>As we did late last year, Child_Lit has been discussing the U.K.’s age-banding proposal with some ferocity the past few days. While I am firmly in the camp of those who oppose the scheme, a speech Philip Pullman gave on the subject is working my nerves. It’s very much a speech to the choir (which it was, being delivered at a conference of the Society of Authors), and at the beginning quotes from the research report that allegedly boosts the proposal: “A recent trade survey has shown a general preference to move to age ranging, although with some strongly held contrary views, but now what’s needed is a piece of research that delivers some definitive answers from the people who matter most – book customers and readers.”
Pullman then clutches his rhetorical pearls for this response:
The people who matter most?
Whoever wrote that – whoever read that and believed it – needs to be reminded that without us, without our work, our talent, our willingness to put up with almost anything in the way of reduced royalties, humiliating treatment over jacket design, endless travels to this bookshop, that school, that library, anything to help our books reach the readers – without us there would be no editors, no designers, no marketing teams, no publicity people, no secretaries, no helpful personal assistants, no senior executives, no expense account lunches, no pension schemes, no company cars, no sales conferences in attractive places, no publishing industry whatsoever. Any of the people who do those other things could be replaced with very little difference. Take us away, and you’ve lost everything. The people who matter most? Authors and illustrators are the people who matter most, and no publisher with any sense of what’s right and true would have allowed that sentence, and that attitude, to stand.
While I agree it would have been both politic and useful to ask writers what they thought of the idea of printing suggested reading levels on book covers, jeez, Philip, get over your bad self. I ask, with similarly high-camp drama but equal sincerity, isn’t anyone thinking about the children? They are the people who matter most in this question. They are the ones who will have to suffer walking around with a book they want to read but are officially too mature for; they are the ones who will be told “you aren’t ready” for a book deemed Too Hard. The problem with the age-banding proposal is not that it ignores authors, it’s that it ignores young readers.