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New ratings system for kids’ books?

A bit of controversy erupted at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts in Wales yesterday when the Children’s Book Group of the Publishers’ Association announced plans to pursue putting recommended age ranges on the covers of children’s books.

From The Guardian:

The initiative comes after research commissioned by the Children’s Book Group […] in autumn 2006 suggested that 86% of consumers were in favour of age guidance, an interpretation which has been challenged by others within the industry.

Rebecca McNally, publishing director of Macmillan’s children’s division, was keen to stress that the idea was to provide “loose guidelines,” and that Macmillan authors had reacted favourably.

“We’ve written to our authors and had a positive response,” she said.

According to McNally the aim is to increase consumer confidence and sales.

“Anyone who’s ever seen adults trying to choose books for children thinks this is a positive thing,” she said. “The whole point is to help adults who often feel completely lost in the children’s section of a bookshop.”

But according to [children’s author Francesca] Simon a darker motivation is at work.

“It’s about getting rid of bookshops,” she suggested. “It’s about selling books through supermarkets or over the internet, without the kind of specialist guidance you can get from a bookseller.”

The proposals are part of wider pressures reducing books to “educational tools,” she continued. “The only thing that matters is can they read it, not should they read it, or would they enjoy it.”

It’s a suggestion rejected entirely by McNally, who claimed that children’s choices would not be straitjacketed by the age badges.

According to the research children were influenced by “what the cover looks like, and an exciting title,” she said. “They didn’t seem to pick up on the age-ranging and certainly didn’t seem to feel negatively about it.”