Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’.
It’s wonderful that Australia will have The Readings Children’s Book Prize alongside established awards like the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards and the Centre for Youth Literature’s (young adult-focused) Inky Awards. The Readings Children’s Book Prize will be a valuable contribution to Australian youth literature, and go a long way to bringing recognition to authors who are often ignored by other literary institutions (many State Premier’s Literary Awards don’t recognise children’s literature as a separate category, for example, and often lump it with YA or overlook it completely).
Emily Gale is a children’s & YA book specialist at Readings, and a children’s & YA writer herself. Gale played a role in shaping the Prize and dedicating it to children’s literature, saying: ‘We decided to put the energy into an area of publishing that is extremely important but doesn’t get as much love as YA. I think it comes down to the fact that there isn’t as much personal interest from adults in middle fiction, which YA has really benefited from, but it’s such a crucial reading stage and there’s so much variety there.’
Middle fiction (also called ‘MG’ or middle grade fiction) is for 8 to 12-year-olds and distinctly different from YA (for more on this distinction, read MG author Kelly Barnhill’s blog about the importance of distinguishing the two). There have been several notable MG success stories recently – Rebecca Stead’s award-winning books When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy, and the New York Times bestseller Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In Australia, Andy Griffiths and Morris Gleitzman have been beloved and bestselling authors in this age group for many years. These authors’ successes are even more impressive, because MG is such a hard readership to write, publish and sell to.
Eva Mills, Allen & Unwin’s Associate Publisher of Books for Children and Teenagers, explains: ‘Quality middle-grade children’s manuscripts have always been hard to find – we’ve always received the fewest submissions at this level. One of the most common mistakes I see in manuscripts at this level is a lack of real character development, as if 9 to 12 year olds don’t have the same depth, complexities and inner worlds as teenagers.’
But there is always high demand for quality MG, ‘We still see enormous interest in Australian authors at this readership level, from booksellers and schools as well as parents and children,’ says Mills. ‘It’s generally the age at which we see the biggest cohort of regular readers – most kids have learnt to read independently by the end of primary school, and have not yet been completely consumed by schoolwork and social media.’
That there is high demand for children’s and MG fiction is another reason The Readings Children’s Book Prize is such an important addition to Australian youth literature. Readings are helping to create recognition, media attention and prizes for this underserved demographic. And having a specific children’s prize also goes a long way to reminding people that Middle Grade and Young Adult are two distinct readerships, both immensely valuable in their own right, but deserving a prize of their own too.
Most importantly, Emily Gale believes the Prize will provide ‘a boost to Australian authors who are in the early stages of their career. We’re talking publicity but we’re also talking hard cash, let’s be honest! It’s not easy making a living as a children’s author in Australia (or anywhere for that matter).’
The Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist will be announced April 2nd.