It's High Time We Hada National Award for Children's Literature

Cape Times (South Africa), October 21, 2011 | Go to article overview
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It's High Time We Hada National Award for Children's Literature


If you create books for young people and you want a sense of fulfilment, then it's best to live in Finland, Germany, Iceland or New Zealand or on the island of Cyprus. Why? Because they bestow more awards and accolades on their authors and illustrators.

I've been doing a survey of national book awards. Out of 45 countries which responded to the questionnaire, 29 have at least one national award for children's literature.

Many are government-sponsored; quite a few are awarded by national library associations.

Guess what? South Africa doesn't have one.

Major manufacturing companies also consider children's literature worthy of their attention. From 1985 to 2008, the top children's book award in the UK was the Smarties Book Prize (presented by Nestl[c]).

In Ireland, the top award remains the Bisto Book of the Year (presented by Premier Foods) consisting of a trophy and e10 000.

In Japan, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper group sponsors an annual international award in this field.

Guess what? No firm in South Africa gives regular recognition to our best children's books.

Nearly half of the responding countries also have an award for those working in the field of promoting children's literature, in the way that UK's Eleanor Farjeon Award has done for many years.

Sweden has a Gulliver Prize given annually to "a person who has done extraordinary things to promote good children's literature".

New Zealand has two awards in this field: the Margaret Mahy Medal & Lecture Award, and the Betty Gilderdale Award "for unsung heroes".

Sounds like these countries really do appreciate those who promote children's books and reading.

This research was done among the 74 member countries of the International Board on Books for Young People (Ibby) of which South Africa is one. There was a 60 percent response, of which 47 percent would seem to be fairly well supplied with awards and recognition in this field.

Eight countries indicated having no children's book awards at all, of which four are in Africa.

South Africa does have some awards, though very few achieve much publicity.

Most of those with cash prizes are awarded by publishers (logically) for their own publications.

What we lack conspicuously is any recognition for lifetime achievement. The two "great" awards in international youth literature - the Hans Christian Andersen Award medals (given by Ibby) and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (Swedish Arts Council) - both favour rewarding a lifetime of work, rather than a single specific book.

It's a fair question. Publication (and, hopefully, royalties) is a reward in itself. I would list these reasons:

l The status of literature: we want all South Africans to see that literature is important.

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