The Children’s Book Award
A Giant Success for Roald Dahl and The BFG
The third Children’s Book Award, given by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, goes to The BFG by Roald Dahl (Cape, 0 224 02040, 4, £6.50).
The award, for a work of fiction for children under fourteen, is unusual in that children play a part in deciding which book shall be the winner. Members of the Federation all over the country try out books with children in families, playgroups, schools and libraries and collect their responses. The children have the last word when it comes to choosing the winner.
Pat Thomson, award co-ordinator reports.
“Something very tall and very black and very thin” steals Sophie away one night. Fortunately the something is the Big Friendly Giant, quite unlike the horrible ‘human bean’-eating giants that threaten the world. Between them Sophie and the BFG devise a plan to persuade the Queen herself to mobilise the armed forces, and the dangerous giants are defeated.
The BFG has a particular language of his own and the children enjoyed the amazing vocabulary and the giant lore. The personal habits of the giant exercised considerable fascination! The Queen behaves with commendable sang froid and the raid on the giants satisfied the more vigorous spirits.
The BFG combines many of the features that make a book work for children: an exciting beginning, humour at their level, and striking, memorable characters. A book to enjoy.
The ‘Top Ten’ runners-up are:
The Baby’s Catalogue
Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Kestrel, 0 7226 5777 3. £4.95
This year’s best baby book. Talked about and enjoyed by all. 0+
Shirley Hughes, Bodley Head, 0 370 304160, £4.25
New wellies are the subject of Alfie’s concentrated attention. Pictures packed with accurate observation and homey details. 3+
Ernest and Celestine
Gabrielle Vincent, Julia MacRae Books, 0 86203 072 2, £3.50
Tender tale of a mouse and a protective bear in pictures that are consistently interesting and elegant. 4+
Brian Wildsmith, Oxford, 0 19 279764 6, £4.95
The brilliant glowing colours draw the child. 5+
The Sea People
Jorg Muller and Jorg Steiner, Gollancz, 0 575 03088 7, £5.95
Consistently well received. A firm, plain tale of two contrasted island peoples. Illustrated by pictures which have the fascination of maps. 6+
Jane Gardam, Julia MacRae Books, 0 86203 066 8, £2.95
Short read-it-yourself book of the highest quality. The village joins forces to preserve the white horse. Enjoyed by urban and rural children alike. 7+
Dick King-Smith. Gollancz, 0 575 03116 6. £5.50
Best young novel in our top ten which ran The BFG very close. Skilfully written, excellent plot and characterisation. Very funny. 9+
The Dark Behind the Curtain
Gillian Cross. Oxford, 0 19 271457 0, £5.95
The menacing characters in the school play threaten to overwhelm the actors, A real thriller. 11+
Rosemary Harris, Faber. 0 571 11947 6, £5.95
Tense, always involving. Zed relives the hours spent as a hostage, seeing them with a more mature eye. 13+
Morton Rhue, Kestrel, 0 7226 5810 9. £4.95 and Puffin Plus, 0 14 031522 5, £1.25
The class cannot understand the power of Nazism so the history master tries an experiment. Excellent. 14+
The Guardian Award
Winner: The Village by the Sea by Anita Desai
The Village by the Sea tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lila and twelve-year-old Hari who with a desperately ill mother and a drunken father assume the responsibility of keeping the family, including two younger sisters, going. The village is Thul, on the west coast of India, a place where the developed world makes itself felt in the threat/promise of industrial development, the entrepreneurial ambitions (half comic, half heroic) of a local fisherman, and the regular visits of a rich Bombay family to their summer cottage. Hari seeking work in Bombay meets that world head on and, with luck and help, learns to survive, as does the whole family.
Stephanie Nettell, Children’s Books Editor of the Guardian, reporting on the award comments
‘It is indeed her delicate balance of locality and universality, of the concerns of the Third World which yet emerge as the concerns of all the world that makes Anita Desai’s book so special.
Despite the simple action and classically pure style – though Desai has warmed her cool, spare adult prose with unashamed affection – this is a book for older children, if only because of the intricate pattern of all its layers and levels. The Village by the Sea is a tender work of art, born of a marriage of intellect and passion, conceived by a love not only of the children of Thul but of children everywhere.’
The Village by the Sea (Heinemann, 0 434 93436 4, £5.50) is Anita Desai’s second children’s book. She grew up in Delhi, the daughter of a Bengali father and a German mother, and now lives in Bombay with her husband and four children. She is also well-known for her adult novels and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1980 for Clear Light of Day.
The runner-up for the Award is Ring-Rise, Ring-Set by Monica Hughes (Julia MacRae Books, 0 86203 069 2, £5.95).
Scientists looking for a way to save the high-tech civilisation of future Earth from a new ice age find a solution which threatens the survival of a ‘tribe of savages’ and their simpler culture. Lisa who identifies with both groups is at the centre of the dilemma.
‘Monica Hughes offers no comforting answers, but her novel is both a good fun read for teenagers and a stimulant for deeper thought.’
The Guardian Award is presented annually for an outstanding contribution to imaginative literature for children. The judges this year were Andrew Davies, Penelope Lively, Michael Rosen, Geoffrey Trease and Stephanie Nettell.
The Mother Goose Award
Winner: Satoshi Kitamura for Angry Arthur
This is the fifth year of the Mother Goose Award given to `the most exciting newcomer in British children’s book illustration’. It was inaugurated by Clodagh Alborough (another activist in the early days of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, and a fanatical enthusiast for picture books) who conceived the idea and provided five bronze eggs to get things going. The award, now a well-established feature of the children’s books year, has found a new sponsor in the book club, Books for Children.
