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


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.”


“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).



Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2015

Blown Away
This evening, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize was announced. Another book prize? I hear you moan. But actually book prizes can be really helpful in identifying book recommendations for your children, as most awards tend to be judged by experts in the field – those in the industry or children themselves! The shortlist for this year’s Waterstones prize was particularly strong – you can scroll down and see them at the end of this blogpost. The categories are split into three: illustrated book, fiction 5-12 years and teen. Then an overall book is chosen as the winner – and tonight it was Blown Away.

I did review Blown Away by Rob Biddulph in my Christmas penguin blogpost last year, but wanted to revisit it to explain why I think it’s a worthy winner. It tells the story of Penguin Blue, who flies his brand new kite, but gets swept away and taken on a journey far away from his native land. Those animals who try to rescue him are also taken along for the ride. The text rhymes, which makes it good to read aloud, but it’s the multitude of small detail that wins it for me. The animals from Antarctica are amazed when they stumble upon a jungle island, because, as Rob points out, green is not a colour they’ve seen before. The ending of the story also sits well: Rob explains that after his long journey away – this penguin isn’t made for flying. It’s a superbly neat ending for a penguin picture book.

There are great small details on each page – you’ll have to buy a copy to see the insides – but they include the seal’s washing (and the surprise post in his postbox), the numerous signposts, the numbered clouds in the sky, the name on the ice cream van, the texture on the sea – and even the endpapers. You can buy a copy here.

murder most unladylike

The book that won the 5-12 years fiction category was Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens, described as an Enid Blyton/Agatha Christie mashup. It’s fabulous, and one I have recommended on a individual basis many times. I fully intend to blog on the appeal of this new series and Robin Steven’s fantastic writing and characterisation when I get a minute. You can buy a copy here.

Best Illustrated Book:
The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony
The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton
Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
Where Bear? by Sophy Henn
Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland, words by Rachel Williams
The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull

Best Fiction for 5-12s:
Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth
Cowgirl by G R Gemin
Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Becka Moor
A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson