Tag Archives: Children’s books

Literary prizes or page turners?

jan12-006.jpgThere’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.

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World Book Week – Day 1

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I’m writing this the night before the day it all kicks off.

Overnight I will go from reclusive, sitting on the sofa with my laptop writer, to all singing all dancing author in schools .

Normally, I slope about in gardening clothes, a bit grubby, but ready to respond to a falling tree or leaf at the drop of a hat.

Tomorrow, proper clothes, proper shoes. A powerpoint (just that word sends chills down my disorganized spine).

There will be maps of schools to find. Names to remember and corridors that are all remarkably similar to negotiate. School lunches, and school smells. Smiling teachers, anxious teachers, smiling children, reluctant children. In some cases, hostile children and I have to be honest, at times, I will long for my sofa and my laptop and my gardening trousers.

But then, when it’s all over and I look for photos on my phone and I remember to tweet and I write down the mileage (quite a lot this week) I will long for a trip out. A chance to leave my manuscript hanging, my characters stuck in a cave, half way up a cliff. I will long for someone to make me a coffee, not me. And I will remember the children that laughed, that got excited about books, that stared into space and told me about the best thing they ever read.  And I will treasure the letters like the one above that arrive unbidden from children who have read my books.

And I will be glad of being a children’s author, rolled out for this annual festival.  I will long for the excitement of World Book Week.

Just remember though. We are, like puppies, not just for one time in the year. Most of us like to crawl out of our shells more often. You just have to ask.

 

Best books according to adults? or Best Books for Children?

There’s been a great deal of discussion around the ten (or 11 or 21) best children’s books of all time recently.  You can see some discussion here, here and here.

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Now recently, I came upon this lot, in a cupboard in my mother’s house. These books were mine (see how many Puffins there were) and it doesn’t include all the books that I’d previously plundered and brought to my grown up books shelves. So if you add in the rest of the Narnias, the Joan Aikens, the Moomins, the Case of the Silver Egg, Stig of the Dump and plenty of random others, it’s heading for about 50 books that I owned, and HUNG ON TO.

Then – Add in all the fantastic books that have come since…

How can there possibly be only ten?  Well it’s obvious that there can’t.  Any more than there can be the 10 best paintings of all time – who do you throw out – Michelangelo, or Rothko? Or the 10 best films, or the 10 best songs.

If I had to rescue the 10 best children’s books from a burning library I’d burn with it. And anyway what makes a book the best?  Some of the classics are really hard work – some of them, some children, simply can’t relate to now.  They don’t all actually want to read Little Women, or Little House on the Prairie – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still stands up really well, but it may not in 10 years.

So they might have been the best children’s books of 1950 – 1980 but they aren’t the best children’s books of now. It’s impossible. It’s silly. And it stops parents searching outside the carefully selected box.

It’s like my husband’s book club which is trying to read only ‘Good’ books and has come unstuck with some almost unreadable Nobel prize winning books.

I think it all needs to be more random, more instinctive.  Who bought me ‘The Cave Twins’ by Lucy Fitch Perkins? Or the Chesterfield Gold by Roger Pilkington? Someone who wasn’t checking things off a list as both books seem forgotten now.  Who bought the first Moomin book for us? I’m guessing it was someone who liked the covers.  Who threw the first Dr Syn book at me? Not a person looking at high brow fiction that’s for sure.

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But all these books made me, built me into a reader, a writer, a critic.

So can we stop having to have 10 best? Even 20 Best?  Even 100 best?

Can’t we just have books that children want to read?