This blog isn't meant to be the usual kind of blog and certainly isn't meant to be a showcase for anyone's views but there is something going on at the moment that I feel so strongly about that I am going to make an entry about it. Please forgive me if this is not what you were expecting to see. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
What is happening to cause me to veer away from the norm? It's this. Publishers are proposing a system for children's books where new books will have a large number printed on the cover identifying the age of the reader the book is intended for. This, a moment's thought should reveal, is a monumentally stupid idea. All children develop at their own pace. Some find reading easy. Some find it difficult. Some are in between. The proposal will disempower and disenfranchise all but the in-betweens. Parents of a six-year-old whose reading is particularly advanced will be put off buying books that are labelled "10". The six-year-old himself will be discouraged from stretching his efforts by the labelling.
Worse than that though is the other way around where a child is finding reading difficult. Imagine being a thirteen-year-old in a class of thirteen-year-olds, but struggling with your reading. What do you do? Try to read the books labelled "13" and be put off reading for the rest of your life or read the ones labelled "10" and suffer the ridicule of your classmates because, let's face it, children can be cruel and that's what would happen.
When I started school at the age of five, I already had a reading age closer to ten. My mother had been teaching me to read virtually since I had uttered my first "Mama". I would have hated been given books with a big "5" on them.
Another point I have not seen made relates to my own work. I am, as you probably realise, an ESL and EFL teacher. Mostly my students are adults but sometimes they are teenagers. I often recommend specific children's books to them as a way to develop their English. These books are always for a lower age and I select them by their content and language level. I use extracts from them in class.
I cannot imagine for one moment that a fifteen-year-old Polish or Czech student is going to be very likely to read a book labelled boldly for kids four or five years younger.
Even the publishers' reasoning that it will help parents choose suitable books and therefore potentially increase their sales doesn't hold water. Misinformation is not the same thing as information. Locking parents into rigid modes of thought about what is and isn't suitable for children at a particular age will discourage them from experimenting with other books. Sensible parents will ignore the advice. Very sensible ones will start buying older books or second hand books that do not carry the banding.
Sales of new books will fall not rise.
Everyone's a loser.
There is an on line petition against this. It has been signed already by many children's authors, illustrators and booksellers as well as by teachers, librarians and parents. If anyone else feels as strongly as I do about this, the petition can be found here.
I urge everyone from the UK to consider signing it.
Thank you for listening. We now return you to your regular program.
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