Thursday, 28 February 2019

The issue with "Issues" books and book awards - a ReadItTorial

I've been tapping away at this ReadItTorial for a while now, and danged if one Philip Ardagh didn't just tweet about something that reminded me to pull my socks up and finish this off. His Tweet below (with a link through to the original):

We've always found it very difficult to cover book awards, mostly because there are so many, and we only have our spare time to put this blog together.

But often it's also because we really don't want to be seen to be sucking up to books that have quite often been chosen by a group of grown-up book experts, librarians (as is the case with the Carnegies / CKGs), children's mental health professionals, authors and illustrators, television presenters or the odd celebrity - but oddly, rarely a panel consisting of kids - or parents who buy books for their kids.

The Carnegie / Kate Greenaway Awards are probably the highest profile annual children's book awards and we were extremely pleased to see a fantastic selection of books chosen by folk who really know their stuff and many that have either been "Book of the Week" here, or have garnered very positive reviews from us.

Here's the longlist in full for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Awards 2019 for example...

This is a fantastic list for sure, and any author or illustrator would give their right arm to be on that list - it's a huge chunk of kudos for sure, but going back to Philip's point above, we can't help but agree that this year as in many other years it's a fairly sombre and serious list, with a lot of 'issues' books.

You know the sort of stuff that kids would very much read under the direction of well-meaning adults who want their younglings to grow up fully aware of, and indeed ready to cope with (or indeed campaign for / against) the issues dealt with in these titles - but perhaps wouldn't directly choose themselves if given a book token and taken into a local bookstore.

As Philip rightly says, there's a distinct lack of 'fun' books in this list, and we've found in the past that it feels like some book awards automatically favour well meaning 'issues' books over other titles that are more geared around entertaining kids than educating them. It's almost like they're being picked not just because they have merit (and to be fair to the panel putting together the Carnegies / CKG longlists, each and every title here DOES have a lot going for it) but because, like oft quoted but rarely read classics, it seems to be the right thing to steer our kids towards.

It's not always like that with every book award. The recent Lollies (Laugh out Loud Book Awards) featured books that swung the balance in the opposite direction.

Pure escapist funny stuff that kids would definitely pick themselves (but some educators would probably frown and tut about) if they went into the local independent book store, instantly drawn to something that doesn't remind them of all the stresses and strains of a world they are increasingly already aware of being a place that, for some kids, has more lows than highs.

Similarly the Roald Dahl Funny Prize Awards keep things light, smiley and fun - but not at the expense of quality of story, or importance of topics covered. Some of the funniest books we've read have also imparted important messages about friendships, family relationships, and sometimes even dark humour can serve to better prepare kids for some of the challenges they'll face in their lives far more than a finger-wagging book that lays things out in a more serious way.

We've covered a few awards in the past where the focus has been on book choices made, not by a panel of select experts, but by the very people who buy or read those books. Book awards featuring choices by parents or kids themselves are our absolute favourites - and I think the industry needs to recognise these awards as being of vital and equal importance to the ego-massaging more high profile awards. Again, retuning briefly to the CKG list we've read 10 of the books on a list of 20 - and we'd consider ourselves pretty well read and well supplied with children's books (no kidding, right?)

So were some of the choices just to tick a few well-meaning boxes? Is this perhaps why serious / educational / issues books always get chosen in awards like the Carnegie / CKGs?

We congratulate absolutely everyone who made either list of course, it's a colossal achievement to get published in the first place in the heady maelstrom of children's publishing, but getting official recognition like this - for author, illustrator and publisher - must be the royal icing on an already luxurious cake. But for our two penneth, we will always be on the look out for those awards that let the kids do the talking (such as the excellent Blue Peter Awards, and the Federation of Children's Book Group Awards).

Maybe some well-respected blogger should start up (or perhaps already has started up) a national children's book bloggers book choice awards (and come up with a far fancier snappier title for it). Unless one exists already and we've somehow missed it...!