Opinion: Readable at any age

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Keep age limits off children's book covers, says Anne Fine, author.

If there's one thing we know about children, it's that they're all different. Especially in reading choices. Some want to hear about Mr Grumpy and Miss Silly until they're way past six. Others poke reference books on dinosaurs into your face, demanding 'This one!' even before they can say the word 'brontosaurus'.

Age guidance on bookshelves, websites and in reviews has always been helpful. But this new plan is designed simply to speed up shelf-stacking in supermarkets. Unlike the '3 for 2' peel-off stickers we see in bookshops, these age bandings - or brandings (5+, 7+, etc) - are strikingly printed on the book itself. You can't get them off unless you rip away a third of the cover.

Children are sensitive to ages. How often have we heard it? 'I'm not three. I' m four!' It's worse when children reach school. Most classes are truly 'inclusive'. How does an eight-year- old with dyslexia, learning difficulties, or English as a foreign language feel when she struggles to the end of a book that tells her firmly it's for five-year-olds? How many teachers will feel uncomfortable handing the nine- year-old who's devoured everything a book from the next class up? 'Perhaps not, Becky. It says on the cover it's for 11-year-olds. Can't you just read one of those on our shelves over again?'

Reading is best introduced as a pleasure, not some long grind up a fixed grid. A book is supposed to say, 'Come in', not 'Stay away. You're the wrong age for me.' Like adults, children like to read 'up' and 'down', and they like revisiting old favourites, to which their growing experience of the world always brings something new.

Thousands of authors, parents, teachers and librarians have already signed up to the No To Age Banding campaign. We're hoping others will join us to stop this benighted idea strangling the joy of reading for children for years to come.

Further information

No To Age Banding, www.notoagebanding.org

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