In this issue of BfK we introduce for the first time a 14+ age category into our review section. This has been prompted by new developments in publishing for older readers which have seen the emergence of ‘crossover’ titles which are marketed to appeal to both teenage and adult readers and by the increasing number of novels with ‘contentious’ subject matter.
This new age category of course raises yet again the question of the usefulness and validity of such inevitably arbitrary divisions. We have probably all met the ten-year-old who has read The Lord of the Rings with pleasure and understanding as well as the ten-year-old who can barely read. BfK always prefaces its review section with a preamble which reads, ‘Books and children being varied and adaptable, we suggest that you look either side of your area.’ We also always include a list of picture books reviewed which are ‘suitable for older readers’.
But age categories remain a crude business. As one of our reviewers commented: ‘I have seen Y9 / 14 year-old boys this year hooked by The Wind Singer (BfK No.134, 8-10 age category) and At the Crossing-Places (BfK No. 134, 10-12 age category) – no sense of immaturity. Bright students (aiming for Level 7 English) reading at their age and stage.’ Were these books then put in the ‘wrong’ age category or should we have found a way to make it clearer that they would also appeal to older readers?
In my Editorial in BfK No. 133 I discussed some of our readers’ reactions to my review of Benjamin Lebert’s Crazy (Puffin), in which I did not mention that the teenage hero has sex. I have just finished reading a wonderful ‘crossover’ novel, Across the Nightingale Floor (to be published later this year by Macmillan) in which we learn that the 15-year-old hero visits brothels. Time, I thought, for a 14+ age category. Or should it be 15+?
Our reviewers’ replies when I asked for their views were varied:
‘15+ seems a far too old category just so that you can include Across the Nightingale Floor. Surely teachers can bear a trip to a brothel before that? After all, it is set in the long distance past…didn’t they do things differently then?’
‘Are you sure you’re ready for reading of this kind? I should give it a year or two yet… I certainly would go for the younger age group – the 14+ category. I’m still sure that students of that age are reading the sort of book you mention – and indeed, many of them will be reading books published for adults by that time anyway, both in school and out. If anything, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you were looking at 13+.’
‘In library services the line tends to be drawn at the point when young people are given an adult membership card – most often at 14, I think. Although there are authorities that go as young as 12. In terms of when young people start to be interested in adult themes, I would think that 13 or 14 is a fair enough bottom line.’
‘You could always adopt a different category all round and go for Key Stage Nursery, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, rather than trying to be age specific. Your current problem would then slip into KS5. Such categorisations are in common parlance for most of your readers in education and should not be alien to any librarian worth its salt. As for content, this stuff has to be handled with a clear health warning to the teacher/librarian mediators. I remember Forever. Parents have lots of rights you see and love to use them through the press or local radio. The wrong parent, the right little stirrer child and a public worker’s career or a school’s reputation can be dented badly by promoting this dreadfully subversive stuff…’
Phew! But what are your views on or experiences of this topic? We look forward to hearing.