6-img_1329I have used this blog to promote good writing and I try to ensure that I give an accurate indication of the age groups that may enjoy them.

Often they are new, stories that I have had the pleasure to enjoy before publication. I hope that this is something that gives some guidance and help.

Children’s books, or books for young readers are generally grouped by age. This is not a perfect solution to the problem of suitability and reading ability. Some Children’s Interest age is older than their actual, and some are younger. It is though a good starting point.

I have refused to sell a book that is not suitable to a child at the till (an eight-year-old wanting the complete Hunger Games trilogy, comes to mind),

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usually by suggesting something different. I have also referred a choice made by young readers to the parents or the person about to pay for the books, and more often than not have been asked to suggest something a little more suitable.

Most books published for young readers up to 12 years or so are fine, there may be some with a more serious plot line, but they are generally presented and edited in such a way that the story is acceptable.

Those marked for teenage or young adult can and often deal with these subjects in a punchier and direct way. There are also stories dealing with much darker subjects.  Which is why I have been known to refer younger readers to their ‘responsible adult’ for want of a better phrase…

Some 11 year olds are a little younger than their reading age. Some have reading ages that are the same – which is always a pleasure.

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Then there are some 11 year olds, who are mentally 14 or 15 – going on 30; their Interest age is substantially greater than their actual age.

Children are growing up fast now. That may be a cliché – however, I think it is true. They are exposed to subject matter on the Internet, and often in their own lives that I certainly wasn’t aware of at their age. Or if I was, it was only on the periphery of my life. This doesn’t mean though that there shouldn’t be some sensible acknowledgement of the types of books that there are out there. It also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be written – though some subjects are (in my opinion) really are only suitable for adults.

There have been subjects covered in teenage books that have concerned me as a bookseller. One was about prostitution. That one, surprisingly is a very good story. It wasn’t gratuitous at all. The main character worked for a madam, who was running a very efficient and practical ‘house of ill repute’. When the madam dies at the end of the book our heroine has the opportunity to take on the job – a job she is well acquainted with. She knows the tricks of the trade, which girls are lazy and which young lass should work in a circus. Sadly, she chooses a job as a secretary. The only criticism I had of the story. There was no reason for her to do so – she was a very ably experienced and knowledgeable candidate for working the brothel (further, she knew the girls), but had no knowledge of working in an office. I felt that the suggestion that the job in the brothel, though highly suitable for her and her circumstances had been deemed politically incorrect – and so she went off to the city to have a rather prosaic and I suspect, rather less interesting life. If I could remember the title I would review volume – for young adults. It is not suitable for younger readers, and I would make that abundantly clear. Sadly, I never succeeded in selling this to anyone – as soon as I mentioned the word prostitution to my adult customers, they would balk and ask for something else…

Another was about parent-child abuse. That one, I have to admit I never offered to customers in the store where I worked. The plot had nothing to recommend it. It was unpleasant and unnecessary and fundamentally the characters within the story had no hope. There was nothing to recommend it.

Two days ago I picked up a proof of a book written by Mal Peet (who died in March 2015), that had been completed by Meg Rosoff. I had heard about Mal Peet from colleagues who had enjoyed his books and was interested to read this one, and in my usual way, started without reading the blurb.The English is wonderful, Mal Peet had a lovely use of language. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the book.

Initially the story tells of a young black orphan taken from his orphanage in England and sent to Canada to one run by priests. On arrival he is given his first ever hot bath. He is given good food, clothing, and the work in and around the orphanage is wholesome and educational. Things are generally looking positive.

There are indications though that things are not as they seem. I found myself finding these small seeds of disquiet and hoping that things were not going to go down the route, that I feared they might. I reached page 58 or so. I stopped then, and I went to my manager, who encouraged me to continue (sometimes, it is true, you need to continue with a plot), which I did.

To page 61 / 62 when I took it back to him and gave it to him to try. He too was astonished – the scenes described are graphic, and unpleasant. The book is not a teenage book, or for that matter one for young adults. After all, when do you become a young adult? Surely that should be when you reach 18 – though that might not be your Interest age even then.

I am not able to give you the title of the book; I left the proof in the office as I don’t know of anyone to whom I would want to pass it onto and certainly didn’t want to continue to read it. I won’t be suggesting it as a book for my niece, either, who is without doubt becoming a ‘young adult’.

The system of sorting books into age groups isn’t just about reading ability – it is also about content and suitability. Children who read ahead of themselves may find that they do not understand the nuances of the writing; why certain behaviour and situations are emotionally charged, wrong or why they are wonderful. Also they often don’t read the books that are written for their age group, and are likely never to go back to them, and so miss out on some glorious writing. It is particularly difficult when they are making their own choices, which are sometimes coloured and influenced by media and friends who are not as caring about what they read.

I have been asked how parents and those who are responsible for making sure that books that are read by children are ‘good’ – by that they usually mean, well written, with an engaging and interesting plot, that are suitable for their reading age and ability

There is only one way I know of to do this, and that is by reading the books as well.

Not everyone has the time to do this though, and I hope that in some way my blog helps those who are short on time to choose something that is ‘good’.

If you are remotely concerned about the books your child, whatever age he or she may be, is reading, then talk to them about what the book is about. Ask open questions about what happens in the book, the decisions the characters make and ask them how the book makes them feel. If they are un happy, or unsure, then it is perhaps one that needs to either be put down for a later date, or be discarded altogether.

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