Today, my copy of the Children's Book Council (Vic) newsletter arrived, so I sat down before dinner to read it. Recently, the shortlist for this year's CBCA awards was announced, so I was surprised to see an article about last year's Picture Book of the Year winner. Wasn't that old news? Apparently not. Jo Goodman has written a terrific piece about what happened after Matt Ottley's book, Requiem for a Beast, won last year. It was food for thought, for several reasons.
Firstly, she mentioned how many emails the CBCA had received, criticising their award choice. Fair enough, if you disagree, but apparently many of the emails were abusive, and many were based solely on the media coverage (mainly A Current Affair's pathetic attempt to create controversy based on rubbish). Added to that was a talkback radio show where even more uninformed people had piled onto the bandwagon of "let's all spout on about what we think is a worthy book".
She said one person even sent an email in which the F word was used several times - considering this was a major complaint about the book itself (the language), I thought that was totally ironic - and moronic. I have no reason to doubt Jo's account of all the responses. It's par for the course that the CBCA regularly receives complaints about children's books - more about that in a moment. What continually astounds me, however, is how many of these complainers either: 1) have not read the book they are complaining about, 2) do not read children's books and don't have kids, or 3) don't read the criteria for the awards and have no idea about the basis of the judges' decisions.
I haven't yet read Requiem for a Beast myself, but it's on my list (like The Arrival, it's hardcover and has been a bit out of my price range - I'm waiting for a good discount coupon, I confess!). However, I have had a good skim of it, enough to see straight away that it is not a picture book for four year-olds. Not even for nine year-olds. Hello, world, we have such a thing these days as picture books for older readers - like fourteen or eighteen year-olds, or adults. Go figure. They're usually fascinating, amazing and ground-breaking books that leave you thinking for days. The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan is one of my favourites.
To me, this is one of the dangers of today's media - not that it provides false information, but that many people rely on and totally believe media coverage that is patently less than honest in the way it is slanted and manipulated. I remember studying media news coverage at uni years ago, and comparing accounts of the same event in a range of newspaper and TV reports. That was enough to prove to me that every news report should be regarded as only part of the story.
The other point about complaints to the CBCA is that everybody has their own agenda, their own beliefs, their own view of the world. They're entitled to it. But I find it incredibly sad that so many adults seem to think it's their job to actively censor the books their kids read,while allowing them to watch anything and everything on TV and in video games. Apparently the CBCA have received a complaint about my Honour Book, Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!), because its subject of parental break-up is "unsuitable".
Yep, you got me there. That is absolutely the subject of my book, among other things like friendship, loyalty and hope. My comeback to that? The two primary school principals who read the book and said, "We know lots of kids who need this book and will love it because it speaks to them." Writers like me write about subjects like that so that kids will know it's not just them - they're not alone, and there is hope. Go ahead - complain about that!