Now in its 10th year and an accepted, even looked for, feature of the Children’s Book Year, you might wonder if The Other Award could be losing its alternative edge and settling into a more ‘establishment’ role. So while sending congratulations and wishing them Many Happy Returns, it’s good to report that Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann, who inaugurated the award, and the members of the Other Award panel have managed to keep clear and even usefully refine the aims which originally inspired the award: ‘to draw attention to progressive books of literary merit, and to give recognition to writers and illustrators who are taking positive steps to widen the literary experience of young people today.’
The award and those associated with it have had a considerable impact on children’s publishing – something which must compensate for the ridicule and even abuse which sometimes comes their way. Long may they continue for there can be few involved with children and books who would disagree with this statement which accompanied the announcement of this year’s commended books.
‘More and more parents, teachers, librarians and illustrators are becoming dissatisfied with the narrow range of experience, attitudes, and information offered to children and young people in their literature overall. Too many of today’s children’s books continue to offer harmful stereotypes, or omit large areas of experience in their treatment of sex roles, race, class and culture, age and disability. Such, stereotypes are socially divisive and psychologically damaging.
The concern of the Other Award is thus that there should be available to children in their literature overall, a wider and more accurate representation of human experience and situation, and above all that groups of people usually ignored, patronised or misrepresented in children’s literature should have their rightful place in the books that children and young people read.’
This year the award panel commended four books, with the accompanying comments.
A Chair for my Mother
Vera B Williams, Julia MacRae Books, 0 86203 140 0, £4.95
With vibrant impressionistic illustrations framed with decorative friezes this exceptional US picture book tells how a small girl and her waitress mother slowly save up for a ‘fat, soft armchair’ so that Mama can ‘take a load off (her) feet’ when she gets home from work. Based on Vera B Williams’ memories of her own childhood during the poverty of the Depression years, this moving story conveys the gritty reality of hardship and overwork, but also the unquenchable human capacity for beauty and joy – in the longed-for armchair ‘with roses all over it’. For under 6s.
Wheel Around the World
Compiled by Chris Searle, ill. Katinka Kew Macdonald, 0 356 09213 5, £4.50
A progressive collection of poems which celebrates the universality of the human experience in countries around the world (‘Children Cry’, ‘Family’) as well as looking at particular work situations (‘The Factory Worker’, ‘Doon the Pit’) and particular communities (‘Trouble in my Flats’, ‘Jamaica Market’). Several poems treat the role of women in different societies (‘The Shearer’s Wife’, ‘Lizzie’). The poets range from the internationally famous (Bertold Brecht, Victor Jara) to young poets of eight to eleven years old. Illustrated with fluid line drawings, this is an excellent poetry collection for eight to twelve year olds.
Brother in the Land
Robert Swindells, Oxford University Press, 0 19 271491 0, £5.95
The Northern town of Shipley escapes a direct hit when nuclear weapons strike every major British town. Among the dazed survivors are Danny and his seven year old brother – but what existence can there be in what is now a ‘landscape of poisonous desolation’? With sober precision Robert Swindells incorporates the stark reality of devastation and death in this urgently written novel which raises fundamental questions for the teenage reader about the political systems that can engage in the `arms race’.
Who Lies Inside
Timothy Ireland, Gay Men’s Press, 0 907040 30 6, £2.95
When sixth former Martin finds himself attracted to Gerald, one of the players in the visiting school rugby team, he is determined not to let ‘the stranger that had wriggled under (his) skin’ be seen. How Martin eventually finds the courage to defy friends’ and parents’ expectations and recognise his gayness is realistically told in this strong and sensitive novel for teenagers.
The Other Award is given annually for books published in the 12 months up to 30 June. It is not accompanied by a money or other prize. Comments, enquiries etc. c/o Children’s Book Bulletin, 4 Aldebert Terrace, London SW8 1BN.