I have already written on this blog about helping children to choose books [here] and I have some practical help on my website [here], but I receive many requests for help in this area.
In this post I want to comment on the value of children’s choice awards. There are a number of awards that have been established to involve children in choosing a list of popular books. Given that we want children to make good choices about their own reading it makes sense to create awards judged by them rather than just adults. You might suspect that the books that win will always be popular books (e.g. series) rather than what adults would judge to be quality literature. But you might be surprised to find that children can choose good books too. Yes, there will be an over-representation of some literary types and well known authors, but children can pick good books.
What are the benefits of awards like this?
Besides the obvious benefit to the publishers and authors, they allow children to participate in sharing their favourite books with other children. Getting children involved in children's choice awards is an activity that parents and teachers can do with them. This will lead to lots of useful discussion about how to choose the best books, what makes a good book or author? This will be helpful in guiding children to make even better choices. As well, the various lists might point your children to books that other children have liked and open up new authors and literary forms that they might not have encountered. In some cases, the various sites that report the awards also contain useful reviews; this is an added bonus.
Some of the major Australian awards include:
1. KOALA - Kid's Own Australian Literature Awards
These annual awards are selected by young readers in NSW. They seek to identify the Australian books children have enjoyed most during the year. Students are invited to nominate their favourite Australian book. A shortlist of 40 titles is selected from the nominations. Students then vote for their favourite shortlisted title. Winners are announced in the four categories Picture Book, Younger Readers, Older Readers and Fiction for years 7-9 at a special Awards Day.
2. YABBA - Young Australians Best Book Awards. These awards are effectively a Victorian version of KOALA.
3. COOL - Children's Choice Book Awards in Canberra. Likewise these awards are the version of the awards for schools in the Australian Capital Territory
4. BILBY - Books I Love Best Yearly. These are Queensland's version linked to the State Children's Book Council.
If you'd like an International version there is the International Reading Association's Children's Choice Awards. This has a strong North American bias but it offers an international flavour.
The Kids Top 50 Awards - As well as awards run by school systems, children's literature associations and literacy bodies, there are a few specialist children’s choice lists run by publishers or book stores. For example, in Australia the bookshop Angus & Robertson asked 5 to 17 year old readers to pick their favourite books - 60,000 voted! While as you’d expect popular writers like J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl took out 1st and 2nd and popular series like Specky Magee, Rainbow Magic and The Just Series were in the top ten, children chose varied authors and genres. There were plenty of selections that would keep librarians happy like The Chronicles of Narnia (19th), E.B. White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’ (29th), Katherine Patterson’s ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ (39th), Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ (49th).
While I wouldn't want children to choose books based simply upon the recommendations of other children, awards of this kind have their place in helping children to learn how to make appropriate book choices.