Ageism and Books?

I’ve had a busy week reading books – all sorts of books: books for teenagers, books for younger ages, books for adults. And I have enjoyed them all. At no point did I think ‘I’m too old for this’ or “I’m to young for this” (ha!). I just enjoyed the books.

It’s true I run a website that reviews books that are likely to be of interest to teenagers and I therefore tend to focus on books that I think fit this description. However, I have a problem with the need to label books by reader age. I can see that people wanting to choose books to buy or choose for teenagers want some guidance. Equally I understand that, as a parent or carer or teacher, someone may not want a child reading a book with swearing in it. My problem lies more with the fact that by age banding a book, the book is labelled.

Most children and most teenagers prefer to read books, play games or watch films that they do not consider babyish. Putting an 11+ age band on a book is often seen by a 13-year-old as meaning the book is too young for them. The fact that the age band is suggesting a minimum reader age, not a maximum one, is often overlooked. Equally, putting an age bad of 16+ might make a book attractive or appealing to a 14 year old. In focusing on the age level, the potential reader is forgetting to just pick up a book and read it and enjoy it.

Most libraries and bookshops divide books into young readers, 5-8yrs, 8-12yrs, young adult and adult. Readers should feel confident to pick books up that are outside of their age range and ask for help from staff if they need to understand the reasoning behind the banding. That’s not to say that every member of staff in a bookshop or library is going to know why a book is banded 16+ rather than 13+, but there should be information on this available to which staff can refer. Readers should be able to make informed decisions about books they choose to buy and read.

Why shouldn’t a good reader, with a mature outlook, who is aged 14 read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini? Why shouldn’t an adult pick up a copy of Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls without feeling they are reading beneath their expected reading level?

Of course, books need to be shelved in shops and libraries and to do that they inevitable need to be categorised. Equally, readers need some guidance when buying book. Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that guidance is being confused with prescription, and that sources of advice on why a book has been shelved or banded accordingly are not always available.

In setting up my website, I took a decision not to put a search function based on age. I have put an age guidance on each book I have reviewed and where I think I need to explain that decision I have done so. Instead, I have created reading lists by age group to provide some guidance should it be needed. In this way, I hope that readers looking at the reviews will first consider the type of books they are in the mood to read (genre being another of my pet subjects!) before checking the age guidance.

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