here, and a selection of letters in response is here. The two authors were subsequently interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme, where they amicably expressed their different points of view on what age A Song for Ella Grey is suitable for.
Responses to Banks's intervention tended to focus on her perhaps unfortunate use of the phrase 'lesbian love, swearing and drinking' as evidence that the book was not suitable for 12 yr olds - for many, it appeared that it was 'lesbian' love she objected to, and there was some concern at the notion that it should be considered any different to any other kind of 'love'. As one of the letters to the Guardian pointed out:
some people not yet 12 experience lesbian desire, and/or swear or drink; and others live with older people who drink, swear, and feel no need to hide their lesbianism
More widely, the argument was made that complex, difficult emotions, relationships, and the darker aspects of life are all inevitably part of children's lives (and arguably always have been), so that to place a 'cordon sanitaire' around books dealing with such issues as 'not for children' would be an absurdity. Thus, Piers Torday, defending the Guardian panel's choice, argued:
There is indeed “lesbian love, swearing and drinking” in the first few pages, and that’s no bad thing. Young people today have to make sense of a complex, diverse world of intersecting, layered narratives, available to them on a permanent loop in just a few clicks. Good writing for children will help them navigate adult experience with awareness and understanding.
Twelve is an age that's on the borderlines. It's the age most children go to secondary school, and start to spend significant parts of their day with older teenagers. They often travel to school on their own, and their parents are a less significant part of their lives. They are experiencing independence and worrying about adulthood and the future. As Torday says, they do have to make sense of a complex, diverse world - and one of the ways some children choose to start exploring it is via fiction. So we need those books - they are important to children of that age; they can be, as both Banks and Almond agreed on R4, life-changing; they help young people to experience other possible lives and important ideas and decide how they feel about them.
But responses also acknowledged that Banks had a point - many children's books prizes are being dominated by books for young adults. Almond's book is aimed mostly at teenagers, it is shelved in the YA section of most bookshops, and the kind of 12 year olds that choose to read it will do so because they know that their reading tastes tend towards enjoying those kind of more complex narratives about identity, relationships, the joy and the pain of love. Shelved and aimed at YA as it is, it is unlikely to be bought by any parent or chosen by any child who is 8 or 9. While Banks was universally seen as a little old-fashioned in seeing the content as unsuitable for 12 yr olds, few people would suggest it was a good or appropriate read for 8 or 9 year olds, whose concerns are still strongly focused around school, family and friendships. Which is not to say this age range doesn't need books about big issues - for many children, their fears and hopes about life, death, love are just as strong as for teenagers - but they generally see them in a different context, one dominated by family/friends/small communities rather than independence, the wider world and sexual love. Death for children is worked through in terms of death of parents, beloved pets, or even the loss of cherished toys, rather than through the death of a lover or friend.
At the other end of the age range, it's also the case that many 16, 17 or 18 year olds find themselves beyond reading children's books at all, and turn to adult reads - whether that's complex literary fiction, classics, sci fi, fantasy, historical or romance. They are past the stage of wondering how to negotiate the teenage years, and more concerned to explore what it means to be a proper adult. Or they just want a good, gritty, page-turning crime story, or a book that opens their eyes to alternative universes, and they are happy (as I was, at 16 or 17) to temporarily identify with a drink-raddled male protagonist in their forties.
So, while it can be argued that 'child' is a category that covers all children up to the age of 18, in terms of reading interests there are, it seems to me, quite distinct differences between what we could call the '8-12' bracket (which will include some 6-7 yr olds, some 15 yr olds, some adults, even!) and the 12-18 bracket, which will attract some 11 yr olds, some 25 year olds, some 50 year olds, but not by any means all readers of 16 or 17.
Because of what seem to me these quite distinct differences, I'd actually like to see a separation of these two age brackets in prizes. And it's not only because the younger age range has been recently more overlooked in the prize department - it's also because I think it would free up prize committees from the endless debate about whether or not their choice is 'suitable' for children. How lovely to have a proper, big, no-holds-barred, full-blooded YA prize with no carping whatsoever. And how great to have a focus on the no less skilled but nevertheless very different kind of writing that goes into crafting a great children's story.
Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published in March by Templar.
"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)
"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)