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It’s Carnegie Day

It’s a landmark day in British children’s literature today; it’s the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway  awards and for those of you who aren’t quite sure of what that means, they’re pretty much the bookish equivalent of the Oscars. Between them, these awards have recognised some of the very best in British children’s literature in its day, and the past winners list for both awards is well worth a read in its own right.

Congratulations to the winners!  Sarah Crossan and ‘One’ won the Carnegie, whilst Chris Riddell took home the Kate Greenaway for The Sleeper and The Spindle. Whilst I’m yet to read the latter in full (though I’m in full and frank adoration of the parts I’ve read), One is quite something.  One is one of those books that  sings of craft; it’s so very gracefully and precisely written.I described it as  “a book about the space in between the words and around them, as much as it is about them” and I’d urge you, so much, to read it. Crossan is very definitely making a mark with a very distinct and very welcome voice.

A very welcome part of this year’s ceremony was the introduction of the Amnesty Honours. These awards went to ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’ by Robin Talley, and ‘There’s a Bear on My Chair’ by Ross Collins. As part of the ceremony, we watched (via the joys of an online stream, thank you CILIP) groups of students discussing both titles. The teenage girls discussing Lies We Tell Ourselves were beautifully erudite and, to be frank, moved me to tears with their summation of the book. The class of primary pupils discussing There’s A Bear On My Chair reminded me of one of my great loves in life: tiny children talking about books and giggling with the word ‘pants’. Such joy.

I was struck by the tone that the ceremony had this year. I’m a passionate livestream watcher of this ceremony because it means a lot to me. It’s a marker of what we stand for as a profession; this vital, important urge to hand a book to a child and to enable them to change worlds. The speakers at the ceremony spoke of the importance of empathy and of how stories enabled a child to ‘shape the world’. That’s more important than ever these days; and it’s something I will continue to subscribe to.

I’ll end this with one of my most popular, and increasingly over-excited, live-tweets of the event. Literacy matters. Community matters. People matter. And here’s to all the people that believe in that.



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‘The Lie Tree’ by Frances Hardinge has won the Costa Prize

A quick note this morning to celebrate the landmark achievement of Frances Hardinge last night. Her wonderful, wicked, complex young adult novel The Lie Tree won the Costa Prize. The whole damn thing. All of it.

If I could insert an emoticon or some sort of wizardry here to express how I feel about that, I would. Suffice to say, I’m happy. Extremely. I loved this book when I read it. It’s just great. Sometimes ‘just’ feels a little belittling to a book, but I don’t think it is here. The Lie Tree is so fully definitive in its jagged, lyrical, state that it is just a hell of a book. It is justly, just great. A book. A fierce, fierce, wonderful book.

And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s a second fact : The Lie Tree is the second children’s book to win the prize in thirty years. The first is The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Not a bad book to be shelved with. Not a bad book at all.

Break the walls down Frances, break them down.


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Awards and children’s literature

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!

Photo courtesy of  daverugby83 (Flickr)
Photo courtesy of daverugby83 (Flickr)

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.