16 June 2011

To be a judge: deciding on the Book of the Year Awards

What does it mean to be one of the judges for the Book of the Year Awards (Children’s Book Council of Australia). How do you decide which books are the “best” and whose works should receive special recognition? And how does life change, once you become a judge?

Below, Rosemary Thomas, ACT’s judge for the Book of the Year Awards, shares a little of her experience, and also provides some insight into this year’s predominant themes.

The angst of a judge

Judging is not undertaken lightly and involves a lot of commitment and knowledge of children’s literature. As a judge I am acutely aware of how the professions of writers, illustrators and publishers can be affected by my decisions. This is an award that is recognised worldwide and sets a standard for high quality children’s literature in Australia. It is not a popularity award; there are other awards out in each state for that.

A judge’s term of office lasts for two years. However, the judging panel changes every year with half the panel retiring. This means that in your first year as a judge you are reading next year’s entries while talking about the books that are notable in this year’s awards - quite a feat!

Judges are looking at plot, themes, characterisation, setting and quality production of the novel: editing, grammar, paper, illustrations (where applicable), cover). Regardless of whether the book is professionally or self published, they are all treated with the utmost care and respect for the work within.

Many hours are voluntarily given to be a judge. A box of books comes every three weeks and contents range from 18-60+ titles, the average being 25-35 books per box. These must be read, shared with students and children in the appropriate age group, discussed with peers and an evaluation report written about each book. The reports are then sent in to be correlated with the other judge’s reports. Often they are sent back and you have to reread the book if opinions vary greatly from yours. Annotations are allocated and need to be written for books with possible notable status (usually one to three per box). The entries are increasing each year so over my two years as Judge I have read nearly 800 books while still carrying on my day to day life!

At present all judges are travelling around their area talking with students, parents and community organisations about the judging process, and about notable and shortlisted books. This usually continues until the week after Book Week.

It is such a rewarding experience to attend the judging conference held in April each year. I felt very privileged to be able to converse on such a high level about my passion for children’s literature.

Themes from this year’s entries

The older reader section saw a lot of books exploring the death of a female protagonist. Toxic friendship was also explored this year. As usual there were a lot of novels involving self identity and growing up, but these seemed to have a more positive outlook than last year. Across all categories, friendship, history and family were strong themes, and cross cultural themes were also prominent in all categories except early childhood.

Click here for more information on the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

Click here to find shortlisted titles in our library catalogue.