There’s been some chat on #UKMGchat about prizes and genre and whether people would rather win a prize with a “literary” novel, or get books into the hands of children because the book has mass appeal.
You can find the thread, here.
By coincidence I went to a CILIP unconference (read all about it here) on Saturday in Keynsham, where the criteria behind the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals were discussed.
Something that emerged from that is that Middle Grade (oh how I hate that expression) despite driving much of the children’s book market, often doesn’t make it on to the short lists, because much of it doesn’t have the quality of writing that YA has.
I have to confess, I bridled a little at that.
It was suggested that younger children can’t always access more difficult vocabulary, or abstract concepts, but a one time judge of the Carnegie replied that past winners had included Middle Grade – Alan Garner for the Owl Service, Frank Cottrell Boyce for Millions and Philip Reeve for Here Lies Arthur, so it was possible to create quality fiction for younger readers.
Another thing that was said by the two Carnegie judges present was that the aim of the prize was to bring books of great merit, that wouldn’t necessarily make it onto the WH Smith’s top ten, to the attention of parents, teachers, librarians and of course, children.
I don’t think this is exclusive to the Carnegie. It is, I think, is the aim of many of the children’s book prizes that are run across the country. I don’t know about them all, but often they are chosen by librarians and then ultimately judged by children. Sometimes they contain the same books that are in heaps on the tables of Waterstones, but often there are quieter books. Books we haven’t seen all over twitter and that aren’t suggested by Amazon algorithms. This way, children get to read a more diverse selection, that isn’t just David Walliams or Roald Dahl.
I would suggest, that it is possible to write a book that is both popular, and prize winning. So it appeals to the gatekeepers, and the children. I think Millions probably did that.
This I think should really be the aim of all writers for children. A page turner isn’t enough, we should all aspire to write something of literary merit. But a prize winner that no-one wants to read isn’t enough either.
The books we write should try to do both.