Letter: Librarians who can recognise a teenage fiction winner

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The Independent Online
Sir: Christina Hardyment is entitled to her views on this year's winner of the Carnegie Medal ('Slimy jeremiads of a serial killer', 16 July), but her diatribe about its author and about children's librarians deserves a reply.

The Carnegie is, in fact, one of the most 'democratically' awarded book prizes; the panel is changed each year and each geographical region of the country is represented. Unlike the usual professional critics and 'celebrities', these judges are children's librarians who are in daily contact with children in libraries and thus have some claim to knowing what children read and ask for. It is absurd to suggest that they would prostitute their professional expertise in order to shock the media.

Teenage fiction is hardly the 'new phenomenon' that Ms Hardyment suggests, having been around for some 20 years, and many librarians, including myself, do think there should be a separate award for this category. Until this happens, and as long as publishers include teenage fiction in their children's lists, teenage fiction will continue to be eligible for the Carnegie. I should point out that most libraries now have 'teenage sections' in which books like Stone Cold are shelved. They are thus not presented to young children.

Ms Hardyment's description of Robert Swindells as 'a Zen Buddhist who lives in a caravan' perhaps says more about her attitudes than his; she could have added that he is an ex-airman in the RAF and an ex-teacher, who is married to a teacher, but this might not have fitted the image she was trying to promote. He has, in fact, written many good books for children as well as his more gritty novels for teenagers.

I have organised visits by Robert to about a dozen primary schools in Lincolnshire, ranging from large, urban schools to Fenland village schools and I have seen him hold spellbound audiences of seven- to eleven-year-olds and their teachers as he told them about how he writes and how a book is produced. His anecdotes and excerpts from his books produce tears of laughter. By doing this and by his books, Robert Swindells does much for the cause of children's reading.

Yours faithfully,

T. N. HANCOCK

Cherry Willingham, Lincolnshire

17 July

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