Earlier today the Embassy in London hosted a breakfast to discuss trends in children’s literature and how to promote reading among children and youth. The breakfast was organized ahead of the announcement of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award next week, and one of the topics for discussion was the role of prizes and awards in raising the profile of children’s literature and reading.
Among the 40 guests were two of the British nominated candidates – Professor Michael Rosen and Fen Coles of Letterbox Library – along with several nominating bodies as well as authors, reading promotion organizations and publishers.
Ambassador Nicola Clase kicked off the morning by stressing the importance of reading – how it develops cognitive skills and emotional intelligence; encourages creativity and expands the imagination. She then handed over to Charlotte Eyre of The Bookseller, to start the discussion. Charlotte described the process of developing the YA Book Prize, a new prize for UK and Irish books for young adults, of which she is jury chair. The prize has been developed in close dialogue, through social media, with youths, which has created a unique involvement and ownership of the prize from its intended audience. But beyond prizes, what else can be done to increase reading among young people?
What followed was a spirited debate, covering topics such as gender differences when it comes to reading ability and attitudes towards reading, the role of education as well as libraries, and the pivotal role of role models.
Pam Dix, chair of IBBY UK, seconded the importance of literary prizes, not least because children love to talk to each other about things they do, read or hear about. An award can start that conversation, and thus be an inspiration. In the same vein it was also said that there only needs to be one reader in a class – this one person can inspire everyone else.
One of the final remarks came from Steve Gardam, the recently appointed director of The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. He underlined the importance of accentuating the positives of reading – that any reading, be it comics or the sports pages, can be a gateway to more reading.
The various perspectives that came to light contributed to a multifaceted and thoughtful discussion. A belief that most guests seemed to have in common was how important the feeling of pure enjoyment is as a driving force when it comes to children and young adults reading more.
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Sweden