awards

Winner of the 2018 Klaus Flugge Prize

klaus fluggeThe winner of the 2018 Klaus Flugge Prize for the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s book illustration was announced last night, Wednesday 12 September. I’m delighted to tell you that the prize went to Kate Milner for My Name is not Refugee (Barrington Stoke), and I was lucky enough to ask her about her win.

Kate studied illustration at St Martin’s College as a young woman – and illustrated magazines on Commercial and Housing Law for a while, but spent most of her career as a librarian. Cuts to the library service resulted in her losing her job, and that prompted her to do an MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. She created the story that was to become My Name is Not Refugee as part of her degree show, and with it won Student Illustrator of the Year in the V&A Illustration Awards.

And now the prestigious Klaus Flugge. How do you feel?

I am absolutely delighted and quite astonished. I really did not think I had a chance.

my name is not refugeeThe award-winning book is called My Name is Not Refugee. In modern history there have always been refugees. Why do you think your book has been so popular/ caused such a reaction now?

I wrote the book to explain to children what a refugee is. I wanted to get a tool into the hands of teachers, parents and librarians to help them define the term for children and give some small hint of what the experience might be like. The issue has become much more contentious recently because many on the right like to depict refugees as invaders or spongers, not people in real need. I wanted to provide something to be used by people with a more balanced view.

You said you felt quite angry when you were drawing the illustrations for the book, in particular the one with the caption ‘We’ll sleep in some strange places’, but that the anger hasn’t filtered through in the final book – it’s stripped back. Which emotion would you like children to feel when reading the book?

I would like children to feel sympathy for the plight of refugees and curiosity about why they are in such a difficult situation. It was important to me not to make this an angry book, children don’t need adult’s anger; they need clarity.

Did it take a long time to write and illustrate the book? And did the stripped back illustrations and limited palette come naturally as you were planning?

I certainly wrote and illustrated the first draft ridiculously quickly with, lets be honest, not very much planning at all. I thought of the idea about twelve days before the final critique for my MA at Cambridge. It was obviously supremely stupid to embark on a new project so close to the end of the course; I tried to stop myself but I failed. The stripped back quality comes, partly, from trying to make a book that applies to all sorts of refugee situations so trying to avoid specific details like domestic interiors. At that stage it didn’t really have a palette, that evolved later in discussion with the publishers.

Do you feel that your book has a happy ending or is it ambiguous?

It is happier than the reality of most refugees lives would suggest. I wanted children to be able to read it as happy, and the boy at the centre of the book is a cheerful, outgoing character so I think he would flourish. I’m not sure his mother would find it so easy.

Is there a need for more political books for young children?

I don’t think children care much about party politics, and who can blame them, but they are curious about an increasingly complicated and inter-connected world. Picture books are a very flexible and relatively cheap way of introducing all sorts of new ideas, emotions and information. Nice, decent adults tend to feel that children should be shielded from politics, and I can see their point but, if we’re not careful the only voices they hear on these subjects are ignorant and shouty.

kate milnerYou started life as an illustrator but then became a children’s librarian. Do you think you have a special insight into what children want from a picture book by being blessed with these two different but rewarding careers?

Working in a library certainly made a huge difference to me. Being surrounded by children’s books all day was really inspiring. My job involved reading out loud to groups of children and reading a book out loud is such a good way of discovering if it works or not. Too much detail about the thoughts and feelings of farmyard animals bored me as well as the children I was reading to.  Knowing something about children has been a huge advantage in one respect, I know that they are curious about many more things than they are sometimes given credit for.

Can you tell MinervaReads readers a little bit about your next project/book?

I am working on a very different kind of book for Pushkin Press, a novel for middle grade children with illustrations. It’s called Duncan and the Googleys and it’s a serious book with jokes about the way modern media works for children and against them. I am also looking forward to doing more projects in the vein of My Name is Not Refugee and I’m working on an idea at the moment.

What is your favourite picture book?

My current passion is for The Railway Passage by Charles Keeping published in 1974. It is a  strange tale about a group of old people winning money on the football pools and the perils of wealth. I love it because it conjures a whole world of people and places, and because the drawing is superb.

What advice would you give budding illustrators or authors?

The very worst plan is to produce work that you think will be commercial. It won’t be, it will just be derivative and stale. Make work that matters to you, make it as fun and lively and real and magical as you possibly can.

Congratulations again on your win, and thank you for answering my questions. You can buy Kate Milner’s My Name is Not Refugee here.

Branford Boase Award Shortlist: A Guest Blog from Philip Womack

branford boaseToday the shortlist for the Branford Boase Award 2018 is announced. This award is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children, and uniquely honours both the author and the editor – highlighting the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. I am happy to welcome Philip Womack, one of the judges of this year’s award, to explain his judging process and reveal the shortlist. Philip Womack is himself the author of six critically acclaimed novels for children. His latest, The Arrow of Apollo, is on Unbound. He is also a literary critic, and teaches Children’s and Young Adult Fiction at Royal Holloway.

I was delighted to be on the judging panel for this year’s 2018 Branford Boase award. It’s an unusual and interesting prize, in that it looks at not just the author of a debut novel, but also at the role of the editor. My fellow panellists were M G Leonard, author of the best selling Beetle Boy series; Urmi Merchant, from Pickled Pepper Books, and librarian Helen Swinyard.

We began with a huge pile of books: all showing promise, all with something exciting to say, all crafted with love and care, all with editors who had found  in this new author’s voice something that sparked them.

We read, diligently; I often had two books in my pocket when on the tube. I developed my own system of ranking, mentally moving books up and down the list as I went.  I began to tire of certain tropes that infect children’s and Young Adult fiction – I feel no compunction in saying that I think there is a time and place for the first person present tense narrative, and that most of the time, that place is not in the pages of a book.

