we may write occasionally with relevant news.
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