APRIL 15 THIS YEAR MARKED THE DEADLINE for the submission of all entries to the first National Children’s Book Awards Best Reads for 2010, a collaboration between the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) and the National Book Development Board (NBDB). It is an exciting and promising initiative because it brings into public focus important tenets of reading promotion—the marketing of books; the idea of a book as a product of a collaboration of creative minds; the manifold joys of the art and science of reading that our children and young adults need to discover again and again—cherished beliefs that PBBY through its 26 years of advocacy has always stood for.
NCBA is different from your usual “competitions”—let’s use the word for lack of a better word—because it will not name a ranked list of winners. Instead, an independent board of judges, not one of whom comes from the PBBY’s 15 members, will select noteworthy titles from the previous calendar year’s releases. This being the initial year, books carrying the 2008 and 2009 publication dates qualify. Although the idea is for the judges to recommend 10 titles for inclusion in the final “Best Reads List,” the judges are not compelled to come up with that number if there are not enough books which merit commendation.
NCBA is deliberately staying away from a tiered list in the spirit of science fantasy novelist Ursula K. Le Guin’s thoughtful 2009 essay “On Literary Bests,” where she discusses her dilemma of being invited as a judge to select the three top American fiction of the last 60 years. She confesses that in conscience, she could not do the job which she thought unfair to the many other works not chosen. There are many others beyond the top three, personal choices are subjective, standards for evaluating vary, and who gains with that selection which excludes more than it includes? Le Guin, a cultural anthropologist who weaves this background in her novels like “A Wizard of Earthsea,” is the first to admit that just as there are many outstanding works, there are as many mediocre ones.
She asks: Who benefits from the convenient top three selections? Most certainly, not the cause of literature, but rather booksellers with an instant product to sell, and teachers and educators who do not have to make their own selections and who love the convenience of a ready-made list. (And who doesn’t?) “They needn’t pay attention to the books that didn’t win the prize. They needn’t exercise their own critical faculties, they don’t have to think, they can just order the prize book and believe they’ve read all there is to read.”
Le Guin concedes that competitions can be a spur for the beginning writer, just as she herself felt empowered with her initial literary recognition through such awards. However, she reminds us all of the artists that all writers are, they who write not for contests but for the craft itself: “… our tendency to consider art as a competition is a mistake …. People work extremely hard at something they have a gift for because the work is intensely, immediately and reliably rewarding. External rewards are nice but really not much compared to the satisfaction of making something beautiful, knowing you’re doing work as good as you can do.”
In an interview, Le Guin speaks of the sacredness of the very act, “Writing is my craft. I honor it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honored by it.” How then can books be regarded as any other commodity, any other consumer item?
NCBA titles will be judged and credited as a product of a team made up of the author and/or illustrator, publisher and the printer. This is to give credit where credit is due and to emphasize the steps in book production.
The NCBA choices will be publicly honored and commended through a short annotation to be written by the judges and will be directed toward children, parents, librarians and educators—the clientele of the books.
What does the NCBA hope to achieve with this honors list of books? By giving prominence and drawing attention to noteworthy books in print and non-print media, it endeavors to engage the reading public in an appreciation of the book as a finished product and the significant and critical role trade books, as opposed to textbooks, ought to play in the lives of young learners and young readers.
It is ultimately hoped that this Best Reads List, growing each year, will be used as a guide for book donations and must-buys for classrooms and school libraries.
What a boost that will be for the children’s books industry—but first, the entries must be submitted before April 15 and the 2010 choices made in time for the July announcement.
Do check out the websites of PBBY www.pbby.org.ph and NBDB www.nbdb.gov.ph/index.php for the complete set of rules and nomination forms.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz is the sectoral representative for book reviewers of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, and a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.