by Jayne Gould
28th November at the St Bride Foundation, London
This year’s award ceremony and lecture was held in the historic and very apposite surroundings of the St Bride Museum, dedicated to the history of printing.
The Eleanor Farjeon Award, established in honour of the writer and poet following her death in 1965, recognises an outstanding contribution to the world of children’s books by an individual or organisation. Librarians, authors, publishers, reviewers,teachers and others are eligible.
The first award was made in 1966, two years before the FCBG was launched, and the catalogue of previous winners reveals something of a shared 50 year history.
Looking down the list, several Federation names stand out: our founder Anne Wood ; her very great friend and co-founder Jean Russell ; Valerie Bierman  stalwart of the Edinburgh CBG, and director for several years of the Children’s Programme at the Edinburgh Book Festival; and in 2011, the Federation of Children’s Book Groups itself.
A number of authors, including several winners of the Children’s Book Award, publishers and other friends who have supported the Federation have also been recipients: Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman. Wendy Cooling, Klaus Flugge, Chris Brown,Philip Pullman, Quentin Blake. In many ways the Eleanor Farjeon Award is a microcosm of the past 50 years of children’s books, reflecting major contributors of words and illustrations as well as those campaigning on a variety of issues from bringing books to babies,to increasing diversity and representation of all children and making books accessible for children with disabilities.
The award this year was presented to another great friend of the Federation – Michael Morpurgo, author of modern classics including War Horse, Kensuke’s Kingdom and Private Peaceful. He is also a multiple winner of the Children’s Book Award. After Anne Harvey, executor of the Eleanor Farjeon estate, had introduced the award, speaking about Eleanor and how she thinks she would have “approved” of Michael, perhaps adopting him as one of her “favourite boys”, Michael Foreman spoke in tribute to his very great friend and collaborator, describing him as not just a wonderful writer, but also a very good storyteller, whose appeal to children is that they feel that a friend is reading to them, when they open one of his books. Since first meeting 25 years ago, they have worked together on some of the most notable children’s books of the period, covering a huge range of subjects from the legends of Arthur and Robin Hood to the Second World War. The warmth and heartfelt admiration each feels for the other was also made clear in Michael Morpurgo’s acceptance speech, as he spoke about how they trigger ideas in each other, through discussion, remembered tales and visits to locations. Michael also described his joy to be associated with previous winners – people who worked and still work to bring children and books together. Making books is collaboration, not just between author and illustrator, but with agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers and others. Each needs the support of the others.
The second half of the evening was the Patrick Hardy Lecture, given annually in memory of the esteemed publisher. Next year it will celebrate its 30thanniversary, the inaugural lecture having taken place in November 1989.
This year’s lecture entitled Whale Tail Tales and Other Stories was by Nicola Davies, who started by kicking off her shoes. Passionate about animals from a young age, Nicola aims through her books to bring the wonder of the natural world to children. Her titles are numerous and varied, award-winning and beautifully illustrated by a range of artists, covering life from microbes to blue whales. It is with the largest mammals that Nicola has the greatest affinity. From the moment she heard a recording of the songs of humpback whales as a teenager, she knew she had to study them. In her joyous, impassioned speech she described how close she has come to whales, how humpbacks can be recognised by their individual tails as well as their evolving songs and the problems the natural world faces, from plastics in the oceans to climate change. And how important it is to engage and inform children about this and how they can understand in order to solve the problems of the future. The way to do this is through story, to communicate what is and what might be. Study, such as she undertakes, leads to narrative; data needs imagination to generate the next step and the research needed.
Nicola finished with a story, though not about the natural world. It was a salutary and somewhat heart-rending reminder of the importance of making books accessible to all, that not everybody feels that they are welcome in libraries and bookshops. She challenged everybody in the children’s book world to work to counter this view, reaching out to make sure that all children and their families are given the opportunities to engage with books.
And I’m proud that we can say that this is something which has been the ethos of the Federation for the past 50 years and continues to be for the future.