Age guidance on children's books is in the news a lot at the moment after a suggestion in April by the Publishers Association to put a reading age on all children's books.
Philip Pullman and JK Rowling have both campaigned against the age stamps appearing on their novels. More than 700 writers have now put their names to a statement made by Philip Pullman on the site No to Age Banding.
"We are all agreed that the proposal to put an age-guidance figure on books for children is ill-conceived, damaging to the interests of young readers."
Flash back thirty years ago:
A boy chooses Gerald Durrell's A Family & Other Animals in his local WH Smith and heads off to the till with his pocket money. A young girl serves him.
"I'm sorry you can't buy this book."
"It's not an appropriate book for you."
His Mum steps in and explains the book is for children about Durrell as a child in Corfu.
So a case for age guidance? Or would the cover give you a clue? Did the shop assistant have a clue?
Flash forward thirty years from today to 2038:
An article in Wikipedia:
24th July 2038.
(From Classification to Book Rippers. A History.)
2009: Age Guidance labels applied to Children's Books.
2020: The age guidance for children's books spreads into the adult market. Books which have long escaped the rating systems given to films or the warning labels on music have to be rated U, PG, 12,15 or 18. Ratings have to be applied by law to the back cover of every book. Many authors complained at the time that they were increasingly put under pressure from their publishers to remove scenes of a sexual or violent nature that would increase the ratings and damage sales.
To cut back their Carbon Footprint only a few issues of selected new books are produced. To help with the growing demand for paper instead of electronic books Cinema buildings, closed during the collapse of the film industry, are reopened where a copy of these new books are left on each seat. Books were available to read at set times. Ratings were amended to add a "R" to allow children at any age to read a book rated 15R and under in these new Bookemas, as long as an adult accompanied them.
2027: Warning labels have to be applied to the front of books with a government warning.
2030: An act backed by the Publishing Industry but fought by authors, was passed that stated that all books had to be rated 15 or below. Bookemas audiences grew as a result.
2038: The Rippers
Yesterday came the announcement of The Rippers by the Government Publishing Agency.
The Rippers will be a unit operating under government guidelines and funded by The Bookemas Association that will filter through every book held in public libraries.
Any book prior to the 2030 Act that has scenes that contravene the max ceiling of a 15 rating will be "modified." That is, pages that contain the offending prose will be ripped from the book. Government officials say, "This way we ensure the survival of classics that otherwise would have to be reprinted or lost to the public." A spokesman for the public libraries stated that this was a clear move to close them down to remove any competition to The Bookemas chains.
Come back now before your brain explodes!
Right, you okay? Well it's a strange, bizarre and slightly silly future I paint. But who knows where things lead to when left to develop over years? There's always a pressure between commerce and art. Let's hope we tread a healthy balance as we move into the future. And what's wrong with using book covers to signal to buyers what lies beneath? I mean My Family & Other Animals: Cute animal pictures? A clue there?
Picture of My Family & Other Animals age banded by a WH Smith shop assistant.