The panel of judges was larger this year with three new members: Sally Grindley (Books for Children), Jane Little (Lambeth Librarian), and Colin McNaughton. They joined Shirley Hughes, Jan Pienkowski, Chris Powling, Rosemary Stones and Fiona Waters.
Angry Arthur is published by Andersen Press (0 86264 017 2, £3.95).
Angry Arthur is an allegorical picture book account of a small boy’s temper tantrum. Fury builds up until the whole world begins to collapse, but when it stops Arthur has forgotten why he became so angry.
Satoshi Kitamura uses the diagonal line, distortion and sharp edges to great effect in portraying the destructiveness of Arthur’s anger. The drama is further increased by the moody backdrop of dark blues and purples from which his whites and solid colours jump out in stark contrast to draw the eye and add dimension. Throughout, there are odd touches of humour that serve as a reminder of how ridiculous and futile Arthur’s anger is.
MOTHER GOOSE MEETS ANGRY ARTHUR
Chris Powling, one of the judges, gives a personal view of what happened when
…or, to be accurate, Satoshi Kitamura. Each year we Mother Goose judges remind ourselves that the Award – with its bronze egg and its £200 cash prize – goes to an illustrator not to a book. It’s even on our notepaper: for the most exciting newcomer to British children’s book illustration. We jog our own memories about three other snags which crop up annually, too. The first is that a newcomer is someone making a debut, not necessarily a novice; the second is that a first -time published illustrator is unlikely to carry much clout with the design-and-production department; and the third is that any accompanying text is not up for our assessment but is merely the peg on which the pictures are hung.
If all this seems easy and obvious enough then you’re either a lot brighter or a lot dafter than we are. Consider, for example, the relative weight that should be given such factors with reference to 1983’s runners-up alone. How much of the credit for Chris Winn s casually elegant Outlawed Inventions should go to his designer at Pepper Press, Nick Thirkell? And in the case of Trouble for Trumpets (Benn), were our doubts about the static quality of Peter Cross’s outrageously accomplished pictures in part a product of a text that, surely, was added afterwards? The simplest query to resolve concerned John Prater’s warmly accessible On Friday Something Funny Happened (Bodley Head) – we soon decided that the occasional weaknesses in draughtsmanship here were consistent with a promise yet to be fulfilled and were more than offset by counter-balancing strengths. But all these were runners-up, remember. Already, in a year so rich in entries that at least six other illustrators were strongly fancied, sheer quality had brought Winn and Cross and Prater to the top of the pile.
Hence the astonishing achievement of Satoshi Kitamura. He took the lead pretty nearly from the beginning, always odds-on however much the starting-prices of other favourites fluctuated during our meetings. In the end he romped home, scooping up egg, cash and cachet in the process. Yet here is a young artist whose work, before Angry Arthur, had been turned down by about a dozen British publishers – who was ready to give up any idea of being an illustrator and return to Tokyo which he’d left in 1979 to study at the Byam Shaw School of Art. Now, at the age of 27, he’s arrived well and truly. Already he has a second book, called Ned and the Joybaloo, scheduled for publication in the Autumn. For this, too, he must thank Andersen’s Klaus Flugge who gave him a flying start in the form of Hiawyn Oram’s superb two-hundred-word text (about a quarter of the length of this piece) and then followed this up with a flying finish by making sure the design and book production of Angry Arthur were first-rate. Both advantages, needless to say, were duly allowed for by the time beady-eyed judges had reached their decision.
Not that Satoshi Kitamura didn’t deserve such luck. His artwork for Angry Arthur is simply sensational. Page-by-page the illustrations plot Arthur’s expanding tantrum without any apparent fuss yet with a stunningly detailed and sophisticated draughtsmanship that keeps the overall message clearly in view. Even the marvellous freedom of the colour washes depicting air and water somehow back up, by contrast, the destructive grip of Arthur’s rage. Chaos looms even larger with each spread and Arthur’s white, tight face is always at the centre of it. But it’s also a hilarious book. As Arthur’s Universe dissolves so does the reader – with laughter at the sheer, pointless extravagance of it all. What we’ve got here is not just a worthy winner of the 1983 Mother Goose Award but a picture-book that bears comparison with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, with Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car, with Where the Wild Things Are, with Dogger, with Tricker-Tracker… just name your classic.
Is it really that good?
Of course it is… in my opinion. My fellow judges may, or may not, go quite so far in their approval. For me Angry Arthur makes the crucial moral point that there’s almost always a total mis-match between the intensity of a tantrum and the importance of what caused it. I’ve read the book to umpteen children and they’ve all understood this very clearly while greatly relishing Arthur’s bolshiness because it reminds them of what they’ve already begun to perceive: that it’s possible to be your own worst enemy. Instead of cosily placating the younger reader Angry Arthur takes the bold step of helping youngsters come to terms with their bad feelings by making them funny. Isn’t this a vital part of growing up? Yet there’s no preaching, no patronage. Enlightenment is brought about by entertainment alone – the teaming of a deft text with dazzling illustration. What more can we ask of a picture book?
The runners-up for this year’s award were:
Peter Cross for Trouble for Trumpets, Benn, 0 510 00122 X, £5.95
John Prater for On Friday Something Funny Happened, Bodley Head, 0 370 30449 7, £4.50
Chris Winn for Outlawed Inventions, Pepper Press, 0 237 45616 8, £3.95
Tony Blundell received an honourable mention for his black and white illustrations for Roger McGough’s The Great Smile Robbery, Kestrel, 0 7226 5758 7, £4.95.