Opinion Piece by Jake Hope

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Opinion Piece by Jake Hope

The strength of Philip Reeve's writing has always been its ability to distinguish degrees of difference existing between 'North' and 'South' on the moral compass. Challenging concepts of 'good' and 'evil' through an awareness of the complexity of motivation and choice that present circumstances allow makes for multi-faceted fiction of the highest order. What a genuine pleasure therefore to see these achievements given due and formal recognition recently through the award of the prestigious Carnegie medal to Reeve.

Celebrating its 70th anniversary last year, the Carnegie medal has played an important role in providing focus and advocacy for a diverse range and style of children's book. Its winners share an ability to convey the messages of their time, to encapsulate thoughts and opinions and to highlight systems of belief that introduce readers to a worldview capable of holding in balance complexity, convention and apparent contradiction.

How disillusioning therefore that Reeve should use the vantage point the award provided to promulgate a set of misinformation about a proposal that threatens the future reach and extent of children's literature as a form capable of speaking about and around childhood, substituting this instead with a reductive set of values and assumptions based solely around a child's age. [ http://www.thebookseller.com/in-depth/trade-profiles/61871-reeve-a-proper-writer-at-last.html ]

Reeve describes the movement that takes a stand against age-banding every children's book as 'a storm in a teacup'. The website No to Age Banding, [www.notoagebanding.org], which began life as an opportunity for authors and illustrators to disavow themselves of a process they had not had the least consultation with, has spread to encompass and provide voice for all sectors of the industry and book buying community.

Far from being a 'storm' in the proverbial 'teacup', the site is in fact the tip of an iceberg that plumbs the depths of a resultant industry-wide discontent. An apparent lack of both consultation and of willingness to engage with the Society of Authors and the Association of Authors' Agents through the 'research period' has had the result of emasculating both groups whilst granting self-empowered status to the Publishers Association. This has caused serious and damaging rifts across the sector as well as a publicly aired doubt and implied discrediting of this industry body [ http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/61893-banding-together.html ]. Further, it has meant the mechanisms for authors and illustrators to be kept fully informed, and therby to make educated decisions regarding their work, have been bypassed, a move that has coerced many into a position with which they have not felt either wholly easy or comfortable but in which they have felt there has been no choice.

Proposals to explicitly brand each book with an age run the risk of turning children's literature into a purely functional, transitional phase in the acquisition of reading skills. Rungs on this 'ladder' must be ascended sequentially to reach 'real literature'. This undermines the journeys that authors, booksellers, librarians, educators and publishers have all been engaged upon in recent years to extend the audience, parameters and public regard for children's literature. It fails to realise the process via which readers' palates develop irrespective of age.

Reeve's feeling that the majority of authors are in favour of banding is perhaps derived from the glib assurance that seems to have become a public mantra for the Publishers Association: "Authors are broadly in favour" - a peculiar assertion given the stark reality of a recent Society of Authors survey which found that an overwhelming 77% were against it and only 6% in favour.

The belief this year's Carnegie winner holds that the research underpinning this is convincing shows a lack of awareness for the woefully slight methodology employed and the fact that the reach of the survey was considerably diminished from the one initially proposed to the Publishers Association. A scant eight children - the end users of the books - were consulted in this stage of a research process that circumvented any mention of less intrusive, stigmatising true guidance methodologies and that failed to consider repercussions on all sectors of the book market and industry other than those affecting gift-buyers.

Pandering solely to market power is always likely to be a dangerous and degrading move. It is hard to see how the ethos and aims of an award such as the Carnegie which widens development and scope in the field, can be reconciled with age-banding, which offers only dictates and which unflatteringly places the age of a child as always central to their tastes, preoccupations and development.

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This page contains a single entry by achuka published on July 15, 2008 7:39 PM.

On Suitability: The New Yorker was the previous entry in this blog.

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