CCBC Awards 2010 Finalists: The Big Kahuna

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre recently announced the finalists for their 2010 roster of awards. Check out the press release here, complete with comments from the jury. In the next few weeks, I will be compiling my thoughts on the nominees and making predictions. I have not read all of the titles on this list, and therefore will only comment on the ones that I am familiar with. Given the deplorable state of my French, I won’t touch on the French language titles, but please do check them out. There is a lot of innovative work in French Canadian children’s literature. This week, I’ll be looking at the Big Kahuna, also known as The TD Canadian Childrens’ Literature Award

This list is a real mixed-bag, with two fantasy or speculative titles, Janet McNaughton’s Dragon Seer and Arthur Slade’s The Hunchback Assignments, two coming of age stories, Watching Jimmy (Nancy Hartry) and Home Free (Sharon Jennings), and then the wild card of the bunch, A Thousand Years of Pirates (William Gilkerson).

I admit to a bias toward all things Janet McNaughton, who is an author that is able to tackle all genres and succeed in each one.  I would love for her to take top honours, and would not be surprised if she did, however fantasy titles very rarely take home the prize in the end, particularly in Canada. England doesn’t seem to have the same difficulty in recognizing their fantasy writers, as a quick look at The Carnegie, The Whitbread, or the Guardian Prize lists of past winners will tell.  It seems the genre snobbery that often bleeds into adult literary awards also affects the children’s awards, as well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Dragon Seer.

The Hunchback Assignments, in my opinion, was an unsung title this past year. This has nothing to do with the book itself, which is clever and funny and up to the usual Sterling Slade Standard, but I think it’s a reflection of the market. The reading public wasn’t as keen on the whole steam-punk speculative fiction genre as publishers were hoping for, which also accounts for the somewhat underwhelming performance of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, yet another impressive piece of steam-punkish fiction for the younger set. I’m happy to see The Hunchback Assignments getting it’s due here. As for whether or not it will take the top spot, I’m of mixed views. Slade is no stranger to award lists, which could work against him in this situation, and as much as I enjoyed the book and look forward to the successive titles in the series, it isn’t my number one choice.

Gilkerson has carved a niche for himself as the Pirate King of Children’s Can Lit, his Pirate’s Passage (is it fiction? Memoir? Nonfiction? Who can tell!) winning the 2006 Governor General’s Award for English Language Children’s Literature. I was surprised to see A Thousand Years of Pirates on this list, but on second thought, why not?  It’s beautifully designed and packed with the kind of stuff pirate lovers like. While this book doesn’t have the packaging or visual appeal that Candlewick’s “ology” books possess (Pirateology, Dragonology, etc), the information here is fascinating and well presented.

I regret that I have not yet read Sharon Jennings’ Home Free, although I have been meaning to for some time now. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about it, and she is a strong contender for the top prize. My vote, however, belongs to Nancy Hartry’s Watching Jimmy. I love how Hartry gets into the nitty-gritty world of childhood, something that was also pointed out by the jurors. Voice is also one of the things I value most in a book, and Hartry gets her voice spot on. This is not a book for everyone, as the subject matter will be upsetting to some, but it is a compelling and brutally honest work of fiction that deserves recognition.

Each of these books is worthy of your attention. Check them out and let me know what your top pick is! Next week, the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.

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