You walk into a bookshop and it’s split into lovely sections for you to browse. To make it easier to find what you’re looking for. If you’re a writer and you are approaching agents they will want to know what genre it fits into. This, so it can be “shelved” easily in that very bookshop. And if your book can’t easily fit into the headers the bookshop has created? Well you’re in trouble when looking for an agent because it makes their job more difficult when trying to sell it.
So we drill down into the header of children’s and wander over to this section in our bookshop and it’s split down yet again. This time into age of reader levels. The highest age bracket header in the children’s section is 9-14 (UK, Waterstones). You then have to go and browse the YA section. As a parent with a boy who is fast approaching 11 years of age, we have recently slipped into browsing the YA shelves because he has read all that interests him in the children’s section. I now have to be a bit cautious about what I’m buying with him.
So you get my point with the above description of bookshops, agents and the need to pigeonhole books into categories and age groups?
Give my son another couple of years or so and I’m sure his feet might be finding the urge to wander further afield in the bookshop. This would take him into the adult sections. He reads fantasy and science fiction type books. What would be waiting for him in these books?
Earlier this month I did a post on the level of violence in crime fiction books and at what stage people thought it became gratuitous rather than necessary to the story. And that our acceptance of such levels has changed in recent decades. There was a lot of conversation around this post and it continues to be something that I think about. Especially when the most recent book I have read had really graphic depictions of the mutilations inflicted on murdered women found by police officers. I wasn’t sure I could read on and ended up skim reading it when I realised it was dragging on longer than was necessary.
Now I get to my point. As a young reader yourself, I’m sure you were reading adult fiction before you were – an adult! As was I. But as I’ve said before. My staple diet was Agatha Christie. A much gentler read on the stomach. Horror fans maybe didn’t have such a gentler ride and they will come at me with that if they read this post, so I will acknowledge this now. But should children be reading such things at an age when their minds aren’t ready for it?
Films and even video games have age certificates. And as I’ve shown, books in shops are shelved according to age for children, so it’s a small start. Though I admit again, that this is probably more to do with reading level that appropriateness. So I’m asking, should books have a small age certificate on them quietly sitting in one corner or on the spine? It at least gives a reading older child an indication that it’s really not the best book to be picking up off mum or dad’s bookshelf.
I’ve heard authors arguing against this for the very reason that they themselves picked up books to read when they were young and books should be available to all. Etc etc. I’ve also heard crime authors say they are definitely not allowing their children or grandchildren to read their books until they are a lot older. I know I’ve told my youngest he’s not reading mine. So if we absolutely will protect our own children this way, why won’t we do the same for other children who may live with parents who don’t vet the books or don’t even read?
Would it be so bad for books to be a little sensible when they are now so graphic, and have an age appropriateness rating on? What are your thoughts on this? I know it’s a subject that has people screaming censorship, but I don’t believe that’s what it is. I think it’s a little common sense in an ever increasingly violent immune world.