Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award was jointly founded by Frances Lincoln Ltd and Seven Stories - National Centre for Children’s Books in memory of Frances Lincoln (1945-2001). The award aims to encourage and promote diversity in children’s fiction.
The Award, now in its fourth year, continues Frances Lincoln’s tradition of promoting writing that contributes to social and cultural tolerance and is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.
Seven Stories' partnership work with literary organisations in the north-west encouraged a handful of entries directly and helped to promote their diversity focused activities nationally. They ran creative writing workshops in Liverpool and worked with English students to develop critical reading skills. As well as teaming up with Commonword in Manchester to promote the Award.
Overall, entries for this time demonstrated a wider-ranging exploration of cultural diversity. In particular, more entrants entered from the UK and more of these being on the basis of their own cultural origins. This year, for the first time, each of the three shortlisted writers is eligible because of their own cultural origins as well as their stories.
The writers will celebrate at a ceremony at Seven Stories on 23rd May 2013, when the winner will be announced. The award will go to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 18 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children.
John Nicoll, founder of the award, will present a cheque for £1500 to the winner, who will also receive a full editorial consultation with leading literary agent Caroline Sheldon.
Previous Diverse Voices winners Takeshita Demons by Cristy Burne, Too Much Trouble by Tom Avery and Om Shanti, Babe
Collectively, the judges felt that their short-listed selections are important stories with ambitious subject matters, authentic diversity references, humanity and humour, as well as worthiness and grit.
The Shortlist (in alphabetical order):
* One of a Kind by Jude (Najoud) Ensaff *
One of a Kind follows Raheema, a sixteen-year old living in Northern Iraq. When her parents unexpectedly flee the country, leaving her and her siblings with relatives, life as she knew it is thrown into turmoil. As she watches the country disintegrate, she plans her escape but is it too late? Her brother is arrested, her hometown and uncle’s house occupied and she is left to battle the chaos around her. Reluctantly, she is forced to place her trust in others but will they betray her or help her and her family?
Jude Ensaff has always enjoyed writing, since about the age of seven or eight. She remembers using her mum's typewriter to create 'masterpieces' and then filing them away in a drawer, and telling some of her dad's friends rather proudly when they asked her what she wanted to be, when she grew up - that she wanted to be 'a writer'.
The idea for One of a Kind was born out of truth. Like many people who write, she wrote about something she knew: her childhood and later experiences, her losses and joys, then and now. Jude says: “Coming from a mixed race background, my father being Turkman and Muslim and my mother having been Welsh and Christian, I offer a unique perspective on cultural diversity from both a racial and religious perspective. I lived in Kuwait for part of my childhood but in 1990 following the invasion of Kuwait, my family settled in the UK in Wales, and I have lived in the UK ever since.”
Jude works in education, as a consultant. She lives in the South East of England, in Berkshire, but has lived all over the UK, in seven different counties and 14 different places! Her childhood experiences in Kuwait and in Iraq feed into her book but so, too, do her later experiences. She says that she has been fortunate enough to have met people from all walks of life, some of whose memories linger in her mind and seep into her writing.
* Samosa Girl by Swapna Haddow *
Following a humiliating incident at a family wedding, thirteen-year-old Divya develops superpowers. She hides the secret of her new identity, choosing only to confide in her best friend and pledges to use her powers for good. Divya meets trouble in the form of classmate Sandeep, who thwarts Divya’s good actions, framing her for all his misdemeanours. He too has acquired superpowers but is persuaded by his older brother to use his powers to terrorize. Divya makes mistakes in her fight for justice and finds herself alienated from her family and best friend. Being a superhero isn’t as easy as she thought. With a lesson in humility and help from her best friend, Divya eventually leads the police to the thugs.
Londoner Swapna Haddow has been writing since she was young. Her first poem was published in her school newspaper at the age of twelve. It was about a cat. Her eclectic background, having lived all over London, studied Medicine at university, worked in retail, interned in several East London art galleries and worked for a drawing school, have amassed an Everest-sized mountain of ideas for stories and Swapna has spent the last three years working hard writing for children. She writes for young people under the age of twelve because they enjoy a similar sense of humour and a shared appreciation for bogeys, farts and maverick grandparents.
