A literary war broke out in April, when the kid-lit wing of the Publishers Association announced plans to print a suggested reading age on all children's books. This followed research apparently showing that many adults are wary of choosing junior
volumes as gifts because of the risk of, say, giving a novel about an adolescent being hired as a drug mule to a sensitive eight-year-old.
Although it amounted to a radical change in the way that school-age books have been sold, the initiative attracted little coverage at the time. But now, six weeks later, like heroes and heroines suddenly awaking to their special powers, children's
writers, led by Pullman, have risen up against the plan to stamp a number on their jackets.
On the side of the age stickers is the fact that there is greater opportunity for confusion on the under-16 shelves than in adult fiction. Many authors - including Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson, another writer in a rage about age guidance - write
different series aimed at infant and senior schoolers.
Another argument in favour is that other art forms have long steered material towards different birth dates: the cinematic system of certification and also the 9pm watershed for grown-up shows that is more or less observed by television broadcasters.
The contrary position, vigorously expressed by Pullman, is that literary development is hugely variable. There are columnists who claim to have been devouring War and Peace at six years old - while, routinely, there will be children in any classroom
whose reading age will be a couple of years ahead of or behind the number of birthdays they've celebrated.
Pullman and Rowling, in particular, have demonstrated this elasticity of appeal. Her Harry Potter books seem genuinely to have achieved the old advertising dream of appealing to consumers from eight to 80, while he, although the Dark Materials trilogy
would seem most suited to people in their early teens, has also found a precocious younger audience. It's clear that such catholicism might be nobbled by declaring the age at which stories should properly be absorbed, and it doesn't take much imagination
to predict what might happen to a 10-year-old spotted on the school bus with a book aimed at the seven to eight-year-old.
At the moment both sides seem unyielding. The Publishers Association insists that the number stickers will go on the front of books. And yet writers such as Pullman, Rowling and Wilson would clearly have the economic power to demand a retreat, backed by
the threat of establishing a new, ageless publishing house.
A comparison with cinema is instructive in a particular way. It is now only at 15 that the state begins to take an absolute stand on what people can see. The two lower categories - PG and 12A - leave it to the parents or guardians to make the decisions.
Those rules seem to acknowledge that late teenagers are more homogenous in their reactions than younger children. So, on this basis, the existing system of children's bookselling - in which a general, invisible PG certificate applies to all titles -
might sensibly be left in place.
It's all very well for those who have an easy familiarity with literature. But the world of children's books does not feature in the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of adults. And, research tells us, they are crying out for guidance when buying a
book for a grandchild, niece or nephew. Many do not have a good local bookshop where they can get expert advice. Where do they start?
A dispute between publishers and authors over controversial plans to introduce age bands for books remained unresolved last night.
J K Rowling and Philip Pullman, two of the biggest names in children's literature, are leading a revolt by thousands of people across the country who are furious at plans by publishers to categorise books by the age at which they should be read.
An emergency summit between the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association this month failed to resolve the standoff. The SoA claims that 77% of children's authors are opposed to having age guidance on books. But publishers maintain that
three-quarters of authors have agreed to it.
Pullman, the best-selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has galvanised protests through his website www.notoagebanding. org, which condemns the proposals as ill-conceived and damaging to the interests of young readers.
Rowling has joined his campaign, alongside other well-known children's writers such as Anthony Horowitz and Terry Pratchett. It is also being backed by the Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen.
Pullman dismissed industry assurances that books would not be age-banded without consultation. Every author... knows what 'consultation' means. It means the publishers saying, 'This is the cover of your new book', and our saying, 'Well, it's
horrible', and their replying: 'Well, tough'.
While writers are presenting a united front, publishers are divided. Walker Books, opposed to the move from the start, has now been joined by Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury. But other publishers, such as Random House, Puffin and Macmillan, remain in
favour of age banding.
Will the books be rated by language complexity or suitability of content?
I can't really see any 5+ rated books as being suitable for anyone but 5 year olds. It all seems too simplistic to be very helpful. And no doubt the kids will immediately self ban anything rated as suitable for ages less than their's.
From this autumn, a number of publishing houses will "age band" their children's books.
Each book will carry a specific marking indicating they are suitable for readers aged 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen.
Books will also carry a recommendation for where they should be placed in book shops or libraries.
Research within the book industry suggests people buying books for children would welcome the guidance.
But it is a scheme which has already enraged a number of writers, among them former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo: There's no such thing as an average seven-year-old. They could be four or 10, or like me, 65 - it's just nonsense. If you say a
book is for a seven-year-old, the nine-year-old is going to be trying to cover it up at the back of the class.
The scheme followed research by the Publishers' Association, which suggested standardising age recommendations might help boost reading.
The interesting thing about children's books is that it's not the readers who are buying them - it is parents and grandparents and libraries and schools, said Sarah Grady, the children and education programme director for the Edinburgh
International Book Festival: I think that's what the publishers were trying to address. As a reader, you drop a book if you don't like it so children will self censor, but it's knowing what to buy them in the first place.
JK Rowling's publisher Bloomsbury and about eight other major publishers have said they would not take part in the scheme. The rest of the industry - including Puffin, Orion and MacMillan - are in favour of age banding unless individual authors object.
