The decision to scrap the Blue Peter Book Awards has been described by authors and agents as a “devastating” and “terrible loss” to the book industry, especially children’s books.
Awarded to both children’s fiction and non-fiction books and promoted by the children’s television program of the same name, the award was 22 years old. It was announced on Tuesday that the 2022 awards, whose winners were announced in March, were the last.
The news comes less than a month after the Costa book awards – which included a children’s book category – came to an abrupt end after 50 years.
In a statement, BookTrust, which hosts the Blue Peter Book Awards, said it was sad to announce the end of the award, which has “showcased some amazing books, authors and illustrators” over the years.
“Our goal is to bring the benefits of reading to children in greatest need and to create a long-lasting impact by establishing reading habits and behaviors,” the statement reads. “Currently, our limited resources are better focused on empowering underprivileged families to reap the life-changing benefits of reading.”
One way the charity is achieving this goal is through the Storytime Prize, launched in 2021, which aims to “find the best book to share” and is part of a pilot project designed to encourage underprivileged families to support their local to visit the library.
The statement also said BookTrust is currently conducting “new pilot programs” for children and families in the pre-school years “to explore what resources and support would be most effective in developing a regular habit of reading.” We do this because we know from research that children who read regularly have better life outcomes.”
Literary agent Alice Sutherland-Hawes said: “It’s no secret that the children’s market is very saturated and Blue Peter (and Costa) have helped bring out mostly fantastic books and authors. Losing both of these awards within a few weeks is a tremendous loss for these creators and the industry at large,” she added. “There are now only two awards that are widely recognized outside of the industry.”
The only other major awards recognizing children’s books are the Waterstones Children’s Book Awards, which are divided into three categories, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards.
Sutherland-Hawes, whose authors include Harry Woodgate, who won the illustrated category of the 2022 Waterstones Prize for his picture book Grandad’s Camper, predicted that losing the Blue Peter Awards could prevent inclusion in the children’s book industry, she already said a theme. “With incomes plummeting, the loss of two potential big earners will be hugely felt for creators in the books that get published and the people who can take a chance at publication,” she said. “And that’s such a shame for the kids who don’t find themselves in books.”
Elle McNicoll, who won the Blue Peter Best Story category for her debut novel A Kind of Spark in 2021, said she was saddened by the award’s closure because it is “one of the few major literary awards that gives children the opportunity to do this vote for their own winner”.
“Their voices were heard in the judging process and it’s a great loss to see,” she continued. “Television can reach young readers in ways that other awards couldn’t, so it’s a huge blow when it comes to reaching children who are sometimes excluded from literary spaces.”
Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Awards for Best Story for her second novel, The Island at the End of It all, described losing the award as “a devastating blow, not just for young readers , but also for authors”. .
While “the award culture had its problems,” the author said, the Blue Peter award “offered visibility and discoverability on a large – perhaps unmatched – scale.” Being shortlisted “certainly has had a positive impact on my career,” she added. “And if parents only rely on well-known authors, their children’s reading ability suffers. It’s a shame, and what’s more, confusing.”
Children’s author LD Lapinski said the awards “validated feedback from young people and showed how important and wonderful books can be.”
A jury of students was selected to judge the award, with preference given to schools with high numbers of students who were eligible for funding the student award. Because of that, it has “put books and responsibilities in the hands of young people who are now being denied that opportunity,” Lapinski said. “There is so little media coverage of children’s literature anyway that it feels like a terrible loss to take down these televised awards that put books of all kinds front and center.”
Literary agent Molly Ker Hawn said the loss of the Costa and Blue Peter awards was the latest in a string of closures of “awards that give children’s books that kind of commercial visibility,” citing the end of the Guardian Children’s Literature Prize and the Nestlé Smarties Prize . All of these awards, she said, “have drawn consumer attention to children’s books in the way the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, I’m not sure, do.”
Florentyna Martin, Head of Children’s Books at Waterstones, said the awards have “long been an inspirational institution for booksellers and readers”.
The shortlists “have always showcased exciting, creative and imaginative work from across the children’s publishing industry,” she said. “We will certainly miss the presence of their winners next year.”
The Blue Peter Book Awards had two categories: Best Story for Fiction and Best Book of Facts for Nonfiction. Prior to 2013, the prize was only awarded to one book per year. The 2022 winners were Hannah Gold for The Last Bear, illustrated by Levi Pinfold, in the fiction category and Invented by Animals by Christiane Dorian, illustrated by Gosia Herba, in the nonfiction category. Past winners include Cressida Cowell, Liz Pichon, Matt Haig and SF Said.