Why the Children’s Choice Category matters in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Posted: June 30, 2017 in Primary School, Secondary
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I have been pondering writing this post for a few weeks now as I consider my blog to be mostly about books, book trailers and reviews and I tend to shy away from anything else. However as reluctant as I was to share this post I now feel compelled to.  So, for what it is worth, these are my thoughts on the current discussions surrounding the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and the lack of the Children’s Choice category this year.

Along with many librarians up and down the country we received the official statement regarding the reasoning for not having the Children’s Choice category. And I get it. I totally get where the committee are coming from and appreciate their reasoning but there is one side of the argument I want to share as I do feel the need to stand up for schools and librarians.

One of their reasons was that they “have witnessed a marked decline in the number of schools participating in the past few years”. I don’t dispute this at all but here is something to consider. 

These are my own thoughts based on being a school librarian, a writer and someone who has worked in a children’s bookshop for ten years.

Sadly, schools are not obliged to provide a library or a librarian, qualified or not. At secondary level the majority by far employ a full time librarian and can get behind events such as the book awards. I am in the minority as a primary school librarian who very fortunately gets to work full time. Many work less than 25 hours per week, and there are those where a librarian is employed for only an hour a day and that is to cover the lunch break only. How on earth are they going to try to organise voting for children’s book awards with so little time. It is completely out of the question. Emails from places like the book awards people don’t always make it to the librarian if they are only there 2-3 days a week with limited hours so they miss out on information. Working such limited hours also means they are reluctant to attend network meetings with other librarians so again miss out on information. We also know there are schools without a librarian at all and those without even a library. This breaks my heart but that’s another post!

Surely if our education system wants us to focus on literacy, then a well-staffed, well-stocked library is a must. It should be funded by government and not one of those things that gets left behind when schools try to juggle budgets. 

As a librarian with a limited budget I do not, nor ever have, just gone and bought all the books on the finalists lists. I buy the ones that I believe children will enjoy and the ones I can afford. In the past I encouraged children to vote. I had big displays and discussed the books with my students. We posted off the postcards and in later years the library computers had the voting pages bookmarked for easy access. What the children loved about the awards was their chance to vote, to have a voice. Their voting they knew, could make a difference.

In the bookshop where I worked, again we had displays, voting forms.  We always had a night put aside and held a public panel discussion on the award books and picking our own winners. I was also a committee member for the Christchurch area in the days of NZ Post Book awards and we organised many events, one time even making it on to the national television news with an event.

As a writer with a novel in the Children’s Choice category a few years ago, I can tell you, that the fact that children had chosen my book themselves meant more than anything in the world. It didn’t win but it didn’t need to, because in my heart, the fact that children had chosen my book as a finalist and put me in the finals, was more than enough, more than a dream come true.

So I do feel for the current situation and understand why the choice may have been made, but I think it isn’t always clear cut why schools might not participate and that does matter. It matters because children’s voices determines what actually gets read and at the end of the day, isn’t that what is most important, our readers.

 

 

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Comments
  1. Carole Gardiner says:

    Thank you, this is an excellent blog post! I totally agree that it is such a shame that the children no longer get a say in these awards, after all they are the intended audience for these books, so surely their opinion of them should be of the utmost importance! I tried the voting one year, but it didn’t really take off in my secondary school, maybe because with only one copy of the finalists (and only those that are for a teen audience) in our library, it is too hard for more than a few students to get a chance to read them and form an opinion. I also totally agree with your comments on the lack of libraries and library staff in schools. As you say, how can the curriculum promote literacy when many students don’t even have a library in their school! Even in secondary schools, there are librarians who are only employed part time. It is just not right.

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    • Thank you. One of the things I noticed with some of the threads coming through is that the public do not realise that schools don’t have libraries or dedicated and full-time librarians. It is librarians passion that drives events like the book awards but this lack of them seems to be a well kept secret almost as if schools are ashamed because in reality schools know they really should have librarians. I believe for the most part, that teachers teach children to read but it is the passion, dedication and expertise of a librarian who teaches a child to love to read. Events like the book awards help children make connections between reader, writer, illustrator and that has so much impact on young lives.

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