Wednesday, 11 July 2012

I want you to read,

but only what I WANT you to read

Now, I'm going to have a bash at my own response to the whole age-rating system for kids' books, but for now, I'm going to post this, because it's brilliant:

The kid’s are allright Graham, honest, they really are

Okay, this is a bit off-topic for a movie blog, but it’s my blog and I’m annoyed about something so buckle up.
G P Taylor appeared on BBC Breakfast on Monday morning, if you haven’t heard of him then you are probably (like me) too old. G P (Graham to his friends) is a retired C of E minister who is a bestselling author of novels for children (or Young Adult fiction as the publisher’s category would have it). In the course of a brief interview Taylor revealed that he had decided to forgo the direction of his latest series of books The Vampyre Labyrinth series for the rather hyperbolic reason that he has been told they are “the most frightening thing that has ever been written for kids”. G P may be a former vicar, but he does not appear to believe that modesty is a virtue. Clearly that statement is pretty astoundingly big headed, but whatever gets you through the next book, right? No, G P’s alarmingly inflated ego is not my issue; it’s where he went next.

Astoundingly for an author, Taylor argued in favour of the introduction of a restrictive age rating system for children’s books. This is baffling; to my knowledge even the Daily Mail has so far failed to notice the threat to society posed by encouraging children to read. But G P is diving right in there. This idea has been mooted before, a few years ago it was pushed by some publishers of children’s fiction to little success as it was met with an orchestrated campaign of protest from authors (including big guns such as Philip Pullman, J K Rowling and Terry Pratchett) and the idea was quietly dropped. So why is G P Taylor resurrecting it? Well the cynical among is (yes, that means me) might say this is an author seeking to grasp the opportunity to plug his own work. For any horror loving kids watching being told that a book is the scariest thing ever is likely to send them scurrying to the nearest bookseller (I know it would have worked on my 12-year-old Hammer obsessed self). It may also be a reflection of the clearly difficulty the BBC is having tempting A-list guests to Salford, sorry G P but you ain’t Phillip Pullman or JK, that’s just a demonstrable fact.

The idea of an age rating body a-la the BBFC for children’s books is absolute, complete and utter bullshit for a number of reasons. Firstly as was pointed out by comedian, actor, musician and children’s author (he writes grown ups’ books too) Charlie Higson, Taylor is muddying the water by conflagrating the Young Adult category with the Children’s category. There is a huge difference between The Tiger That Came to Dinner and the Alex Ryderbooks. For years it has been a goal to get teenagers interested in reading fiction, as Higson is very keen to point out, in order to do that you need to present the teen audience with subject matter that appeals and attracts them. Thus the growth in exciting and engaging genre fiction (and Twilight but everything has its place).

Another thing that isn’t really taken into account here is that the young adult audience has vastly different reading ages in relation to their actual age. In fact this is something that some authors arguably use as a kind of in-built system that turns away readers of less developed sophistication in their vocabulary and maturity. Phillip Pullman’s fabulous His Dark Material’s trilogy which is written in a vocabulary and style more sophisticated than most genre fiction aimed at adults. I can remember seeing a theatre production of these and hearing a very small girl of around 10 explaining to a confused adult the books themes of experimental theology, physics, and the guilt of an absent god in a chaotic universe.
How would such a system deal with the fact that many children read adult fiction (and are encouraged to do so by the National Curriculum), and there is a category of fiction that is designed to appeal to both children and adults alike (for example A Christmas Carol, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). How would G P Taylor propose such a system dealt with this? Would he slap a rating on 1984? And if he would, is he prepared for the maelstrom of protest that would inevitably result?

In very little time at all, other writers of Children’s and Young Adult fiction such as Higson, Darren Shan and David Gatward took to Twitter to vent. Higson called Taylor a “prat”, Taylor retorted that Higson was a hypocrite (that’s what “pot” and “kettle” means right?) Gatward accused Taylor of proposing censorship, Taylor responded “lol”. Taylor would say his suggestion is to protect children, but there is no better censor of children’s fiction than children. If his book was really too scary, a juvenile reader would put it down. Children like being scared, if all they wanted was blood and gore, they would be ignoring the books of Shan, Higson, Gatward and Taylor and reading Shaun Hutson instead.
Ultimately the idea that the kids we need to be worried about are the ones reading books is just bloody hilarious. Yep, I agree with Higson, prat (only I might use one of the many stronger terms popular in playgrounds when I was ten some thirty two years ago, I’ll be polite and settle on “numpty”).

For more on this, read this Guardian article on the furore

Also I suggest following some of the participants on Twitter
G P Taylor (be nice!) @GPTAYLORAUTHOR
Charlie Higson @monstroso
David Gatward @davidgatward

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