Since eight organisations, from CILIP to Seven Stories, have added their support to Anne Fine's and Philip Pullman's anti-age-banding campaign , surely it is time to move the debate on. Some publishers have believed that age-banding helps the consumer at the point of purchase; 820 authors (online) have objected that it will cause readers to be both discouraged and discriminated against. Now is the moment to get beyond this impasse and to find an alternative. Compromise ideas a wraparound band, for instance, which can be removed after purchase are too expensive. Publishers want the guidance to be printed on the jackets themselves. The answer is surely to print an un-age-ranged indication of content.
Some publishers already do this: a phrase or two to stop buyers acquiring for eight-year-olds books only appropriate for teens. Bloomsbury's The Traitor Game, for example, by B R Collins, has Contains strong language and some scenes not suitable for younger readers on the jacket. Admirable. An alternative, perhaps, would be a classification system as used in the movies avoiding the 15 and 18 categories, but, say, reverting to U, PG, A and maybe AA.(I am assuming that anything X-rated is probably not a children's book.) In the cinema, children are not ashamed to watch down a category High School Musical, for instance, is a U, but this does not diminish its popularity with 14-year-olds. So the stigma would be removed, without losing a sense of the potential audience.
After all, it is content rather than sophistication of writing that gives age-banding any point. Parents have long made the mistake of buying, say, Jacqueline Wilson's Girls in Love/Under Pressure/Out Late/In Tears for seven-year-olds who are good readers, simply because the language is not beyond them, when the content is more suited to early teens. Even then emotional maturity is as various as reading ability. A note on the jacket that said: About dating issues/anorexia/online paedophiles would work, but might spoil some of the suspense. However, a certificate as above would be as helpful as any age band.
In the meantime, knowledgeable booksellers and librarians continue to be the best guides of all.