Monday, June 2, 2008

Age Ranges on Books: Just Say NO!

Lately, I've seen several discussions of proposals to put age ranges on books. I have trouble grasping how this would work because of my own experience with reading progression.

I remember when I was in my first year of school, we were divided into three groups for reading, according to level. Each group was allowed to choose their own name, and ours, the advanced group, chose the politically incorrect name "the Indians", in response to the middle group's choice of "the Cowboys." (OMG, I think the third group was "the Horses"! LOL!) We weren't, however, allowed to choose our own books, and they were, I recall, stultifying variations on "See Dick Run." The only difference between the groups was that ours was allowed to progress through each volume faster than the other groups, and so, we got through more of them.

Naturally, I never learned a dang thing in school. In fact, I don't recall learning anything in school at all until I was about 15 years old. Pretty sad. That's not to say I didn't learn things; I just didn't learn them in school. I spent most of my time in school staring at the wall, at the clock, or at the notebook on my desk. My dad taught me maths; books taught me everything else. I was good enough at words that when called upon, I could BS the teachers so they didn't know that I never paid a bit of attention to a word they said.

The thing about age ranges on books is that I hated school so much, I don't know how I would have got through my childhood if I'd not had books to look forward to! Every day when the bell rang, I raced home to my dogs, and my books. No matter what kind of plans I had with my friends, and I nearly always had some kind of fun there too, I always had an hour or two in the afternoon, after school, with my books. The good ones that taught me things. The ones that gave my life some color!

When I was six and seven, I was into Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Ames. They were far more interesting than the silly Dick and Jane things we had at school. Then, I moved into LOVE with Harlequin romances! No sex, but I doubt very seriously that mild romance novels would have been rated at an age range for an eight year old! Or Georgette Heyer and her magical Regencies -- I was fascinated with the Ton.

By the time I was nine, I was ready for the big leagues -- my dad's Book of the Month Club books. So I moved into reading the featured NYT bestseller of the month. Whatever it was. I learned a LOT that way.

I asked my parents and grandparents a lot of uncomfortable questions about the words and meanings in the books. And they gulped and explained them to me. I'm sure it wasn't easy for them, but it meant we talked about books. Almost every day. I'm sure it was hard for them, but I'm still grateful. And as hard as it must have been, it did give them useful ways to talk to me about things well in advance of me coming upon threatening situations in real life. For example, our discussion of Valley of the Dolls happened long before anyone offered me drugs in school -- but that cautionary tale was already lodged in my memory as a reason to stay far away from them.

The idea of intentionally making children dumber is just alien to me I suppose. But there will always be some who want to do that. In the end, it probably doesn't matter, because those people wouldn't have read and discussed the books with their children anyway. But it makes me sad to think there are people who want their children's lives to have fewer colors.


Tess said...

The only reason I like to see a very general age range on kids books is when I'm buying for nieces/nephews and need to have at least SOME idea if it will be age appropriate re violence/language etc. My oldest nephew and older niece (six weeks apart) present a huge challenge for me in that I KNOW they read above their age level, but HOW far isn't always easy to judge. Plus, I don't want to accidentally send them something that's too far above them for right now. A couple of the YA books I've reviewed would've been just fine, EXCEPT for one which had an attempted rape. But had I not read it, it's very possible I'd have chosen it for my niece because of the other subject matter. But at 10.5, I didn't figure that attempted rape was appropriate or if it is, it's her parents who should decide that, not me.

In essence, though, I totally agree with you. I too read well above my age range (GWTW in Grade 7, P&P in Grade 8).

Will email you soon re what you sent me the other day :) :) :)

Taminator said...

I'm with you. If books had age ranges, I certainly wouldn't have been reading Kathleen Woodiwiss or Stephen King in 7th grade. But I did and it opened up whole new worlds for me. I rarely, if ever, restrict what my girls read. If they're ready for it, I guess I am, too. My dad always encouraged me to read anything and everything and I'm so thankful for that.

Doubtful Muse said...

Hi Tess,

I can see your point; I wouldn't want to give a book like that to a niece or another child, but I think it's more difficult to give books as gifts than it is for children and their parents to make the decisions. In my own experiences the people trying to restrict my reading were usually not my family, it was people who thought I should be reading children's books. I was completely through the children's section in the library by the time I was eight. If I had been restricted to children's books, then I would have quit reading altogether. Considering that I hated school, I probably would have grown up to be a bigger idiot than I am because I probably would have stopped learning then too!

I'm sure I caused my parents some major discomfort with what I was reading, but ultimately, I think they were pleased that in spite of not liking school I was a bookworm, even though the books I read weren't always the most uplifting ones. I read The Exorcist when I was about ten -- and found it a little ... disturbing! Neither of them batted an eyelash.

The other thing that comes to mind with age ranges and books as gifts -- if I had received a book as a gift when I was ten, if it had had an age range printed on the cover that said anything less than my current age, then there is no way in the world I would have wanted to be caught dead with it. It was just like movies. By the time I was ten or eleven, I only wanted to go to movies that were rated PG (back then "G" movies were for "kids" -- ugh!) Of course I still went to some, but I made sure to go when I wouldn't be seen by my friends!

Tess said...

LOL - there's not way I'd give my oldest nephew/niece ANYTHING with an age below theirs. And soon enough it will be safe to give them pretty much anything.

I too read The Exorcist - I think I was 11 - didn't sleep for about three weeks!!!!

I also discovered my mum's copy of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness when I was about 12 and read THAT! Of course, I didn't really understand all of it, but my mum was a bit shocked that I'd actually chosen it from the bookshelf.

Like you, I'd moved into the adult section of our little library quite early - started devouring the Jean Plaidy collection they had *g*, among other things. And my mum was totally fine with me moving from the kids room to the adult one.

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