Wow. Just wow. What a year for children’s books it has been and indeed for reading and everyone involved in children’s publishing.
It all started back in January with the New Year’s Honours list: how wonderful to see so many children’s authors and illustrators given awards. There were MBEs, CBEs galore and even some Dames and Knights in recognition of the outstanding quality of the UK’s publishing for young people.
I think the superb media coverage of new kids’ literature has been a credit to everyone involved. The BBC’s fantastic twice-weekly book review show for children is so well made, featuring a really wide range of titles but the real winner for me has been the new series for adults recommending top new kids’ books and enabling busy parents to know what is out there and how good it is.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 News, ITV News and the Beeb have been competing with each other for the best coverage of the main children’s book awards in the main TV news slots: Channel 5’s one-hour special on the Carnegie shortlist was a triumph. And well done BBC radio too – we had 4 authors and illustrators on Desert Island Discs and brilliant interviews with publishers, reviewers and editors as well as several children’s writers on Radio 2 and Radio 5. Not a celeb ‘author’ in sight! Local TV and radio stations have been calling me for interviews nearly every week.
The newspapers have excelled themselves in 2017 with their reviews and features both in print editions and online. Every national daily now gives good coverage of picture books, kids’ novels and non-fiction, and the Sundays make sure that readers are up to date with the best books around. Elsewhere on the web there has been an explosion of great book review sites, with the best kids’ book bloggers receiving widespread coverage and being featured across social media.
It’s been so good to see so many children’s authors given recognition this year in so many ways. People seem to have finally registered that Roald Dahl is dead and that there are other good books beyond Harry Potter (and that comedians are not necessarily the best writers). It was great, for example, to see several writers in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, others on breakfast television and even some featuring in commercials. It’s certainly helped push up authors’ once pitifully low average earnings, especially now that publishers’ advances are higher with the massive UK-wide increase in sales.
Book festivals have now become the coolest places for young people to be, helped by widespread endorsement and the revival of interest in the power of stories and storytelling. It’s so good to see festivals featuring such a diverse range of voices, authors, illustrators and new talent. The emphasis on giving children and young people enjoyable events of all kinds has meant that families from right across the social spectrum are turning up to be entertained and enthralled by a huge range of authors and book artists.
But the best thing about 2017 for me was the Government’s huge investment of resources into the promotion of reading for pleasure both in schools and in society generally. Having finally acknowledged years of research findings that show how reading for enjoyment can enable social mobility, improve educational standards and reduce mental health problems, ministers have ploughed £600m into revamping the nation’s public libraries (and opening 18 new ones), buying books for schools and funding a trained librarian for every school, as well as reinstating fully-resourced SLS services across the nation. The funding of training for teachers to learn about the range of children’s books and to develop strategies for promoting a love of reading has been a huge success, especially as the withdrawal of the testing culture has brought so much new talent into the profession.
Putting reading for pleasure at the heart of the revamped curriculum has improved literacy skills beyond all expectations, especially as children across the UK have been massively inspired and enthused to read by the Education Department’s Authors into Schools initiative which pays for two children’s writers/illustrators to visit every school each term. The new Minister for Reading has consulted widely about ways to get books into the hands of poor families and to create wonderfully imaginative incentive schemes for parents to read to and with their children daily. And the thing is, everyone is enjoying it!
So, 2018, follow that. [Just hope I didn’t imagine it all…]