I also felt that too often the main characters  were weighted down with serious problems that, rather than being the story, got in the way of the story itself. But these are debuts, and in a debut a writer will be exploring ideas, and the joy of the Branford Boase is that it recognises this: not all debuts are perfect, and many  will lead their authors on to great things. (Show me the first page of my debut novel now, and I will show you a man biting his nails with embarrassment.)

Then came the difficult bit. I’d made my list, weighed up the pros and cons, developed my own criteria. But then how on earth do you whittle down over 20 books to a shortlist of just 7, with a vocal panel of often conflicting opinions, and with such a wide range of subjects and age ranges? The discussion between the four panel members was always lively, aided by sandwiches and tea.

There were a lot of narratives that, read in conjunction with each other, seemed remarkably similar, usually involving a child or young adult with an illness in an enclosed environment. Whilst each had its own merits, it became clear that there was a formula; and (which is my own opinion, and not necessarily that of the other panellists) it does make for a rather depressing children’s literary landscape.

Other books caused surprising polarisations, with half the panel loving them, and the other half really not; these were placed on “maybe” piles. We drank more tea, ate – in my case, at least – more sandwiches.

branford boase shortlistSlowly, the shortlistees began to emerge.  Tony Mitton’s Potter’s Boy, elegant and surefooted, had the gravitas to be entirely sure of itself and the story it was telling. Yaba Badoe’s Jigsaw of Fire and Stars was characterised by a rich vividness. Sharon Cohen’s The Starman and Me was slick and involving. Chloe Daykin’s Fish Boy at first appeared to be of the common type of “enclosed child” narrative, but became something else. Mitch Johnson’s Kick was powerful and reached out into the world. Jacob Sager Weinstein’s The City of Secret Rivers showed remarkable comic control and imaginative flair; whilst Elys Dolan’s Knighthood for Beginners was appealing and funny.

Our shortlist is not perfect: how could it be? If there had been four other people in the room, no doubt it would have been different. However, I think our shortlist reflects the quality and range of debut children’s fiction at the moment; and I look forward to the exciting futures in store for these writers – and for those on the longlist too.

The Shortlist in Full

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Head of Zeus: Zephyr)
The Starman and Me by Sharon Cohen, edited by Sarah Lambert (Quercus Children’s Books)
Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin, edited by Leah Thaxton (Faber)
Knighthood for Beginners by Elys Dolan, edited by Clare Whitston and Elv Moody (Oxford)
Kick by Mitch Johnson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne)
Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton, edited by Anthony Hinton (David Fickling Books)
The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, edited by Gill Evans (Walker Books)

The winner is announced on Wednesday 4th July. For more information about the award, click here 

2018 FCBG Children’s Book Award Blog Tour: Optimists Die First

Some of you will know that I keep my publishing fingers in several pies! As well as advising and recommending children’s books here, one of my pies is looking after the blog for the FCBG. This charity runs a wonderful book award, the Children’s Book Award, which is as it says – it’s the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. And at the end of the voting year, the books (nearly 12,000) are donated to hospitals, refuges, and disadvantaged schools. The aim of the FCBG being to make books accessible and available to all children, and helping to create readers for life.

This year, one of the titles shortlisted for the CBA Top Ten is Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen.

optimists

Optimists Die First is the story of Petula, who blames herself for her young sister’s death. When her anxiety spirals out of control, she is sent to attend an art therapy group, where she meets a group of other teenagers who are also experiencing their own difficult issues: some with family issues, grappling with their sexuality, and addictive substances. In this group, she meets Jacob, an amputee, who likes to tell stories to cover the real reason for his injury. When the truth comes out about what really happened, Petula is already too far into her relationship with Jacob, and the truth threatens to destroy them.

Nielsen’s deft writing skill is apparent in abundance here. Not only is Optimists a gripping read, but the characters, no matter how minor their part, come across as authentic teens. Nielsen writes of their agonies and anxieties with pathos and sensitivity, as well as demonstrating their clear sense of humour, be it cynical, sarcastic or just straight funny. She zips around the darker themes with ease, especially Petula’s ongoing anxieties, and manages to incorporate a sense of the consequences of the tragedy of the death of Petula’s sister on the parents too. Despite the tough subject matter, there is no over-dramatisation – this is a carefully sewn tapestry of teen angst.

Moreover, the book gives the reader the courage to face down their own adversity, whatever it may be. And it also shows that although another’s problems may not be as apparent, they may be larger than one’s own issues. Each person can find courage to overcome obstacles, especially if they speak up and speak out.

The novel is about trust, and friendship, guilt and grief. The children of the FCBG have voted Optimists into their top ten for a good reason. It’s an excellent read. It’s in the older readers’ category, age 12+ years, because it contains references to sex and more adult themes.

Susin Nielsen is thrilled to be shortlisted, saying: “I’m delighted that Optimists Die First has been shortlisted for an award that is voted on entirely by young readers. Awards like this have extra-special meaning, because it means the book is connecting with the very people it was meant for. It’s also wonderful that so many books are donated to worthy organizations.”

And now two things. Firstly pop over to twitter to win one of three exclusive SIGNED HARDBACKS of Optimists on my twitter account (@minervamoan). And secondly, do vote for your favourite title on the shortlist here. Any child up to the age of 18 can vote for their favourite books.

You can see the Blog Tour schedule here and keep up to date with all of the FCBG Children’s Book Award news on Twitter.

 

 

 

An Interview with CLiPPA shortlisted poet Kate Wakeling

Moon Juice by Kate Wakeling, illustrated by Elina Braslina, has been shortlisted for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award). Past winners have included Sarah Crossan, Michael Rosen, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Joseph Coelho, John Agard and many more. Before the winner is announced next Friday 14th July, I have the honour of welcoming Kate Wakeling onto the blog. Her collection of poems is broad and varied, both in subject and tone, and has a wonderful mix of word play and storytelling. 

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the CliPPA Childrens Poetry Award for your debut collection of poems for children, Moon Juice. Can you tell the readers a little about the collection?

