Last night #kidbkgrp talked about awards and children’s literature. It was a very brief and quiet chat as there weren’t many people online (my thanks to those who were around!). I therefore decided that the chat as a whole wasn’t worth storifying but, as I do think this is a topic worth pursuing, I decided to blog. Voila! Cogito Ergo Blog!
A brief check of Wikipedia reveals that there are a minimum of 31 children’s book awards in the UK. Now, as per the nature of WIkipedia, that’s not going to be a complete list. And it isn’t. There’s no UKLA award on there and I expect that’s not the only one. Wikipedia is a brilliant resource but it’s not infallible. (Do I sound like I have my librarian hat on? I surely do. It’s a sombrero btw).
Children’s book awards in the UK range from those voted for solely by children, such as the Red House Children’s Book award, administered by the FCBG, through to those selected by professional bodies such as CILIP who look after the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards. As I’m a member of CILIP, I get to nominate which is exciting and also rather a huge privilege.
So what does this mean? Why do we have awards?
Well, I think one reason is that we’re sort of honouring the presence of literature in our lives. We’re saying to our contemporaries, our peers and those readers yet to come that these books are wondrous. They are life-changing, vivid beasts and they are good and great and should be read. As previous Carnegie winner Philip Pullman says: “Once upon a time lasts forever”. Stories are forever and they should be and we’re memorialising these books by entering them in a sort of joint record (like a societal bibliography, if you will) and we’re trying to give them a sense of longevity. Just looking at the previous winners of the Carnegie is like looking at a distilled vision of perfect, wonderful (and occasionally intensely challenging) British children’s literature. And it’s right to be proud of that, I think. It’s more than right.
Another reason, as mentioned last night, is to give books by new authors a chance of being read. Did you know that over 10,000 books were published last year in the UK? (At least 10,000 books – some reports go way, way higher than that). Proportionally speaking, the number of children’s books that get published in one year is basically tons (technical, I know, but have a look in your bookshop at the number of new titles and you’ll see what I mean). It’s hard to get read out there. And it’s hard to find books. I read a lot (this is a safe space, right?) and so many of my books are found through browsing and happenstance. A good cover. The librarian reshelving it just in time for me to see. There is so much luck about this. And awards help! They do. They give people a chance to catch their breath and go – wait, this is supposed to be good, I heard about this, let’s give it a chance. Awards can do that signposting towards literature and almost ‘remove’ that risk element of reading. Nobody wants to invest time of their own in reading something rubbish. And when we’re talking about children’s literature, with that always tricksy contextual element that it no doubt has, that’s two fold. You don’t want your kids put off by accidentally reading say War and Peace instead of Where’s Wally.
As it’s always good to do things in threes, here’s a third reason why I rather love what awards can do. They can make statements. They can set out and articulate issues that need articulating. The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award came into being in 2013 with the aim to “to recognise a rich tradition of radical publishing for children in the UK”. Radical is, they say “include[s] books informed by inclusive/anti-discriminatory concerns or those which promote social equality or social justice”. In an increasingly diverse world, they’re making the statement that diverse and brave literature matters for juvenile readers. And that’s brilliant because it is such a statement. It’s proud and it’s lovely and it’s desperately vital. I believe in the right of children to see themselves in literature and awards that celebrate that right are a good and great thing.
So here we are. As you’ll gather, I’m in favour of literary awards. I do acknowledge that they can be problematic beasts at time but as a whole, I think I’m rather proud that we have them. Here’s to us and our continued celebration of children’s literature. Long may it continue.