Are Serious Books Rewarded?

The prize was a great joy and quite a surprise; we didn’t believe you could win with a humorous picture book.

– Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen

A judge of the 2013 Man Booker Prize offered Book Riot some insights. He has this to say about the nature of past and present winners:

Look at comic novels. A joke has to be very funny to be funny three times. In previous years I was disappointed a comic novel didn’t get through. Now I understand what that pressure is. I loved a novel such as A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, but would it have been as good on that crucial third reading?

So [the Man Booker] does reward seriousness. It does reward the books that can actually deliver on a third reading.

– Stuart Kelly

What about prizes for children’s literature? Are the conventions for judging different?

Speaking of the Man Booker prize, this year’s winner was a young woman from New Zealand (yay NZ, again!) Eleanor Catton has had a lot of interesting things to say about the experience of being young, being female and having the audacity to write such a long work of length. Catton has also spoken up about the banality of questions she has received, contrasting these with the philosophical sorts of things old white male authors tend to receive. This is very interesting in its own right, but I’d like to quote what she has to say about her childhood reading:

Books for children are always ethically and morally concerned, they’re nearly always extremely funny, and they’re always, always mysteries. Systematised magic, in children’s literature, is comparable to the perimeters of the philosophical thought experiment—I’m thinking of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Gillian Rubenstein’s GalaxArena, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls—but a book for children is hopeless if it isn’t fun. I can’t tell you how many times I collapsed laughing while reading the Harry Potter novels, but I also can’t tell you how long I’ve spent meditating on the nature of love, and of sacrifice, and of courage, as explored in those books.

– Eleanor Catton, from A Correspondence With Eleanor Catton

I find it significant that Catton ‘collapsed laughing’ while reading the Harry Potter novels, because humour is not the main aim; rather, humour is used to offset bigger issues. Looking at awards dished out to kidlit, it seems to me that this is the sort of humour most lauded by judges. Kids, however, may think differently.


10 Hilarious Children’s Books from Paste

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