We’re now almost half way through National Non-Fiction November! This week we saw:-
For today’s contribution to all things non-fiction, we’ve an insider’s view into the School Library Association Information Book Award, one of several awards in the UK for children and young people’s non-fiction books. Jayne Gould is a committee member of Ipswich Children’s Book Group and has been part of the judging panel for the SLA Information Book Award since its inauguration and today she shares her insight into judging information books.
Judging information Books
“Over the 30 plus years I have been involved with children’s books, including working as a children’s bookseller during the 80s, I have seen huge changes in information books. When I started at the bookshop, from what I remember, the majority of information books were not terribly engaging, with the honourable exception of Usborne, which had been founded a few years before with the remit to make factual, fun and humorous books which children would enjoy.
The rise of the double page spread, quickly adopted by many publishers, revolutionised the presentation of facts. The use of colour, attention to design, interactive features such as flaps, pop-ups and acetate overlays have all transformed this area of publishing. But when judging information books, you have to look beyond the surface and consider the facts, check, check, and check again
The School Library Association Information Book Award was set up in 2010 at the suggestion of Chris Brown, former reviews editor of the School Librarian magazine. He felt that information books were a neglected area, not receiving the recognition that some high quality publications deserved. The Award highlights the high standard of resources available, reinforces the importance of non-fiction and supports school libraries. Resources, including posters, lesson plans based on particular books and an activity pack are available to download from the SLA website.
As a primary school librarian and then member of the SLA Board, I immediately volunteered to become one of the four members of the inaugural judging panel and am, for at least one more year, still there. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of this team, gaining the chance to see the best of current information publishing.
The process starts with the invitation to publishers to submit up to three titles in each of the three age categories. These are then delivered to the waiting judges to read and make our own long -listing suggestions. With around 100 books to read in the space of a few weeks, you quickly become adept at sifting out the dross!
A great information book will be well designed, employing text, colour, photographs and diagrams to the best effect. Whilst the double page spread is still much in evidence, some publishers are moving away from it. The Discover More series from Scholastic is a wonderful example of this. Inspired by the internet, they wanted to make books as cool as the web. The fact that we have included several titles on recent long and short lists shows how well they have succeeded!
We are looking for books which will ignite curiosity in the reader, leading them to want to discover more and to engage them as they do so. The author’s interest and understanding of the subject needs to be evident in the writing; if they are not excited by their subject, then the reader won’t be.
Paper engineering, now an increasing feature of information books, should enhance rather than distract. We have to ask ourselves whether it has a purpose or is just a gimmick. Three of the books on this year’s shortlist featured flaps, multi-layered pop-ups, fold out panels and more, inviting the reader to explore the subject in depth.
Once the judges have made their suggestions for titles to consider further, we meet up to debate the merits of those books. Passionate discussion ensues, with the smallest detail which detracts or enhances being pointed out! From these we choose titles to longlist, reading them again ourselves and finding, where possible, experts in the subject to add their opinions. Once the shortlist has been decided it is then further consideration and debate as to which should win each category and be the overall winner. At this stage, voting is opened up to schools for the Children’s Choice Awards, an important feature of the IBA since the beginning. Children deserve the best and that is what we aim to highlight.”