Juvenalia and Age-Banding

July 6, 2008

When I read in The Times that Frank Cottrell Boyce thinks the sentences in E.Nesbit’s ‘The Story of The Treasure Seekers’ and ‘The New Treasure Seekers’ may be too long and the language too antiquated for today’s children I am plunged into gloom. I remember reading those books as a child without difficulty and loving them. Clearly he did too. Were we infant phenomena? No. Speaking for myself, I was of average intelligence and had an ordinary State educationuntil the age of 12 when I went to stupid girls’ boarding school and thereafter learned practically nothing. What little knowledge and understanding I have since acquired was gained through reading. What a disservice we do our children and our children’s children by our feeble acquiescence to the dim and lazy teaching establishment and the even more moronic standards of politicians. What I am coming to here, via a characteristic rant, is the question of age banding (i.e. this book is suitable for ages 5-7)  on children’s books, currently being debated. Philip Pullman is owed huge gratitude by the entire population of this country and for generations to come for the hours he has already spent on trying to countermand the  idiocy of publishers who want to fit reader to book in this ludicrous and arbitary and deleterious fashion. I suppose they would put E.Nesbit’s well-written, entertaining, child-friendly corpus into the adult section. Of course no one likes being told what to do. Publishers particularly  hate being told what to do by writers, whom they regard as a necessary evil. It wouldn’t matter if you had  Aristotle, Leibniz, Pascal and Betrand Russell lined up to explain just why age-banding is illogical, publishers would simply stick their chins out further, while making notes not to give their books any more publicity.  Okay, so I’m cross and  perhaps being unfair to teachers, politicians and publishers, not all of whom are idle, ignorant creeps courting popularity, but something MUST be done about the drop in standards of reading which must affect every aspect of our lives, from ethics to simple happiness right across the board. Perhaps we could turn off our individual domestic electricity supplies during daylight hours so that children could not watch television or play on computers and would be forced to read, intially through boredom?  How green it would be and how economical. As our heating and cooking is gas I think I might. CHEAT!

4 Responses to “Juvenalia and Age-Banding”

  1. Leone Raffaele said

    It is surprising that books are so labled.I wonder why all the effort to encourage reading in children, with story telling in libraries and Book week in schools,and children taking an active part in these endeavours,happens.Hopefully the children, once they discover the wonderful world of books,just keep on exploring and ignore what is recomended on the dust jacket.Once the magic is discovered,they become readers for life.
    A poke in the eye to the publishers!!!
    I have spent some time recently with my grandchildren in the USA and was delighted to see that they were reading,and were choosing books because of the interest level rather than the recomended age level.In this age of the “quick fix” it is heart warming to see children reading,and so exciting to know the wonders that are there for them to discover.

  2. wordfoolery said

    Oh no, surely they can’t recommend Nesbit’s books to much older children? I loved those as a young child. They won’t stop my kids anyhow as the old editions are already sitting on their shelves waiting for them (they’re 3 and 5, so probably not able for them for another year or two).

    My parents exercised the excellent idea that if it was on the shelves at home (or libary) then I could read it. As a result I was a Dickens fan at 11. I couldn’t read every word, but I coped. Children understand books at the level they are at. I didn’t understand Nancy’s profession in “Oliver Twist” but I knew I cared for her. My own children recently adored Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” but they didn’t understand the subplot about stolen children which scared me as an adult reader of the book.

    Age labels are ok as helpers for adults chosing books but most good bookshops already label the shelves, and that’s enough in my opinion. I hope they are ignored by children and adults when they come out.

  3. wordfoolery said

    I checked my copy of “The Treasure Seekers” this evening (from my children’s shelves) and found my edition had age advice inside the front cover! The edition cost 3 and 6 from 1965 (secondhand to me, before you start calculating my age!) and it says (40 years before the current debate) “It is known to have been first favourite with children of seven or eight, and is also read and re-read by parents and grandparents. How young you read it depends on how soon you learn to read comfortably – that’s all”. Sage advice for now? I think so.

  4. Claire said

    I loved E Nesbit too! And many other books that seemed to have more resonance than a lot of the pc, dreary ideas that are peddled to children so often now. Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece, “The Land of Green Ginger” … so many things that were wonderful then, seem neglected now. Thank goodness for Philip Pullman and Eva Ibbotson…

    However, aside from children’s books, I’ve been reading your adult fiction – I’ve read two and am utterly delighted to see that there are 5 to go!!!
    Thank you so much for your writing – it has been immensely cheering in a difficult year, and I will be recommending your wonderful characters to all my friends.

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