OPINION - Half a million kids don’t own a book: our prize helps

Author Cressida Cowell (PA Wire)
Author Cressida Cowell (PA Wire)

WHEN our patron, Princess Beatrice, announces the latest winner of Oscar’s Book Prize this evening, a milestone will be reached. That makes 10 best picture books, chosen annually over 10 years, for an award now worth £10,000 to the talented author and illustrator.

To select them we’ve sifted through an awful lot of stories featuring colourful characters introducing new worlds and ideas to children.

I say Oscar’s Book Prize exists in Gruffalo territory, but our aim is to honour the next classic to be shared by parents with their children in the hope that a love of reading is established early on. Supporting our mission have been judges including Claudia Winkleman, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Lauren Child, Axel Scheffler, and, this year, Cressida Cowell and Dapo Adeola.

The Evening Standard has always been by our side too, and we are incredibly grateful for Amazon’s long-term support. Book prizes are designed as a signpost for readers, and we hope our winners give young families food for thought. Oscar’s Book Prize will always be 45 years behind the Booker but our literary category is no less important.

We have also been lucky to identify emerging talent, such as our prodigious second winner, Steve Antony, who has just published his 23rd title, and John Dougherty and Laura Hughes, whose winning book, There’s A Pig up my Nose!, contains the kind of raucousness kids revel in and aunts and uncles might never choose for them.

Our book prize also signposts a person: my son Oscar, whom we lost at the age of three and a half to an undiagnosed heart condition in late 2012. He did not leave enough clues about who he would become but we know he loved books. My wife Viveka and I will always cherish that shared time.

Many children don’t enjoy the same. Reading increased during lockdown but half a million still don’t own a single book. We need to work harder to ensure the UK’s literary tradition equates to a nation of curious minds, who see pleasure in books. That starts young, precisely where Oscar’s Book Prize operates.

We look forward to planning for our second decade.

Oscar’s Book Prize was set up by James Ashton and Viveka Alvestrand to celebrate stories for children in memory of Oscar