School librarians are very familiar with the Carnegie and Greenaway awards. For decades the announcement of the winning books has been eagerly anticipated, awaited and then debated--often at length--by the whole children's book world, including many teachers. But there has not, until now, been a nationally recognised award for children's books that is directly related to an educational context. Although still somewhat of a 'new kid on the block, the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA), sponsored by MLS (Micro Librarian Systems) has set out to do just that. UKLA is the leading association in the UK that represents anyone involved in literacy education and the teaching of English. UKLA is a registered charity, which has as its sole object the advancement of education in literacy. It is concerned with literacy in school and out-of-school settings in all phases of education. Its membership--which includes a fair number of colleagues from across the globe--includes nursery, primary and secondary teachers, leading academics, local authority advisors, librarians, researchers, HE lecturers, student teachers, publishers and booksellers. The UKLA Children's Book Award has, in fact, been in place for decades but it has played a rather insignificant role in the full range of UKLA awards. Its profile has been raised over the last five years as a result of decisions by the Executive Council of UKLA and following the highly praised Teachers as Readers research project (Cremin et al, 2008) which identified the need for teachers to become more familiar with children's books.
UKLA recognises the essential role of children's books in creating confident, competent young readers who read for pleasure and enlightenment. It is to that end that UKLA is committed to encouraging teachers to read and discuss the best of newly published children's books. We hope that giving more prominence to the Book Award will help to achieve that.
A change of direction
The change of status and direction of the award coincided with the appointment, in 2008, of Lynda Graham as the new chair of the Awards Committee. Lynda's career in education includes class teaching and having a leading advisory role in Croydon local authority. She knows how important it is that all teachers have a growing knowledge of children's books and is passionate about the central role played by teachers in children's lives as readers. Looking back on her own reading history, it was the powerful effect that listening to books read aloud can have on youngsters that came to mind. Lynda clearly remembered the time in Year 6 when The Little Grey Men by 'BB' was read aloud to her class by their teacher, Miss Badcock. 'It was the first time I'd experienced the magic of listening to a story alongside my friends. We shared the excitement as we listened to each episode. We were fearful together, we longed to know what would happen next. This poignant experience was a critical moment in my life as a reader'.
Over the three years since she took over the role of chair, Lynda has made major changes to every aspect of the award process in order to give it a higher profile. With advice from Nikki Gamble, the criteria for book submission and selection have been clarified and the practical educational context made more explicit. Over the next couple of years, more was done to widen participation in the award:
* children's publishers have been offered further information to ensure they submit what they consider their best titles (we are not looking for pedantic texts, just the best writing and pictures available for young readers);
* children's book specialists have been recruited to join with UKLA National Council members on the longlisting panel (this year the panel included Marilyn Brocklehurst, Joy Court, Nikki Gamble, Prue Goodwin, Lynda Graham (chair), Daniel Hahn and Althea Samuels);
* teams of teachers are now invited each year to be actively involved in the award by becoming the selectors of the shortlist and by providing the panel of judges that makes the final choice of winning books. …