Thank you! And thank you for having me on your excellent blog! Moon Juice is a mixture of lots of different sorts of poems – there are list poems, riddles, story poems, character poems – I wanted it to feel sort of technicolour in the mind’s eye. Much of the writing is quite mischievous and playful – the book is peopled by some absurd characters like Skig the Warrior and Hamster Man – but amid the mischief, a number of the poems aims to explore (in gentle ways) some more serious things like difficult moods, death, and ideas of authority. I am keen to try and talk about important things in an unsentimental way and with a good peppering of humour. The poem I am most proud of in the collection is called ‘The Demon Mouth’. It explores ideas of compulsion and the need for tenderness, but in the midst of some rascally wordplay and (I hope) a rollicking story.

Theres a huge emphasis on the soundof the words in the poems. At the beginning of Comet, you even instruct the reader how to read it. Do you think poetry should always be read out loud?

Ha! Yes, Comet comes with the instruction that it should be read as quickly as possible. I liked the feeling of adding something of a physical game into a poem’s set-up on the page and have been amazed at how much fun it seems to have generated for readers. I’m definitely going to keep exploring this sort of idea!

In terms of whether every poem should be read aloud, I don’t feel too dogmatic about this. I think the key thing for me is that each poem deserves to be sounded – so much is gained from a poem when the reader lets the full sound of each word really chime. Reading aloud is a great way to capture these riches but it can work pretty well when reading to oneself too. Part of the magic of poetry for me is the sense of quiet and privacy that being absorbed in a poem allows, so I understand that some people want to take their poetry in silence (but would urge them to make plenty of noise on the inside).

And leading on from that, the shape of the poems on the page is also important to their comprehension – the white space of Ghost Sister, which speaks to a sense of loss and absence, the capitalisation of the letter ‘Oin Telescope. Are poems meant to exist both in audio and visual form?

I loved playing with the page when writing these poems. And yes, the look of a poem can be absolutely key to its meaning and effect – this is definitely the case with the two poems you mention. Now I think of it, I very rarely perform ‘Telescope’ or ‘Ghost Sister’ – perhaps because I feel like something might be lost when they are lifted from the page. ‘This be the Scale’ also springs to mind as a poem in the book with a strong visual identity that I rarely read aloud to groups. The poem is structured as a numbered list that charts the world of sound from the deepest noise imaginable to the very very very highest ping. Ha, perhaps the reason I don’t perform it is also because I think the reader is being invited to imagine some extraordinary sounds and so needs the privacy of their own brain to get to grips with them.

You describe yourself as an ethnomusicologist as well as a poet, and in fact work as a writer-in-residence with an orchestra. How does music influence your poetry?

I think music infuses absolutely everything I write. I think I have quite a keen awareness as to the ‘sonics’ of the words I use, and am also pretty obsessed about the rhythm of text, be it when writing couplets or completely free verse – rhythm is central to absolutely every kind of poem. Thinking about the question above, I’m also struck more and more by how the white space on the page in a poem (or lack thereof) creates a sense of rhythm and have been enjoying experimenting with this.

And is there a specific genre or piece of music that inspired this collection of poetry?

Perhaps not one piece of music but I think all the music I’ve played and listened to and studied over the years has played a part in creating a certain energy and enthusiasm for seeking out the musicality in my writing. That said, I lived in Indonesia for a year-and-a-bit to research Balinese music for my PhD, and I think that experience was crucial to me in finding my way as a poet. I find it hard to lay a finger on how, but I feel like my imagination really relaxed there. Perhaps it was having the space to be away from familiar things and spending so much of my time – hours and hours most days! – playing this particularly complex but quite repetitive music. I think playing gamelan (an ensemble of bronze and bamboo percussion instruments) can do something really excellent to a person’s thought process – you are at once freed up while also forced to be precise. And on reflection, I think these are the two qualities I feel I need to hone when I’m writing a poem.

Kate Wakeling

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and yet even claimed in his acceptance speech that songs are unlike literature. Theyre meant to be sung, not read.Whats your view on this?

I think I agree, at least in part, with Bob! Which is not to say lyrics oughtn’t to be read on the page in any circumstances, just that I think music and text interact in such a special way when created together expressly to form a song. And so extracting one bit of that creation and then framing it as something else isn’t always perhaps fair or particularly enriching to that material. But heck, I’m not Bob Dylan so who am I to say what anyone should or shouldn’t do with their sleeve notes.

There seems to be a deliberate amount of play with form and words in the collection. For example Hair Piece looks as if it might be prose, but feels like poetry. Are you trying to pose questions to the readers about the essence of poetry?

Certainly not deliberately, but I did particularly enjoy writing ‘Hair Piece’ and found the idea of infusing this bit of prose with as much sonic punch as I could muster really exciting and satisfying. I love squeezing a bit of semi-secret poetry into things (I get irrational amounts of pleasure from trying to cook up a really good text message to a friend). I should also say that ‘Hair Piece’ owes lots to John Hegley, whose books I love and who writes wonderful prose poems that are full of mischievous and insightful word play. There is an amazing narrative prose poem in his Love Cuts about a break-up and it explores a burgeoning affair with a pensioner, a sliced onion and a piece of cubist art (among other things). It looks just like prose on the page but fizzes with poetry through and through. I still base almost all my internet passwords on various characters from that poem (I here confess this strange but sincere Hegley homage) so I think about it everyday.

With huge thanks to Kate Wakeling for such insightful answers to my questions. Moon Juice is available to buy here. Don’t miss out.

Children’s Book Fictional Personality of the Year

The newspapers have been packed with end of year lists since the beginning of December. In my final post of 2016, here is my personal end of year awards list.

Fictional Character Personality of the Year:
So many great characters this year, including bully Betty Glengarry in Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, but the most memorable for me has to be Sam from Alone by DJ Brazier. It’s a brave author who sustains a book for children with only one character throughout, and forgoes the device of having animals talk so that there really isn’t any dialogue, other than the conversations Sam has with himself.