And writers have been vocal in their criticism - more than 750 authors have already signed an online petition set up by Philip Pullman, best selling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. They include JK Rowling, Anthony Horowitz, Terry Pratchett,
Alan Garner and the four writers who have held the Children's Laureate title - Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen.
A housewife has taken on one of Britain's best-selling children's authors and a leading publishing house to censor the word 'twat'.
Random House Children's Books has agreed to remove 'twat' from a popular book by Dame Jacqueline Wilson, after complaints from Anne Dixon, who insists she is standing up for values of common decency.
She claimed she was 'horrified' when she came across the expletive in the best-selling book My Sister Jodie - a gift for her nine-year-old great-niece.
She complained to Asda, in Stanley, County Durham, where she bought the book, and the store initially removed it from sale.
Now the publishers said they will – by altering one letter – substitute the word with “twit” when the book is reprinted.
On the publisher's website, My Sister Jodie is recommended for children aged from nine to 11.
Mrs Dixon said: I am not a prude. In fact, I am quite broad-minded, ...BUT... this is completely inappropriate for children.
The book has an attractive cover and is clearly for children. They should not have to be subjected to trash and vulgarity. I did not expect this from a well-respected author and do not want my young niece to have to see this obscene slang.
I got to the page where reference was made to a 'toffeenosed twit'. On the next page the word changed. I thought I was mistaken, but then I saw to my shock it had been repeated twice again.
A spokesman for Random House Children's Books said: In the context of the character, we felt it was used in a way that accurately portrayed how children like Jodie would speak to each other. The term had been included "on purpose" because it
was uttered by "a nasty character".
The book is aimed at children aged ten and over, and we felt it was acceptable for that age range. However, in light of this response we have decided to amend the word when we reprint the book.
A spokesman for Asda said: "Since the book was launched in March this year, we have sold over 28,000 copies and this is the first complaint we have had. The spokesman said that Asda had reviewed the matter and would continue stocking My Sister
Jodie in all its UK outlets.
Comment: (Hate) Mail
Driven, as usual, by one person's determination to dictate to everyone else for the sake of the children and supported, as usual, by the (Hate) Mail
Random House: The book is aimed at children aged ten and over, and we felt it was acceptable for that age range. However, in light of this response we have decided to amend the word when we reprint the book.
Asda: Since the book was launched in March this year, we have sold over 28,000 copies and this is the first complaint we have had.
So the publishers thought it was appropriate, Asda alone have sold over 23,000 copies since March so I would guess the total sales must be at least near the half-million mark, there has only been one complaint and so they're going to the expense of
changing the book?
I'd have told the twat to fuck off and get a life if this had been about one of my books....
Dr Rona Tutt is a former president of the National Association of Head Teachers. She has been whinging about the violent content of children's books.
She claims that children's books are becoming so violent and sexualised they should be accompanied by explicit content warnings. The guidance would be in addition to the current age brackets displayed in shops.
Her warning follows two recent high-profile children's book awards in which violence loomed large in the shortlisted novels.
In last month's Booktrust Teen Prize, all six shortlisted efforts featured a striking amount of violence and blades, judges said. Two had 'knife' in the title - Patrick Ness's winning effort The Knife Of Never Letting Go , and Anthony
McGowan's The Knife That Killed Me . Both books were aimed at the 12-plus market.
Meanwhile, the seven novels nominated for the Carnegie Medal, the country's most prestigious children's book prize, were also predominantly histories about violence for the ten-plus age group.
Tutt said: The level of violence and adult themes in children's books is a worrying trend. People didn't used to write for young children in this vein. It is a new problem. Some children will be protected because they won't have the reading ability to
cope. You will have others whose reading is extremely advanced but they don't have the maturity to cope with the themes.
Amanda Craig, who was chairman of the Booktrust Teen Prize said: We are all worried about violence, but I think that picking on books is the last thing someone in Dr Tutt's position ought to be worrying about. I'm far more worried about film and TV.
We all grew up reading some pretty violent stuff, whether it was The Lord Of The Flies or Stephen King horror novels.
James Dawson, author of teen read Hollow Pike , explains why he has to hold back on the cussing in order to get his books accepted by the gatekeepers , booksellers and librarians.
Any artist tries to reproduce reality on their terms. So, as an author, I aim to portray young adult characters in the most honest way possible. Logically, this involves them swearing. In Hollow Pike, I was allowed shit
and any swear word less than this one ie bloody, Jesus Christ etc. Interestingly shit was only allowed as a curse, not as a bodily function (all bodily functions were removed at the edit, to make the characters more aspirational).
It was only when editing my new, second novel that I asked if I could use even stronger swear words in an extreme situation of peril.
My editor was sympathetic and has no personal objections to stronger words than shit , but it was at this stage the gatekeepers were first mentioned. Booksellers, book groups, librarians and bookshop buyers form
this steely line of defence. They are arguably the most powerful link in the publishing chain. These are the people who decide whether or not to sell your product. Without them, a book, especially a book by a debut author, is relegated to the internet
and warehouse shelves thus limiting the potential contacts a reader can make with the book in the real world