Thursday, March 23, 2017

Turning in ever decreasing circles

It was a surprise and a bit of a blow to see the recent announcement from the Book Awards Trust regarding changes to the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (you can check it out here). There are some positive developments in there - with increasing promotion of finalist titles through several initiatives and a revamped schedule of events that will see authors and illustrators hopefully reaching more of their young readers in what looks like a much more celebratory style - Good!

But my heart broke a little to see that these new intiatives come at the expense of the Children's Choice Awards. For a number of years children were able to vote for their favourite book from amongst the finalist titles. This was a limited approach with a format that tended to favour picture books but it encouraged engagement with all categories of New Zealand children's literature and was an important means of giving voice to our target audience. The prize was much coveted by authors and illustrators, a ringing endorsement from the people we write for. It was a huge thrill when The Were-Nana, my picure book with Sarah Anderson, won the Children's Choice Award in 2009. I love that book and I'm quietly chuffed that the children did too. It gave me the confidence to keep writing for children.

We rejoiced when Children's Choice expanded to acknowledge the book with the most votes in each book award category. And we were jubilant when  over the last few years children could vote for any book submitted for the book awards instead of just the finalists, and Children's Choice then drew up its own list of finalists and each category winner was feted individually. What a tremendous level of engagement for children around New Zealand. This expansion took some of the sting out of the cutting of the LIANZA awards. In a small country with a small population and little media exposure for local children's literature, the loss of these awards has been a real blow to the children's book community. The broadening of Children's Choice was seen as the ideal positive step forward, helping our local writers and illustrators achieve a greater connection with their audience, and giving that audience a chance to speak directly back to us through their choices. A real win:win.

And now it's gone completely.

I appreciate that giving potential voters access to all the eligible children's and young adults titles in a limited time frame, encouraging them to vote and collating the responses must be a significant and costly task. I understand that the organisation of a whole additional tier of finalists and winners adds a degree of complexity for the awards team. Maybe the administration of the Children's Choice Awards is ideally shared with another organisation, or could be reconstructed into a more manageable format that still allows children to have their say. How cool would it be if a dedicated sponsor came forward to fund Children's Choice. Our readers and their opinions are incredibly important to us and the future of children's literature in this country. Other countries with robust Children's Book Awards programmes have Children's Choice Awards. With tightening publishing lists and these cuts to children's book awards we are turning in ever decreasing circles.


Emma said...

Great post. I totally agree. It was the only time we actually got to hear from kids about what they liked, rather than hearing the same old things from the literary establishment.

It also seems rather unethical to accept entries - and entry fees - on the condition that the children's choice category was going ahead, only to axe it after entries had closed.

Pete Millett said...

I'm pleased that someone has posted about this important issue. It's understandable there have been major retractions in NZ due to the closure of four major publishers in recent years. What doesn't make sense is that the prize pool for our children's book awards is unaltered with the departure of some crucial sponsors. The current Margaret Mahy medal award can net the overall winner around $15,000. This is higher than the current prize pool for the international Pulitzer award. (£6,700/US$10,000). Additionally the Clip Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Prizes have no monetary value and all costs are spent on administering them. Given the changes that have happened it would be inevitable to reduce the prize pool pay-outs to spread their reach further. If the overall total budget for the awards is $55,000, it would make sense to reduce each categories prize pool to retain the children's choice awards. (And use the funds towards administration costs.) Most booksellers will tell you that their sales for the children's choice entries spike during the voting process. I know a number of writers who would happily forgo prize money in return for having their books promoted nationally during the awards. Further proof of this is authors who are actually paying between 180-$360 themselves to participate in the awards. The voter turnout in 2015 was unprecedented. Nearly 20,000 children voted. Something doesn't make sense here. I think the decision is up to all NZ children's authors if they want to see the children's choice awards disappear for good. As technology improves and systems become streamlined it should get easier and easier to involve children in the process. Yes, funding will always been an issue, but it would be completely out of kilter with the rest of the world that we walk away from involving children in their own book awards.

Soraya Lane - Romance Author said...

I am absolutely devastated. I personably paid my own entry free, for THREE books, because I was told that it was the only way to be part of the Children's Choice award. I write commercial fiction for middle grade kids. I am NEVER going to be considered by the judges as worthy of being a finalist, because I don't write literary fiction, but kids love commercial fiction and it was a way for our work to be celebrated by the audience we're writing for. I can't believe I paid hundreds of dollars for this, I'm just so annoyed. This is not about the prize money, it's about the chance to be judged by all those wonderful young readers who voted each year for their favourite book.