Stranded after a plane crash near the Amazon River, Sam has to summon all his strength and resilience to survive. This gives Brazier the ultimate excuse to show Sam’s development – he starts as a boy just like any other, but by the end Sam has had to grapple with loneliness, despair, injury and failure.

Brazier doesn’t hold back with gruesome detail, but there is also a surprising amount of humour, and lashings of emotion – Sam is a great kid and one I’d love to meet in real life.

Picture Book Character of the Year:

I could easily have plumped for Alison Hubble who doubles and doubles, but instead, my character of the year has to be Nibbles, the Book Monster by Emma Yarlett. This isn’t because I was bribed with a plush toy of Nibbles, but because the character is easy for children to draw, adorable in his mischievousness, and an original book-eating monster with a bursting personality, despite looking like a glorified m&m! The book has been paper-engineered to a high production finish, with lots of interactivity, references to fairy tales, and a wonderful hide and seek of Nibbles in a bookcase.

Cleverest Use of Colour: The Great Fire of London by Emma Adams, illustrated by James Weston Lewis. Finally given the treatment it deserves, this seminal point of British history is given an illustrative makeover in this sumptuous book that absolutely illustrates history to life. No child will find history ‘boring’ with this book glowing into their face.

Most Satisfaction Gained from an Activity Book: Pinball Science (Build Your Own) by Ian Graham, Nick Arnold and Owen Davey. I was never one for paper engineering – when I worked at Dorling Kindersley my absolute nightmare was being involved in the paper model project of the Millennium Dome. However, I made this Pinball Machine one Saturday afternoon, and it gave hours of pleasure to the kids, plus we learned some sciencey stuff.

Most Successful Publicity Campaign (aka bribery): King Flashypants by Andy Riley Not only did this book have me rolling about in stitches, but the kind team at Hodder sent me chocolate, activity sheets, an advent calendar and a bag to accompany my enjoyment (please note this was all sent after I had reviewed the book!). But buy it, because it also wins Funniest Book of the Year. I still read chapter 12 to perk me up during sad frustrating times.

Most Likely to Give Nightmares: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, illustrated by Jon Klassen. I haven’t recovered from this nightmarish yet masterfully written young teen read. Merging dreams and reality, wasps and angels, this wasn’t a book even sent to me for review, but ended up being a book of the week for its lithe ability to sting the mind with thoughts and feelings.

Most Shocking Ending of the Year: Piers Torday rips up all the rules of children’s books with his ending in There May be a Castle. No spoilers here, but tissues at the ready. It’ll make adults think twice too.

Most prevalent animal this year: I’d like to say foxes or wolves, seeing as they have cropped up in so many children’s books from The Wolf Wilder, Wolf Hollow, The Wolves of Currumpaw to Maybe a Fox, The Fox and the Wild, and Finding the Fox, following in the tradition of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Call of the Wild and Fantastic Mr Fox, but actually it’s dogs. There are dogs dotted all around the chidren’s book market at the moment, The Detective Dog, Dogs on Trains, Oi Dogs, Days with Dogs, just Dogs, Claude, Spot, Odd Dog Out, The Great Fire Dogs, Spy Dog, Knitbone Pepper Ghost Dog, Space Dog, not to mention secondary dog characters in stories. However, seeing as dogs, foxes and wolves all belong in the large taxonomic family called Canidae – we’ll leave it at that. Perhaps next year will be the turn of the cats. See you in 2017.

 

Bob Dylan, poet, picture book author, Nobel prize winner

forever-youngif-dogs-run-freeif-not-for-you

So Thursday 13th October was a divisive day. Those who celebrated Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and those who wondered if the world had gone completely mad – what next – would Philip Roth be up for a Grammy?

I wrote my ‘literature’ dissertation on some of Dylan’s lyrics when I was, as twitter puts it, “a pretentious undergrad, comparing his ‘poetry’ to the likes of Keats”, although actually my essay was more about the treatment of women in his lyrics, ironic seeing as lots of the criticism about the Nobel awards this year is that they have all been awarded to white males.

But diversity aside, is a songwriter a poet? And what is literature anyway? The definitions are fairly fluid, which I suppose is something Dylan would appreciate. ‘Something written,’ for one – well Dylan’s lyrics are certainly written as well as sung – he famously jots down lyrics on scraps of napkins in the backs of cabs. His lyrics have been published as books.

And ‘works considered of superior or lasting artistic merit’. Well, superiority is completely subjective. Lasting? Dylan would say “Time passes slowly and fades away,” but of course it’s still too soon to tell if his lyrics will last.

One of the reasons people are critical of this award, is that Dylan is primarily a songwriter rather than a poet. He described himself as such, famously in the 1965 press conference when he was asked if he was a poet. “I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man.” He even wrote that “Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can’t sing, I call a poem.”

But poetry is all about rhythm, and the earliest poetry was all about music – it was spoken or sung long before people could write, as a way to convey story, history, laws. Poems often had repetitious choruses for easy memory recall. The psalms were poems that were set to music, nursery rhymes were sung, although can be studied as poetry. The Homeric epics were often put to music and had specific rhythm so that they could be recited. What about modern day performance poets? Rappers too? At what point does poetry that’s performed in rhythm or song stop being a poem and literature and start being mere ‘lyrics’ – at what point does recitation become musical?

Is Eleanor Farjeon a poet? She wrote ‘Morning is Broken’ to a Gaelic tune, but would not be considered a songwriter. But many would argue that it takes the music, the voice working with the lyrics, to form the poem as a whole – to fully convey the emotion within. Strip back the music from ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and what is left? Just a man without an instrument? If you took away the pictures from a picture book would you still have the same story? Where would The Gruffalo be without Axel Scheffler?

One of the many baffling things about Dylan is that he often completely changes his musical arrangements when playing his songs live.  At concerts one of the joys of being a Dylan fan is guessing which song he’s actually playing before he starts singing the lyrics. It’s never like hearing the first chords of Hotel California, for example. But Dylan’s lyrics always stay the same.

The lyrics vs poetry question is not an argument I can fully answer, although the Nobel committee seem to have managed it. I’ve studied and written about the Dylan lyrics in isolation from their music, something for which many critics would berate me. And it seems as if even Dylan hasn’t quite made up his mind.

“Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it
Hope I don’t blow it”

But this is a children’s literature blog, and what’s Dylan got to do with children’s literature? Not much, although you can buy ‘Forever Young’ as a picture book – illustrated by Paul Rogers. Or ‘If Not for You’, illustrated by David Walker, which, for me doesn’t quite fit with how I see the lyrics. Or ‘If Dogs Run Free’, illustrated by Scott Campbell Jr. And many more. I think they’d struggle to fit ‘Visions of Johanna’ into a picture book, but maybe that’s one poem that would do better compared to other great poems in the literature canon!

In the meantime, I’ll remain Tangled Up in Blue about it, and accept the judgement. After all, as they keep telling me, ‘The Times They Are a Changin’.

 

Poetry Pie by Roger McGough: a video special

poetry pie

The CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) is the only children’s poetry award in the UK. The winner will be announced on 13th July.

This year’s shortlist includes One by Sarah Crossan, Dancing in the Rain by John Lyons, Falling Out of the Sky, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, illustrated by Emma Wright, A Great Big Cuddle by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Chris Riddell, and Poetry Pie by Roger McGough, whom I’m delighted to feature on today’s blog.

Poetry Pie is a collection of more than 50 poems, ranging from topics including food and animals, wordplay and poetry, school and recycling. There’s a bit of everything in bitesize chunks. McGough plays brilliantly with the words on the page – not only twisting and rhyming, but playing with placement, typeface, the space on the page, and formatting. There are calligrams, and concrete poems. There’s a poem about letter writing that is set out like an email at first, and ends in handwriting like a letter.

The mix is exhilarating, witty and thoughtful, with McGough’s own illustrations interspersed throughout – and these also make the reader think. The cleverness of the poems is that McGough chooses subjects (particularly food) that are appealing to a young reader, and yet he incorporates some complex ideas by choosing different viewpoints from which to tell the poems, playing with form, and being deliberately deconstructionist.

From beautiful assonance in the poem Besotted – about otters, to the cool sophistication and emotion of The One and Lonely – opening up a bank of ideas and discussion – there is the perfect mix of poetry to be read aloud, and poetry to be read alone and deconstructed in its own way. For readers young and old. See the video below of Roger reading Poetry Pie

Roger McGough – Poetry Pie from CLPE on Vimeo.

and the video here of Roger giving advice to young poets:

Roger McGough – What advice would you give to young poets from CLPE on Vimeo.

For more information on CLPE and poetry, click here. And to buy the book, click here.

An interview with the CKG Judges

ckg judges blog tour 2016

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards. This year’s winners will be announced on Monday 20th June, and today I’m delighted to host an interview with some of the current judges, Sioned Jacques, CKG Chair of Judges, Tanja Jennings, CKG Judge for YLG Northern Ireland, Martha Lee, CKG Judge for YLG Wales, and Isobel Powell, CKG Judge for YLG West Midlands. To visit the website to see the shortlists, click here for the Carnegie and here for the Kate Greenaway.

What are the key things you are looking for in a winner?

ML: When looking for a winner for both the Kate Greenaway and the Carnegie we have to adhere strictly to the criteria. So when reading each book and then discussing and judging, at the front of our minds is whether each book meets the criteria.. 

IP: A book which makes a real impact on the reader with a story and characters that stay with you long after you have finished. If a book doesn’t have that quality then it can’t be a winner. It is also about the quality of the writing, this doesn’t mean being overly verbose or with a highly complex vocabulary. Instead it means that the writing flows and doesn’t get in the way of the story being told. That the style of writing fits beautifully with the type of book and the characters dialogue is real and believable. 

SJ: The key components are based on the strict criteria that as judges we have to look for in a book. They include distinctive style that’s appropriate to the subject, whether it’s literary style for the Carnegie or illustrator’s style for the Kate Greenaway. Characters and plot are also important in considering a Carnegie winner. Are the characters credible, how do they interact with others, do they go on a journey for example and do they act in a way that’s reasonable for their personality within the remit of the plot. The plot should flow smoothly and have a satisfying ending, though this does not necessarily mean a happy or positive ending. The book needs to be a complete package that leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and of having gone through a real experience. The most outstanding books stay with you for weeks, months, years after you’ve read because they have an impact on your thought processes. 

How much do the children you work with in the library influence you?

ML: In terms of the children I work with influencing the judging process – this doesn’t happen at all. We stick strictly to the criteria when analysing a nominated title. In my everyday job within the library, children influence me all the time, from the books I read myself to what I order for our collections, but I guess in turn this would have an influence on what I would nominate each year for the award. 

IP: I don’t work directly with children as I run a school library service so I work more with teachers and school librarians. Because part of my job is about recommending books to schools for all age groups and abilities I do read a wide range of children’s and YA fiction so I think this helps me bring a lot of reading experience to the judging process. 

SJ: Other people’s opinions of the books, whether children, young adult, colleagues or friends have no influence whatsoever on the decisions I make while judging and deciding on a winner. It’s all about how well the books fit against the criteria. I have a very keen Carnegie shadowing group this year with strong opinions about the books, but they’re often judging with their hearts which we can’t do as judges. However, I have found that they sometimes decipher text in a way that I hadn’t considered which will make me look at the book again against the criteria. 

In your opinion, is there such a thing as a ‘trend’ in children’s publishing – would one year be dominated by fantasy for example?

ML: I guess you do get ‘trends’ in children’s publishing but I think a library environment is completely different and as it’s librarians who nominate the books for the CKG award a trend wouldn’t necessarily come through in the nominated titles. Although I do find it strange that we have three books with ‘lie’ in the title this year! 

IP: You do certainly get clusters of certain types of book, normally as a result of there being a bestselling book in a particular genre. However, although that does happen, the way that the CKG books are nominated by librarians you do get a real range of genres submitted which means that this effect is negated somewhat. 

SJ: There are always a few books, particularly on the Carnegie nominations lists, that have similar themes, e.g. death, friendship or this year lies. Dystopia books were very prominent a few years ago. I don’t think trends are as obvious for the Kate Greenaway list. However regardless of trends and themes the Medals recognise outstanding writing or illustration in children’s literature and each book is judged against criteria that can be applied to any genre or theme. 

How do you balance your own personal taste with being a judge? For example, if you hate historical novels, would you ever pick one as a winner?

ML: This is very difficult and it took me a long time to get used to divorcing my personal taste and judging the book according only to the criteria. You have to be fair to the book and author, and judge the book solely on the criteria, just because you might not be a fan of historical fiction does not automatically mean it doesn’t deserve to be on the list because of your personal taste. I know I sound a bit repetitive but every book is judged according to the criteria and has nothing to do with personal taste. 

IP: One of the great things about being a judge is being forced out of your comfort zone and having to read books that you would otherwise put to the bottom of the pile! As a judge I have found that there are nominated books I have had to read that I would never have picked up otherwise and then found myself loving it. We are all human though and enjoying books is a personal thing, so to help mitigate that referring to the criteria as you are reading helps you to keep considering the book from that more objective point of view. 

SJ: Due to the strict criteria, personal taste cannot be taken into consideration. The fact that judges have to read all the books regardless of personal taste is a really good way to appreciate other genres that previously you may not have enjoyed or appreciated. As for considering them as a winner – of course – if the novel has ticked all the boxes in terms of the criteria and is outstanding then it deserves to win whether it’s a subject or genre that you don’t enjoy. For me personally one of the advantages of the Carnegie in particular is that it expands your reading interests, I’ve found that I can read a well written novel in any genre now whereas in the past I would have chosen books in a specific genre or on a specific subject because they would interest me. The Carnegie also makes you realise that there are well written books and not so well written books regardless of genre or topic. 

Do you pay any attention to the author/illustrator and whether they are debut writers/illustrators or more established?

ML: No, we judge all the books that are nominated equally and pay no attention to whether they are debut or established.  Everything is judged fairly and equally. 

IP: For me it makes no difference, I am looking at the book being considered, not any past work or reputation. In fact it is great to find a new author or illustrator and be bowled over by their creation and equally great to read a well-established author or illustrator (whose work you may not have previously liked) and have your perception of them changed. William Grill won the Greenaway award last year and was shortlisted against many well-known illustrators. When we were judging the winner the fact that this was his first book made no difference, we were judging the amazing quality of his pictures and the way they brought the story of Shackleton to life. 

Do you try and pick a range of genres for the shortlist – poetry/non-fiction/sci-fi/realism – or is it completely on merit – i.e. one year could be all fantasy fiction?

ML: No we don’t pick different genres so there’s a mix, everything is judged on merit according to the criteria. 

IP: The shortlist is completely about merit, there is absolutely no attempt to falsely engineer a list with a range of genres, styles or age groups. Everybody who reads the shortlist should be confident that they are the best books written for children and young people in the last year. 

TJ: The books that are selected for the shortlist are chosen completely on merit. They are all outstanding potential winners. Titles meet strict criteria on style, characterisation and plot. If a range of genres appear it is serendipitous because it makes the list eclectic. 

Do you ever feel you need to ‘censor’ your choices – not pick a winner with excessive swearing for example?

ML: Definitely not.  

IP: The CKG judges have never shied away from controversy; they are willing to choose any type of book as the winner if it is of outstanding literary quality. We are only interested in selecting the best books we can and you only have to look at previous shortlisted and winning books to see that censorship is not our thing! 

TJ: Training encourages judges to stick rigidly to the criteria. Personal preferences do not affect decisions. In some instances swearing can be an integral part of characterisation in the novel as was the case with Conaghan’s ‘When Mr Dog Bites’. Readers should also be encouraged to make their own choices about what they want to read and not be curtailed by censorship. 

How did you get chosen as a judge?

ML: I joined my regional YLG group for professional development and obviously because I have a passionate interest in children’s books. One of my fellow colleagues was sitting on the judging panel when I joined and hearing her talk about it just sounded amazing so I asked to be put forward to be the judge for the following year and happily I was accepted. 

IP: I have been on the West Midlands YLG committee for a number of years and when we came to choose the next representative to be a judge I put my name forward and was selected by the other committee members to take the role. It is a great honour to have had the chance to be a judge and it is an experience I will always cherish, even the stressful and difficult parts! 

What’s the best thing about being a CKG judge? (and the worst)

ML: I couldn’t pick just one thing as being the best, there are so many amazing bits: meeting and making friends with your fellow judges, being able to sit down, read and discuss books as part of my job, meeting favourite authors, reading all the amazing books that are nominated, let alone the longlisted and shortlisted books, getting sent proof copies of books, being more involved professionally in the industry and of course attending the winners ceremony. The worst, although I wouldn’t call it that I would just call it the hardest, is having to read all the nominated books in a certain time frame. I think this year it was 162. It’s definitely the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done (and that includes studying for a BA & a MSc!). 

IP: The best thing about being a CKG judge is feeling part of something so prestigious and historical; to know that the books which I helped choose as the winners will be remembered for years to come as part of the CKG roll of honour. The worst thing about being a judge is choosing a winner! It is so difficult when you are faced with so many amazing books and the discussions around the judges’ table can be long and very passionate.

With many thanks to the judges for giving their time to be interviewed. 

 

 

The Lollies

Nearly two thirds of children aged between 6-17 years say that when choosing books to read, they want books that make them laugh, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report 2015. So it was with some dismay that the children’s book publishing world watched the closure of the Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize last year.

However, in its place come the Lollies – The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards, launched by Scholastic in 2015 – and supported by Michael Rosen and the Book Trust. The shortlist was announced in February, and voting is now open for teachers to register votes on behalf of their classes and schools. The links and voting deadlines are at the bottom of the article. There are three categories: Picture books; 6-8yrs, and 9-13yrs. Here follow reviews of the four shortlisted picture books.

Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book

hoot owl

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
This bright, distinctive book with deceptively simple-looking illustrations is a hoot from the start. The eyes give it all away throughout this cleverly paced picture book, which is a delight for adults and children.

Telling the story of Hoot Owl, who disguises himself to pounce on his prey, Sean Taylor takes an older narrative concept and warps it for the younger age group. Although a picture book, the text reads, unusually for this format, in first person construct and with an extremely unreliable narrator. Hoot Owl tells his own story, awarding himself the title of ‘master of disguise’; this owl is not just wise. In fact this rhyming refrain is key to the story, as each disguise is more and more ridiculous and unwise, and each plan is unsuccessful, despite the owl’s keen boasting.

He dresses as a carrot to entice a rabbit, and a sheep to entice….a lamb. The costumes are of course blatant humour for the child reader, but the text keeps the adult amused with its tongue-in-cheek poking at ‘real’ literature conceits:

“The night has a thousand eyes, and two of them are mine.”

And

“The terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere.
But I cut through it like a knife.”

Even children will giggle at “The lamb is a cuddly thing, but soon I will be eating it.” Particularly when they view the accompanying illustration of a cute white lamb with glasses, set against a black backdrop. A simpler, more innocent looking lamb you could not find.

The eyes win the story through – in each case Hoot Owl’s eyes looking askance at his prey, or the wide-eyed stare at the reader. And the ending – well the ending is a child-perfect solution. An excellent shortlist title. A big ter-wit-ter-woo. You can hoot for it below and buy it here.

slug needs a hug

Slug Needs a Hug by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
Two colossi of the children’s book world, Willis and Ross, also lead with an unconventional main character in their latest picture book. Slug Needs a Hug – the concept is in the title – anyone who comes across a slug will be loath to touch it and anyone who knows children is aware that slugs remain a source of fascination and disgust.

In this story, though, pathos abounds as even slug’s mother won’t hug him. His glum face and cute sticky up eyes provoke empathy from the beginning, and Willis cleverly portrays him with a mixture of this interest and grossness with her rhyming text:

“Once upon a time-y,
There was a little slimy,
Spotty, shiny, whiny slug.”

He is at once unappealing and pathetic, yet needy of our love and attention. Her subversiveness in making words rhyme by adding a ‘y’ is a giggle-factor in itself. This book too relies on disguise, as the slug asks other creatures for help, and then in order to be more like them – cuter – he dresses up in aspects of their demeanour – “to make himself more huggable, less slithery and sluggable”. He dons a furry jacket to seem more catlike (as well as a hat with a picture of a cat on it), and trotters like the pig, and a string moustache – like the goat’s handsome goatee beard.

Of course the irony is clear – none of these other creatures is particularly cuddly either (note the cow and its udders) – and Ross paints them as being rather arrogant and vain – the picture of the goat posing, stroking his beard, is simply perfection.

Slug’s lack of self-esteem and thoughts of his own ugliness are banished in the end – his mother’s reason for not hugging him is again, the perfect ending to a picture book. Complete common sense. You can hug a slug here.

gracie grabbit

Gracie Grabbit and the Tiger by Helen Stephens
One of our favourite picture books is How to Hide a Lion, so it comes as no surprise that Gracie Grabbit is equally well-drawn and adorable. The themes continue – big cats and burglars – but in a new story with another tantalisingly oddbod heroine.

Gracie Grabbit’s defining feature is that her father is a robber, and Stephens is at great pains to point out how naughty this is. On a day out to the zoo, Gracie’s Dad can’t help steal things from people and animals, but when his back is turned, Gracie returns all the items. The only problem – she returns them to the wrong owners, with surprising results.

Laughs come from all over the place with this book – from the stereotypical eye mask and stripy top that the robber wears no matter where he is, to the stance of little Gracie who is forever wagging her finger at her naughty Daddy or telling on him. Her cuteness, of course, contrasts hugely with the naughtiness of her father.

But the concept is what wins the giggles. Gracie’s Dad steals the silliest things and Gracie gives them back blatantly incorrectly: a wet fish back to the baby, the rattle to the snake, the egg to the lady and the hat to the penguins. The expressions are priceless, the egg on the lady’s head a wonderful illustration. And then of course there’s the winsome tiger.

The crowd at the zoo seem very old-fashioned, as does the tale itself which is sweet and wholesome in the end – naughtiness is punished. Modern touches abound though, as Stephens is good at including diversity, and brightness in her illustrations. Hugely enjoyed by the children testing it here – maybe because of the familiarity of the illustrator, but also surely for the fun in the robber getting his comeuppance, and the child being wiser and more well-behaved than the adult. A good tiger tale. You can buy it here.

i need a wee

I Need a Wee! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
More big guns from the picture book world, Sue Hendra can do no wrong – from Supertato to Barry the Fish with Fingers, Hendra is another household name. This title though, as with the slug, the robber and the pomposity of Hoot Owl, takes a subject that is fairly taboo, and makes it the dominant characteristic of the book. The cover illustration of a teddy bear holding himself with his legs in the ‘need a wee’ position sums it up, and is appealing immediately (to a young child).

The brightness of the book – the cover is a luminous yellow with pink and green lettering, with a beautifully textured bear – continues throughout, as the story follows a group of toys and in particular our bear, Alan (even the name is comical for a teddy). He is having a fun day out, but needs a wee.

