The Book Show – Kids literature awards accused of elitism


Have you been listening to the ABC’s The Book Show recently? On June 11th they had a program entitled “Kids literature awards accused of elitism“.

James Panichi introduced discussion about this topic. The list of contributors to the discussion comprised the following: 

  • Melina Marchetta (Australian author of young adult fiction)
  • James Moloney (Australian children’s author)
  • Andy Griffiths (Australian children’s author)
  • Mike Shuttleworth (Program Manager, Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria) and
  • Anita Silvey (American children’s book expert)

Have a listen to the 25 minute podcast of the program if you missed it.

To paraphrase the RN site: There are plenty of places you can read about or hear disgruntled authors, argue that there is an underlying philosophy of snobbery among judges of children’s literature awards. I have seen articles about just this topic in news and journal articles in the UK, US and Australia. There are also lively debates between teacher librarians when the short list comes out and of course when the winners are announced.

A major factor in many of the arguments is that the top prizes often to go to books that a majority of  children don’t really want to read or particularly like. This is often borne out when you see the book lists that YA and younger readers compile when asked for favourite books or books they would reccomend. Look at the Inky Awards (Insideadog site) or Yabba awards to see what the kids are recommending.

Questions asked: Should popularity play a part in the judge’s decisions ? Is there anything inherently wrong with judges focusing on the highbrow end of the market? (or is that akin to adults giving children medicine “you may not like it but it is good for you”)

I know that there are teachers in my school who wonder why we have so many of the very popular books eg. graphic novels, Paul Jennings, Andy Griffiths, etc. They want the students to be reading “more worthy” books, although they themselves love reading “pulp” fiction novels, eg crime novels and thrillers when they want to relax.

I love the fact that many of our “better” readers, those that will read the classic or challenging novels are also amongst our greatest graphic novel readers. What is wrong with reading for entertainment, for relaxation, for enjoyment? I like to encourage the boys to challenge themselves with their reading but I have to get them reading first. Comfortable with the idea of reading and to that end I will try almost anything. I don’t want to be seen as a reading “Nazi”, dictating what someone must read, instead I find that by accepting the students initial choices, talking about those choices with them, I can make suggestions to them about moving on to other options and (sometimes) I am successful. 

S0 have a listen to the podcast before it disappears and, better still, subscribe so you don’t miss any of these great programs.


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