PG Children's Books; Give Ratings to Warn of Sex Stories, Says Expert
Byline: SARAH HARRIS
CHILDREN'S books should carry age ratings on their covers to protect vulnerable young readers from explicit content, a teachers' leader said yesterday.
Dr Rona Tutt believes the measure is needed because growing numbers of children's authors are tackling 'adult' themes such as suicide, murder and sex as they aim for the older market.
Dr Tutt, a national officer and former president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said parents would benefit from film-style guidelines to prevent their youngsters picking up unsuitable material.
The former headmistress of Woolgrove School, a special school for four to 12-yearolds in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, said: 'We are in new territory now.
There was a tradition when children's books had what could be called "children's themes" and interests. It's now become very blurred.
'Books for children are now covering a much wider range of controversial issues.
Many are dealing with nitty-gritty real-life issues. I'm not saying they shouldn't be dealt with.
'But there is a concern that as these books become more realistic and more nitty-gritty that perhaps we need to think about some form of guidance for parents so that children don't read them before they're ready.' Dr Tutt - who has three grandchildren below 11 - said books could provide information such as 'not suitable for readers under the age of 14'.
She highlighted a graphic scene from controversial children's author Melvin Burgess's new teenage novel, Bloodsong, which features the hero burning a body which seems to 'twist and writhe' in the flames.
This could, for example, qualify the novel for a 'not suitable for under-14s' label because it may be disturbing for younger readers.
Burgess's earlier novel, Doing It, was attacked for its sexually explicit content. Another of his books, Lady: My Life as a Bitch, aimed at readers aged 14 and upwards, was described as 'grossly unsuitable' for young readers with its themes of casual sex and drugs.
Dr Tutt added: 'I'm not suggesting censorship, just some sort of guidance which would be helpful to parents or people buying children's books. We have accepted for a long time that there is a TV watershed and we have some labelling of films to give an indication of content.
'It's great to have so many authors, and authors of high quality, writing children's material and we have had an explosion of literature recently. But it has thrown up issues that perhaps we didn't have before.' Dr Tutt is concerned that young children could become 'desensitised' by reading literature featuring sex or violence.
'I do think there is a danger of desensitisation if you see enough violence and read enough about violence,' she said.
After Dr Tutt raised her concerns on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show, children's author Alan Gibbons pointed out that shops already help parents by setting out novels in age categories and teachers and librarians assist children with their choices. …