As is common with pre-schoolers, Alan is too engrossed in what he is doing to make the time to go and wee – the world is just too exciting. From queuing for a slide (then not wanting to leave the queue as he’s nearly at the front) to attending a tea party, and then reaching the toilet only to find a queue there too – this is a hilarious little story.

The touches in the illustrations are excellent – Linnet’s penguin blowing a party horn, the wind up toys, and those on springs, the size difference between Alan and dolly (who kindly invites him back to her house to use her toilet, only to find of course that the doll’s house is tiny).

Alan looks like a well-loved worn toy, which only adds to the charm, and Hendra excels in the items that Alan wants to resort to weeing into to alleviate himself – a teapot, a hat….

The ending is well-executed and very funny indeed. Watch out too for the blob who comes second place in the dance competition. This is a book that made me smile despite being entirely toilet humour! You can spend a penny on it here!

You can buy the books and vote NOW. Children will decide the ultimate winners in each category with their class votes (see here and parents can read information on how to get involved here.) Voting closes on the 10th June 2016.

The other categories are as follows:

Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8 year olds

Badly Drawn Beth by Jem Packer and Duncan McCoshan

Wilf the Mighty Worrier: Saves the World by Georgia Pritchett and Jamie Littler

The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom by Jonny Duddle

Thorfinn the Nicest Viking and the Awful Invasion by David MacPhail and Richard Morgan

Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13 year olds.

Danger is Still Everywhere: Beware of the Dog by David O’Doherty and Chris Judge

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon by Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll

Emily Sparkes and the Friendship Fiasco by Ruth Fitzgerald

The Parent Agency by David Baddiel and Jim Field

 

With thanks to Scholastic for the books, and related information. 

To Win or Not to Win: Book Prizes

This week two major book prizes made announcements in the children’s book world. The Carnegie/Kate Greenaway (CKG) announced their shortlists (the children’s equivalent of the Booker, let’s say), and Waterstones announced their Children’s Book Prize.

Both produced antagonism and discussion – the CKG, because of its heavy leaning towards YA, an issue picked up by Fiona Noble in The Bookseller, who asked if there should be a section for the younger children’s fiction (as I, and the Americans, like to call middle grade). There was less contention over the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, which already has three categories – picture book, younger fiction and older fiction.

My Brother Superhero

By the way, the winners of the Waterstones prize were David Litchfield for The Bear and the Piano, David Solomons with My Brother is a Superhero, and Lisa Williamson for The Art of Being Normal, with My Brother is a Superhero winning overall.

Book prizes are tricky beasts. Are they like end-of-year book lists – sent to provoke disagreement? Are they solely for rewarding merit – and if so how do we really judge one piece of subjective artistry against another in any sphere of the arts? Or are they about money?

In March 2014, a study showed that winning a prestigious literary prize equalled a sharp downturn in ratings on review sites by readers. Is this because readers have higher expectations of those books, judge them more harshly when they read them, and so ultimately feel let down, or are readers reading books that they wouldn’t otherwise have chosen, and actually aren’t suited to?

Winners of prizes may sell more books, but the reader’s judgement or criteria for buying a book shrinks to one determining factor – that it won a prize. Is it bought for kudos rather than for the other qualities that might make it attractive to the reader? Qualities a reader usually applies when choosing a book, such as subject matter, style, author loyalty, etc.

Amanda Sharkey, an academic behind the study, states:

“As a result, readers who read prize-winning books tend to be disappointed…nor even simply because they have higher expectations for prize-winning books – but rather because many readers who are drawn in by prize-winning books tend to have tastes that are simply not predisposed to liking the types of books that win prizes.”

To the book trade, does it really matter if a reader finishes the book they’ve bought and enjoys it? Publishers love to stick stickers on the front of books announcing which shortlists they’ve made it onto, which prizes they’ve won. It’s a commercial reality that prizes equals prizes. Frances Hardinge not only won the children’s book prize at the Costa this year for her book The Lie Tree, but also the overall prize (well-deserved, and a brilliant book in my opinion) . And her publisher reported an increase in sales by 350 per cent in the three weeks after the win.

Publishers choose which books to put forward for most prizes in the first place. Are they likely to put forward not only ‘good’ books, but books which follow a recent trend, or books that seem more likely to carry forward that sales impetus? For example, do publishers put forward more YA titles for the Carnegie than middle grade books, knowing that YA sells well at the moment? It’s just a thought. When The Lie Tree won the Costa, booksellers frequently stocked the title in the adult section of the bookshop, or the YA section – whereas its category is borderline middle grade to YA (suitable from 12 years). Although interestingly, it’s not the publishers who put forward books for the CKG – every member of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) nominates two books for each award.

But in the end, it’s the judges, not the publishers, who decide the winners. And who are they? It depends of course on the competition. In the children’s book world, this can be hugely contentious. Are we asking adults to pick the best children’s books? Are they best placed to judge what a five-year-old, or a ten-year-old likes? Or are we choosing a book with the most literary/illustrative merit, not just the most popular? Which people can best judge – those who sell the books – those who stock the books in their libraries – teachers – or even, *whispers*, the children themselves?

Of course in the end it’s subjective. We are judging artistry, not maths. One can argue endlessly about the great writers who never won awards – why did Faulkner never win the Pulitzer? Why did James Joyce never win a Nobel Prize?

Even the Ancient Greeks gave prizes for literary merit – regularly awarding prizes for best tragedies and comedies at their festivals. And I bet there was as much contention as there is now – Medea, for example, was only awarded third place.

In the end, it’s about recognition. I know plenty of authors who have their work published and then worry that their publisher made an error – authors are full of self-doubt! So it’s lovely to be rewarded for one’s literary prowess, or ability to make children laugh, and then have sales spike too. (The prize money helps – most authors earn very little).

And publicity – the more we talk about books, the more we celebrate books and writers, the more attention we draw to them, and spread the word about reading and books, then hopefully the more we inspire children to read. Because books are “dreams that you hold in your hand” (Neil Gaiman).