The idea for Samosa Girl arose from Swapna’s secret fantasy to be a superhero. She says: “Whilst I’m not a superhero myself and I’m yet to happen upon a magical samosa, or at least one that doesn’t give me a dodgy tummy, this novel is embellished with the humorous anecdotes of my own upbringing as a second generation Indian in Britain."
She’s glad to see that there are far more books for children that celebrate ethnicity in their characters nowadays but felt there was a need for a tale of fun and mayhem, that honoured the strength of childhood friendship, something every child could relate to no matter what their background.
Swapna is currently a fulltime mother to her three-year-old acrobatic, fire-fighting (his words not hers) son and an overtime wife to her thirty-plus something, age-sensitive, surgeon husband. They live in a London, in their cosy caravan-sized flat.
* You're Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood *
14 year olds, Kiran and Shamshad live in a town seething with Islamophobia. Short skirt wearing Kiran lives with her white mother and beer guzzling Pakistani father, on the white side of town. Hijab wearing Shamshad lives on the Muslim side. For her, Kiran is not a proper Muslim, just a despicable half-cast, who left Islam. To her white friends, Kiran is not proper white. Written in first person, the narrative moves between each story.
There is a dark secret in their families - one hidden under Kiran's mother’s floorboards, and in the stony silence of Shamshad’s house. Their fathers come from the same village in Pakistan, where the secret was born. When Kiran asks to be allowed to go to Pakistan, she unleashes a furious argument...
Tariq Mehmood entered the award because his three children are from diverse religious, cultural and religious backgrounds. Kashmiri, Pakistani, Tamil and English. Like many children in England, they have multiple identities. Tariq says: “I have children who are not white, who read a lot, but they themselves are fictionally invisible and where they do come into characters which maybe close to them, at best they are appendages to white characters or they might as well be white. In Diverse Voices, I saw the recognition of the importance of creating a new literary landscape that reflected the world around us, that is blooming with thousands of different flowers, in which children are its scents.”
In You’re Not Proper, Tariq Mehmood aims to make the fictionally invisible, visible by creating characters whose existence is shaped not only by their ‘communities’ but also by the major issues of Islamophobia, war and identity. Tariq planned his first children’s book as one of a trilogy. He has written a draft for the second book in which he explores the same themes from a white character’s point of view.
Tariq splits his time between his home in Manchester and his work in Beirut, Lebanon where he is Assistant Professor in the English Department at the American University. He is also the Co- Director of the controversial award -winning documentary Injustice.
John Nicoll presents the award to 2011 winner Helen Limon
Comments from the Judges
“I am proud that the Award is achieving exactly what it set out to do – to discover and encourage new writers of exciting, culturally diverse fiction.” - Janetta Otter-Barry, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
“Diversity in children’s books is crucial – in this ever-shrinking world we are all foreigners somewhere. I’m delighted to be part of an award recognising the importance of this element in young people’s fiction.” - Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties)
“I am proud to play my small role in a great initiative to encourage more diversity in children’s fiction.” - Alex Wheatle, author
“The award feels hugely positive because its format allows consideration of diversity and its shifting cultural base. The award has been structured to bring together writers, publishers, literary arts agencies, libraries and schools, which gives a potent base and a powerful reach. It is, arguably, through working together that we have the best leverage for changing the literary landscape so that it encompasses and embraces wide- ranging experiences and lifestyles.” - Jake Hope, Book Consultant
“ We were impressed with the standard of the entries and the range of the stories. We looked for a strong story that an 8 to 12-year-old would want to read rather than a worthy book that overtly explores social issues.” - Kate Edwards, chief executive of Seven Stories – National Centre for Children’s Books
The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children's Book Award aims to:
- Take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives, whose work is published in Britain today
- Promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice are currently under-represented
- Recognise that as children's books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance
- Support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication
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