Children’s books world reacts to ‘horrible loss’ of Blue Peter book awards

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The decision to axe the Blue Peter book awards has been labelled by authors and agents as “devastating” and a “horrible loss” for the books industry, in particular for children’s publishing.

The prize, which was awarded to both fiction and non-fiction books for children and promoted through the eponymous children’s TV show, had been running for 22 years. It was announced on Tuesday that the 2022 awards, the winners of which were announced in March, were the last.

The news comes less than a month after the Costa book awards – which included a children’s book category – came to an abrupt end after 50 years.

In a statement BookTrust, which ran the Blue Peter book awards, said it was sad to announce the end of the prize, which had “showcased some amazing books, authors and illustrators” over the years.

“Our ambition is to bring the benefits of reading to children in the greatest need and to achieve long-lasting impact by establishing reading habits and behaviours,” the statement said. “At this time, our limited resources are better focused giving disadvantaged families the opportunity to reap the life-changing benefits of reading.”

One of the ways the charity meets this goal is through its Storytime prize, set up in 2021, which aims to “find the best book for sharing” and is part of the a pilot project to encourage disadvantaged families to visit their local library.

The statement also said that BookTrust is currently running “new pilot programmes” for children and families in the years before school “to explore what resources and support would be most effective in helping to develop a regular reading habit. We do this because we know from research that children who read regularly have better lifetime outcomes.”

Related: Shock ending: how the Costa book awards changed reading – and pitted husband against wife

Literary agent Alice Sutherland-Hawes said “it’s no secret that the children’s market is very saturated, and Blue Peter (and Costa) helped break out mostly fantastic books and creators. Losing both those awards in the space of a few weeks is an enormous loss to those creators and the industry as a whole,” she added. “There are now only two awards left that are widely recognised outside of the industry.”

The only other major awards that recognise children’s books are the Waterstones children’s book prize, which has three categories, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards.

Sutherland-Hawes, whose authors include Harry Woodgate, who won the illustrated category of the 2022 Waterstones prize for their picture book Grandad’s Camper in 2022, predicted that the loss of the Blue Peter awards could prevent inclusivity in the children’s book industry, something she said is already an issue. “With incomes declining, the loss of two potential big earners for creators will be hugely felt in the books that are published and the people who are able to take a chance on being published,” she said. “And that’s such a shame for the kids who won’t see themselves in books.”

Elle McNicoll, who won the Blue Peter best story category in 2021 with her debut novel A Kind of Spark, said she was saddened to hear of the awards’ closure as it was “one of the few major literary prizes to give children the power to vote for their own winner”.

“Their voices were heard in the judging process and it’s a huge loss to see that go,” she continued. “Television can reach young readers in ways that other prizes could not so it’s a massive blow when it comes to reaching children who are sometimes left out of literary spaces.”

Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who was shortlisted for the Blue Peter awards in the the best story category for her second novel The Island at the End of Everything, called the loss of the prize a “devastating blow not only for young readers but for authors too”.

While “prize culture had its issues”, the author said that the Blue Peter prize “offered visibility and discoverability on a major – perhaps unmatched – scale”. Being shortlisted “certainly impacted my career for the good,” she added. “And when parents are relying on big name authors alone, their children’s reading suffers. It’s a shame, and more than that, perplexing.”

Children’s author LD Lapinski said the awards “valued the feedback of young people and showed how important and wonderful books could be”.

A panel of schoolchildren were selected to be judges for the prize, with priority given to schools with high numbers of students eligible for pupil premium funding. Because of this, it put “books and responsibility into the hands of young people who will now be denied that opportunity,” Lapinski said. “There is so little media coverage of children’s literature anyway that scrapping these televised awards, that put books of all kinds front and centre, feels like a horrible loss.”

Literary agent Molly Ker Hawn said the loss of the Costa and Blue Peter awards were the latest in a line of closures of “awards that give children’s books this kind of commercial exposure”, citing the end of the Guardian children’s fiction prize and the Nestlé Smarties prize. All these awards, she said, “brought children’s books to the attention of consumers in a way that I’m not sure the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals do”.

Florentyna Martin, head of children’s books at Waterstones, said the awards had “long been an inspiring institution with booksellers and readers”.

The shortlists “have always showcased exciting, creative and highly imaginative work from across children’s publishing”, she said. “We will certainly miss the presence of their winners next year.”

The Blue Peter book awards had two categories: the best story prize for fiction, and the Best Book with Facts for non-fiction. Prior to 2013, the prize only rewarded one book a year. The 2022 winners were Hannah Gold for The Last Bear, illustrated by Levi Pinfold, in the fiction category, and Invented by Animals by Christiane Dorian, illustrated by Gosia Herba in the non-fiction category. Previous winners include Cressida Cowell, Liz Pichon, Matt Haig and SF Said.

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