Friday 8 July 2022

Awards....going, going gone. By Keren David

 First it was the Book Trust Teenage Book Prize. Then  the Guardian Children's Book. The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. The Costa Children's Book Award, And now (just announced) The Blue Peter Book Awards. 

This is what Book Trust (the reading promotion charity that ran the award with the BBC) said: 

“Our ambition is to bring the benefits of reading to children in the greatest need and to achieve long-lasting impact by establishing reading habits and behaviours,” the statement said. “At this time, our limited resources are better focused giving disadvantaged families the opportunity to reap the life-changing benefits of reading.”

One of the ways the charity meets this goal is through its Storytime prize, set up in 2021, which aims to “find the best book for sharing” and is part of the a pilot project to encourage disadvantaged families to visit their local library.

Now, no one would argue with the need to get disadvantaged kids reading, especially in a climate where so many libraries have been closed. Not everyone in the UK today has a local library, sad to say.That was surely why the link up with a popular television programme was so important -  using the power of TV to promote reading. 

National awards for books (and I may well be saying this because I have never won one) are not necessarily the best way to get children reading. They can be expensive to run and very expensive to enter (The Costa, I believe, was one of those which very much showed whether your publisher had the marketing budget to gamble on you being shortlisted).

But they do get publicity in the media -  which is sadly unusual for children's books that aren't a) written by celebrities or b) the 'next Harry Potter'. 

And they do give authors' careers a boost -  authors who aren't a) celebrities or b) in possession of a massive six figure contract handed out in the hope that they will be the 'next Harry Potter'.

And they do much to celebrate a range of books which in recent years have become more diverse. 

So this is very much to be regretted, and we can only hope that someone will come along and create a new prize to take the place of the ones we have lost.

In the meantime I want to bang the drum for the many regional awards for children's books that take place around the country. They get less attention, but are often fabulously well organised, and generally emphasise actual reader participation in a way that the national awards sometimes do not.

Take, for example, the Lancashire Book of the Year. The organisation is a collaboration between the library service, schools, UCLAN university and the local council. Young readers from more than 20 schools look at around 90 books, before drawing up a shortlist of 12. They then debate the merits of these books, before deciding on the winner. Realising that your book has won (as my When I Was Joe did in 2011) is a real punch-the-air moment. It's not about the winning so much, it's about knowing that you've done what you set out to do - written a book which teenage readers enjoy and value.

I was up in Preston at UCLAN a few weeks about for the shortlisting event of the Lancashire Book of the Year, as my book What We're Scared Of has made the list. It was the first in-person event I'd done for two years, and it was immensely morale-boosting and heart-warming. The three Muslim girls who told me that they loved my book (which is about contemporary antisemitism) 'because it's about religion, Miss, and so few books are' brought happy tears to my eyes. All of us who are lucky enough to take part in these events have similar stories.

So, three cheers for regional awards and all who run them. And we wait and see what will happen to our dwindling list of national prizes. 

1 comment:

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Sad to see these awards go, Keren. Here in Ireland we have the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards which are very high profile and well run, as well as several children's categories in the An Post Irish Books Awards, plus some smaller awards, and I know from experience that these do help to get the books 'out there', even just as part of a wider conversation.