The UK’s Booktrust, a pro-literacy and children’s reading charity in existence since the 1920s, has just announced its first Booktrust Best Book Awards in partnership with Amazon Kindle 2014, which will ” seek to unearth the very best children’s books the UK has to offer, and to honour authors and illustrators who continue Britain’s proud heritage of storytelling.” According to Viv Bird, Chief Executive at Booktrust, the Awards are part of a very ambitious program: “We want to change the culture of reading in this country.”
And what’s driving this agenda? “At the moment, books are facing a battle with the major players of the entertainment industry – games, film, and music,” she continues. “Vying for children’s attention alongside these giants of ‘cool’ is no easy task.”
As it happens, I don’t feel that this has much to do with any problems in literacy and reading levels in the UK currently. Social divisions, government support – or lack of it – and entrenched habits are probably far more to blame for any literacy shortfall than competing media. The Kindle, ereaders, and tablets of all kinds arguably have enough cool in themselves to draw in kids. At least Booktrust acknowledges this to some extent.
“A recent competition run by Booktrust revealed that children chose to read in both physical and digital formats – the split was almost 50/50,” Bird continued. “The great thing about E-reader providers is that they’ve created a further arena for reading to take place – a space that is compatible with the world in which children now live, a world that includes Smartphones, computers in schools, and gaming devices – so – let’s celebrate these options that children now have.”
The Awards also do engage children themselves as readers and deciders. ” The books shortlisted for the inaugural awards will be announced in March 2014, at which point children will be invited to read the books and have their say,” Booktrust’s materials add.
Booktrust itself has been under funding threats in the past, as Chris Meadows noted earlier. Hopefully, this latest development indicates that their longer-term future is more secure.