The UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) Book Awards are relative newcomers to the world of children’s books, but they are beginning to make a genuine difference to children and teachers’ lives both in and out of the classroom. Joy Court explains the unique structure and benefits that make the UKLA Book Awards so special.
First awarded in 2008 they were developed as a positive strategy to encourage teachers to read more contemporary children’s books. The UKLA Teachers As Readers research had highlighted both the dearth of knowledge about children’s books within the profession and yet also recognised the positive influence a reading teacher can have on creating children who read. Such a teacher is becoming even more important to children’s lives in an era when public libraries are disappearing!
This teaching ethos is most delightfully captured by Chris Wormell in the image of joyous children bearing aloft placards revealing Our Class Loves This Book! A framed limited edition of this image is among the prizes won by an outstanding teacher of literacy in the latest of the innovative developments shepherded in by awards chair, Lynda Graham. The Book Awards themselves have grown from a simple award for a picture book and a novel (first won by Polly Dunbar for Penguin and by Philip Reeve for Here Lies Arthur) to the three age categories which are in place today with Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers winning the 3-6 category with The Day the Crayons Quit; Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre‘s Oliver and the Seawigs winning the 7-11 and David Levithan winning the 12-16 with Every Day. Our Class Loves This Book (OCTLB) is the latest incarnation of the John Downing Award for creative literacy teaching which, from 2013, has been directly linked with the UKLA Book Awards since the creative teaching is required to be in response to a shortlisted book. It was the outstanding stories coming from the Book Award judges, of what was happening in their schools, which had suggested this link would be fruitful.
It is, indeed, this judging process which makes the UKLA so unique and special. They are the only awards to be judged by class teachers. This fact alone makes the shortlisted and winning books very marketable to schools and families and increasingly makes these awards important to publishers. An initially pragmatic decision to recruit those judges from the geographical area surrounding the venue for the next International Conference (the highlight of the UKLA year and where the winners’ presentations take place) has fortuitously resulted in infecting teachers with the reading bug right across the UK as the location of the conference moves around!
The teachers are recruited to read for a specific age group and will each receive a copy of all the 20 or so longlisted titles. (These longlists are selected by a UKLA panel who read all the 300+ submissions from publishers). Teacher judges can see firsthand the impact of the books as they share them with their classes and their school benefits directly from the influx of top quality brand new books. They meet regularly in their groups and discover the joys of discussing books with their peers. So much so that many groups have continued to meet after their judging has finished!
All of these teachers (usually numbering around 60 in total) come together in a passionate debate to decide the shortlist of 6 titles in their categories. Each of the smaller groups nominates one of their number to go forward as a final judge. That final panel of 12 then has to read the shortlists in all three age categories and so they have nursery teachers reading hard hitting teenage novels and secondary English specialists discovering the joys of picture books! The impact of being involved in this process cannot be underestimated. Two of the final judges in 2015 have even been given new roles and responsibilities in their school: one developing reading for pleasure in the whole school and another seconded to build a reading culture in an academy group of schools.
But it is not just the teacher judges that are being infected with reading. Since 2012 trainee teachers in universities across the UK have been invited to ‘shadow’ the judges. They, or their institutions, have to source their own copies of the books, which further increases sale of the shortlists, and then enjoy a secret Facebook group, as well as face to face meetings within their institutions to share their responses before participating in an online vote for their own favourites. Gill Lewis and Elizabeth Wein were particularly delighted at this year’s ceremony to be shadowing winners for Scarlet Ibis (7-11) and Rose Under Fire (12-16) respectively. The shadowers made the same choice as the judges in the 3-6 category!
So what is the link with Chris Wormell? The very first winner of the revamped John Downing Award worked with his wonderful picture book Eric…the Hero? Chris was able to attend the Book Award announcement at the conference that year and to stay on to attend the customary winner’s seminar presentation and to meet the children who helped their teacher present the work. In 2015, to gain a higher profile for the award, UKLA turned to Chris to come up with a design for the now re-named Our Class Loves This Book Award and the committee fell in love with his first sketch.
With the sponsorship of the Just Imagine Story Centre, UKLA can now also offer the winning teacher’s school a free visit from the author that inspired their entry. So this year Jamila Gavin had the chance to spend the day before conference in Stenson Field Primary School and described herself as ‘thoroughly energised. I think writers, beavering away in solitude, can sometimes despair that there is anyone reading their books, or that the forces ranged up against creative teaching in schools, are just too powerful in the battle to reach the needs of all children’.
‘I was thrilled that my book, Blackberry Blue, which was shortlisted for the UKLA award, was part of a separate award for the teacher who most inspired her class with a book from the short list. The winner, Emma Faulkner inspired her class with such a passion, that they, in turn produced their own inspired writing and illustration. I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of their work, and the poised and powerful presentation they made at the conference. I really felt an award winner myself.’
But things never stand still in the UKLA world. The latest refinement to the OCLTB Award is to make the timetable more accommodating. In future, submissions will be based upon the previous year’s shortlists with a deadline for submissions in February and presentation at the conference in July as usual. So class teachers have more opportunity to study the books over the summer, integrate them into their planning and to prepare their entry. Full details and advice on getting involved with quality texts can be found on the UKLA website
This does mean, for this year only, that teachers will have a second opportunity to work with the 2015 shortlists, but it will mean an extended period of interest in and potential sales for the shortlisted titles every year. Yet another reason why the unique UKLA Book Awards are indeed becoming the ones to watch!
Books referred to
Cremin, T., Bearne, E., Mottram, M., Goodwin, P. (2007) Teachers As Readers Phase1 (2006-7) Research Report http://www.ukla.org/downloads/TARwebreport/doc
Polly Dunbar, Penguin Walker, 978-1406312461, £6.99
Philip Reeve, Here Lies Arthur Marion Lloyd Books, 978-1407132754, £6.99
Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit, HarperCollins, 978-0007513765, £6.99
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, Oliver and the Seawigs, OUP, 978-0192734884. £6.99
David Levithan, Every Day, Egmont, 978-1405264426, £7.99
Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis, OUP, 978-0192793560, £6.99
Elisabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire, Egmont, 978-1405265119, £7.99
Chris Wormell, Eric..the Hero? Red Fox, 978-1849412841, £7.99
Jamila Gavin and Richard Collingwood, Blackberry Blue, Tamarind, 978-1848531079, £6.99