Writers and publishers are outraged by the non-award for children’s literature at Crossword Book Award 2011

When the Crossword book awards are announced (today, according to the website), there will be no award in the category of children’s writing. Children’s writing has been awarded in the past two editions, but this year the category of awards carries only an ‘honorary shortlist’ comprising five books.

After the announcement of the shortlist last month, the jury issued a statement saying, “Writing for children demands the best and the freshest of a writer's imagination, backed by a high degree of editorial skill. The listed books are good reads and tackle a variety of themes, but in the meld of originality, ideas, and narrative skill, they fall short. We looked for empathy rather than discrimination, fun rather than instruction, audacity rather than political correctness, wonder rather than world-weary ennui - and came away disappointed. We didn't find the quality of timelessness that so distinguishes award-winning material. We have listed five books for honourable mention. There is no award this year.”

Paro Anand, author of the recently published Wild Child and Other Stories and part of the jury that awarded the first prize for children’s writing in 2010, finds the gesture to have a honorary shortlist in place of an award condescending. She accepts the organisation’s premise that a prize should not be awarded simply because it has existed in the past, but “it (children’s literature) has been such a dedicated journey by a dedicated few, that to say they didn’t find even one book worthy of a prize is simply unacceptable.”

Manisha Chaudhry, head of content development at Pratham Books, a publishing house specialising in children’s literature, is also “pretty outraged that no book will be awarded.” Moreover, the fact that the prize lumps together writing for different ages, of different genres and from different languages, “raises the question whether the process has been thought through,” she adds.

Her concerns are echoed by Radhika Menon of Tulika Publishers which brought out two of the books on the honorary shortlist (Mayil Will Not Be Quiet and Beyond the Blue River), who says that the qualities that the jury found lacking in the books, have existed for quite some time now in writings for children. “While criticism is welcome, it has to be informed criticism with an understanding of the larger context of Indian children’s publishing,” she says. Swati of Eureka bookstore, a specialised children’s bookshop, feels that the contention about originality is valid, but adds that the statement is a “generalisation”. “It would have been a service if the jury had pointed out the ‘lacuna’ by identifying the work(s) that did not meet its criteria of criticism. Or, at least it should have given a reason for the ‘honourable mention’ that five of the books got,” she adds.

Commenting on the implications of the non-award for children’s literature, Radhika says awards, though ill-conceived, do help in ensuring visibility if not in shoring up sales given the indifference of large, chain bookstores. But they are not the only things. There are other platforms, such as festivals and school orders, which help in building children’s writing and publishing, so all is not lost she adds. According to Manisha, with the implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE), children's writing and publishing are on the cusp of taking off in a big way.

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