Friday, November 20, 2009

History rules at the Children's Book Awards

Book award season continues. Last night in Toronto it was the Canadian Children's Book Centre award ceremony. This used to be the most modest and friendly of book events. Now it has some serious financial support from TD Bank, the (ahem) TD Bank Financial Group Children's Book Awards have gone seriously elegant, but kids' book people are still very nice. As a publisher said last night, "Kids' authors are great. Print 'em a bookmark, they are happy. Not like with adult books."

I was a juror this year for the Bilson Award for historical novels for kids, the generous gift of the late history professor (and kids' novelist) Geoffrey Bilson of Saskatchewan. The field is thriving beyond anything Bilson ever saw; we considered about forty young people's historical novels written and published in Canada. (The CCBC welcomes donations to the Bilson Endowment Fund.)

The Bilson winner: John Ibbitson for The Landing, an ambitious, skillful novel set in Muskoka in the 1930s. (There may be some who wish Ibbitson would give up his day job commenting on politics at the Globe and Mail and write kids' books fulltime -- he missed his award because he's following the PM in Asia right now.) The Landing won the GG in Children's Lit last year; this year that prize went to one of our Bilson shortlist, a potato famine novel called Greener Grass by Caroline Pignat.

History did well by the awards. These days, a lot of writing for kids is historically-linked. Publishers are taking to them, and to issue-oriented books in general, because they work, because the readers and the foreign rights buyers and the buzz are there. The winner of the big TD Canadian Children's Book Prize was Nicola Campbell, a Salish/Métis writer from British Columbia, for Shin-Chi's Canoe, set in a residential school. Another prize winner was Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara (with Maclean's journalist Susan McClelland), set in the recent civil wars of Sierra Leone.

The only person who seems not to have got the memo was one of the hosts, an earnest education professor (could she be Welsh?) who thought it appropriate to introduce the Bilson Prize with remarks on how boring Canadian history is and how the novelists must strive to make it interesting. I was going to boo, but it was a children's lit event; the general niceness prevailed.

Happily, lots of no-issue, sheer pleasure kid's books still appear. Mattland, the picture book winner, and Chicken Pig Cow by Ruth Ohi, looked quite wonderful.
Follow @CmedMoore