The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

Frances Lincoln is an award winning publisher and Seven Stories, The Centre for Children’s Books, is an innovative cultural centre for children’s literature. Earlier this month they announced that they have created an award, Diverse Voices, in memory of Frances Lincoln, who died in 2001.

The purpose of The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is to:

• Take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives, whose work is published in Britain today.

• Promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice are currently under-represented.

• Recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance.

• Support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.

The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author. The prize of £1,500, plus the option for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to publish the novel, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 16 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children. The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry. The work must be written in English and it must be a minimum of 10,000 words and a maximum of 30,000 words. The closing date for all entries is 30th January 2009. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony at Seven Stories, The Centre for Children’s Books, in April 2009.

Further details about submitting an entry can be found on the Seven Stories website.

Children’s Storytelling on Sundays

From this Sunday – that’s Sunday 6th July  – until Sunday 31st August, The Reader Organisation, in association with the Bluecoat’s literature programme, will be starting summer storytelling sessions for children. Each Sunday from 12.00 – 12.45 one of our wonderful volunteers will be in the Hub at the Bluecoat sharing classic and new stories with the next generation of readers. The Reader Organisation believes that the best thing to offer future generations is the brilliant ancient technology that is: the story!

Reading from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, kids will be able to discover ‘How the Rhinocerous Got His Skin’ and just who ‘The Man Who Gave People Things to Look After’ is, amongst other well-loved stories which give inspiring answers to some intriguing questions.

The sessions are open to children of all ages, especially those that are aged 4 – 8. Admission is free for all (including the adults that we would ask to stay to look after them). If you would like to ensure you get a comfy seat, you can call the Bluecoat on 0151 702 5297 to reserve your spot. 

These sessions have beenmade possible thanks to the support of Walker Books.

Jemima Puddle-Duck

Beatrix Potter was always frank about the violence and amorality of the natural world. In the year that Jemima Puddle-Duck turns 100, have we missed the point about her stories?

Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck is 100 years old this year and to mark the occasion publisher Frederick Warne has released a special collector’s edition of The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck with a shiny gold cover. Potter herself was a practical and forthright woman whose abilities as a farmer and land manager helped invent the English Lake District as it exists today. She favoured conservation, but was also committed to the idea of the countryside as a living and working place.

Now though the most visible aspect of the Potter legacy is soft-focus nostalgia, with an emphasis on a ‘Beatrix Potter experience’ of cuddly talking animals and home decoration. Potter’s stories and the characters she created have become big business and her pretty illustrations have made marketing the brand easy. What’s not to like, after all, about a picture of Peter Rabbit on a tea towel, Jeremy Fisher casting his rod on a scented notelet, or the venerable duck herself recreated as a china figurine? I love the Lake District and I spend as much time there as I can, but this aspect of it drives me crazy.

It is probably inevitable that the Potter industry should be more interested in the nostalgic sheen of her drawings than the stories themselves, because as anyone who has actually read them will know, violence and death are everywhere in the books. They also appear in much more realistic ways than in regular fairytales. So for instance Mr McGregor really does want to put Peter Rabbit in a pie, and it will be a real pie with a real rabbit in it. When Tommy Brock the badger makes off with the Flopsy Bunnies, and plans to eat them, it isn’t a metaphor for something else.

As if the immediate threat of being snuffed out were not enough, Potter’s readers also learn distinctly adult existential lessons about mortality and fertility. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck is a case in point. Jemima is charmed by a ‘foxy-whiskered gentleman’ to attend a dinner party at which she is to be the main course. So far, so much good advice for naive Edwardian girls. But another life lesson comes at the end of the story, when Jemima’s rescuers, the foxhound puppies, eat her eggs before Kep the collie can stop them.

Potter’s own childlessness may well be tied up in Jemima Puddle-Duck’s efforts to raise a family. Having ‘rescued’ her from what they believed was a bad match, Potter’s parents condemned their daughter to a childless future. Looking back at her life as she wrote the book in middle age, perhaps Potter saw herself, like Jemima, as a ‘simpleton’ who had made bad choices. Jemima Puddle-Duck goes on to lay more eggs of course, but only four of them hatch because ‘she had always been a bad sitter’.

It is a shame that the softer side of Beatrix Potter’s stories has come to dominate the landscape around her reputation. For me one of the most attractive things about her books is their balance of vulnerable fluffy bunny rabbits and hungry foxes. Realism is part of their charm and many of the stories are explicit about the animals’ human qualities being a fantasy. Mrs. Tiggywinkle is nothing more than a hedgehog at the end of her tale and in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter loses his clothes and becomes just another frightened animal on the run.

Whether or not the Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck is a rueful reflection by Potter on her own life, it is certainly a tough and disturbing story that is only partially softened by the gentle prettiness of the illustrations. Of course it is important that children should realise that not everyone has their best interests at heart. But it is the casual violence of the eaten eggs, and Kep’s stoic indifference as Jemima is ‘escorted home in tears’, that makes this story so wonderful and so chilling. Children can take it, even if the Potter industry would rather not think about it.

by Chris Routledge

Recommended Reads: The Earthsea Series

Harry Potterites look away now. In this post Reader magazine deputy editor Sarah Coley explains why she thinks Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series has the best wizard.

I’ve been comfort reading children’s books, and in particular, Ursula LeGuin’s fantastic Earthsea series, full of dragons and world winds and mage winds, strange worlds, seas, and Ged, the harsh central character whom you hardly know, who slips further from you as you read into the books, seen increasingly through other’s eyes. Ged grows old in what seems an extraordinary mythlike acceleration–or perhaps it’s just that the books read so quickly. Before you’ve learned to overcome your dislike of his arrogant younger self, he’s a dark and mournable figure, older than you could have wanted, and glimpsed with longing after many pages with other characters; then, with another afternoon’s reading, he is old and suddenly you can imagine him dead. He’s there on the page with all of his restless energy and power, and it’s the thought of his loss that you’re most aware of.

But this is what kids’ books are like and were like when we were children too. There’s none of that deeper meaning for the adults that the Harry Potterites fool themselves in imagining they find. It’s the same trouble for the adult as for the child. The things that are close to you can die. (Who didn’t check from time to time to see if their parents were still breathing?) The comfort in the Earthsea series comes weirdly from comfortlessness and the distance that Le Guin preserves for her main character. The less you know him, the more in his element he is, and the more he belongs to his world, the better, the more fiercely free it all is.

Who in all of literature would you want to have met?  

It’s Ged for me.


By Sarah Coley

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