From alms prize money for children’s book authors
Shortly thereafter in an interview Atua Author Gavin Bishop won New Zealand’s children’s book award last month with the Margaret Mahy Supreme Prize. plus the illustration category, plus in the non-fiction category (I’d want the man to get the red card if he wasn’t such a nice guy), he offered a discreet comparison.
A top Ockhams Book Awards winner, honoring the work of authors for Big People, takes home a earned $60,000, Bishop noted. (In fact, next year it will go up to $62,000.) He got $7,500. His three total triumphs – wins in each category of children’s prizes are also $7500; equivalents in the Ockhams cost $10,000 – earning him less than half what a single Ockham Supreme Award brings. Incidentally, that second comparison is mine, not Bishop’s.
Like him, I’m delighted that the Ockham winners are getting so much; I like almost all rewards for another author, although I make exceptions for Jeffrey Archer and Bob Jones. I too wonder, like him, why our children’s writers get so little in comparison.
For a number of years NZ Post was the open sponsor of the Children’s Book Awards. I remember a ceremony where CEO Sir Michael Cullen had to apologize for stepping over me—at least past me—every time he went to a presentation. Then emails replaced envelopes; people stopped buying postage stamps; this sponsorship disappeared.
Since then, prize money for children’s book authors has shrunk. The long-running Esther Glen Award used to be a separate honor with a medal and $1,000 in cash. It has now been included in the Junior Fiction category for the grand prizes. The Children’s Choice awards, which brought in $500 for young readers’ favorite book in each category, are gone.
Pause here to say that I am very, very grateful to those who contribute to our Children’s Book Awards: Creative NZ, Hell Pizzas, The Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, the NZ Soc of Authors and others. I also marvel at the work of the volunteers who make the awards week possible. But the prices have shrunk.
At the award ceremony, there were pizzas from a stack of boxes. Also very tasty, but can you imagine such food at Occams?
So have the venues. When I first shortlisted a book, the winners were announced at Government House, often in the presence of the Viceroy. Then the event moved to a chamber in the hive. Then to the Circa Theater. This year it was the Alan Gibbs Center at Wellington College, essentially a school hall with not much parking around it.
Another pause to appreciate the college’s courtesy in providing this venue, plus – again – the work of these volunteers in securing it. It is a large room, very necessary as over 500 attended the event. It cannot be said that public interest has waned.
But it was a school hall, with cold drafts blowing through the curtains, and we old boys in the front row of finalists (me, Bishop, the noble illustrator David Elliot) were arguing about whose teeth and knees were chattering the most. After that there were drinks and food, which consisted almost entirely of pizzas – thanks again hell – made out of stacks of boxes. Very tasty but can you imagine such a venue and food at Ockhams?
A few years ago, I walked away with two awards and $8,000. I came home flushed to find an $800 installment claim
I repeat – it’s the big Ockham winners who get their $60,000+. This can give an author the freedom to write full-time for a carefully measured year. The equivalent of $7500 for children offers such freedom for… two months? And yes, we are grateful for that. A few years ago, I walked away with two awards and $8,000. I came home flushed to find an $800 installment claim. Oh, and the awards were taxable.
It puzzles me that our children’s book awards aren’t attracting more sponsors.
I think it’s partly a self-perpetuating thing. Their profile has shrunk, hence potential promoters are less attracted, hence the profile continues to shrink, hence potential promoters…etc etc.
The awards (just like the Ockhams) must also compete for financial support with other, potentially more influential, arts: theatre, music, ballet, opera. And with a variety of sports filling screens and partially filling stadiums. I mean, Ardie Savea taking on three springboks, or an eighty-year-old author talking about his novel for younger teens (his name is Coast Guard, available in well-stocked bookstores, by the way)? A sponsor might not see it as much of a competition.
Does the prize money for our children’s book awards reflect condescension, as in the snobbery of the art and literary world? A perception that books for children are somehow less important than those aimed at adult readers? (Although like even a university critic might think so after reading Bishops Majestic Atua is incomprehensible.) I’ve never encountered such an attitude, although some colleagues get quite snarky with claims they have. I’ve always found our publishers to be supportive and enthusiastic in their work for younger readers. Fair enough, locally published children’s books account for about 30 percent of sales in this area. They are not only bought by children, but also by parents, grandparents, other whanau members, libraries, schools.
Nor have I found our adult writers to reject children’s books. I’m usually treated like a fellow trader who shares the same joys and sorrows. As someone who works in a different genre, I occasionally encounter a certain insecurity. And children’s writing is a genre, as is crime fiction or fantasy/sci-fi fiction, which I would point out also have their own coveted, modest New Zealand accolades.
What could be a more virtuous cause and positive image than supporting New Zealand children to read?
Maybe some potential sponsors don’t feel qualified to work with children? After all, it is a semi-alien life form. Or do they perhaps see children as a market with limited purchasing power? (But think back to all those two-paragraph buyers.)
However, I’m still amazed that companies and corporations don’t line up to sponsor our Children’s Book Awards.
What could be a more virtuous cause and positive image than supporting the reading of New Zealand children and the authors who write affirmative New Zealand books for them? Do I even need to mention the intellectual, social, emotional, and psychological benefits of reading from an early age, the investment in balanced future citizens (and our next generation of writers) that it represents?
And think of the photo ops: benevolent sponsor alongside happy, eager kids. Surely any publicist would give her/his dentures for a shot like this?
Our Children’s Book Awards are a bright, golden opportunity for a company or society to be the good guys in an unassailable good cause. For the sake of heaven and literacy, get your PR folks on it today.
New Zealand children’s books make up almost 40 per cent of Whitcoull’s annual Top 50 Kids Books poll, which was announced this morning. Below is a list of the top 20, with Kiwi books in bold.
1 Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
2 Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd
3 Dog Man Series by Dav Pilkey
4 the very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
5 Wings of Fire series by Tui T Sutherland
6 Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
7 Aroha series by Craig Phillips & Rebekah Lipp
8th Cat Kid Comic Club series by Dav Pilkey
9 The little yellow excavator by Alan and Betty Gilderdale
10 How am I? by Craig Phillips & Rebekah Lipp
11 The Tree House series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
12 The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler
13 villain series by Aaron Blabey
14 The wobbly donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley
fifteen The Babysitters Club by Ann M. Martin
16 Tulip and Doug by Emma Wood & Carla Martell
17 Kuwi’s first egg by KatQuin
18 The cat in the hat from Dr. seuss
19 Nee Naw the little fire truck by Deano Yippadee & Paul Beavis
20 The worst children’s series in the world by David Walliams and Tony Ross