Alexis Deacon invites children to come up with an alternative to capitalism…

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©Letterbox Library Alexis Deacon & Viviane Schwarz accept the Little Rebels Award from Judge, Wendy Cooling.

Viviane Schwarz and Alexis Deacon have been named winners of the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction 2016 with their picture book, I Am Henry Finch (Walker Books UK). Accepting the award, Alexis asked for children to give adults an alternative to capitalism.

The Little Rebels Award ceremony took place at the 4th London Radical Bookfair this Saturday May 7th. Author Gill Lewis, winner of last year’s award, was also given a very special commendation for her shortlisted title, Gorilla Dawn. The socialist London choir, Strawberry Thieves did a rousing performance as a lead up to the ceremony.

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©Letterbox Library The Strawberry Thieves Choir

Earlier in the day. Judge Wendy Cooling chaired a panel of five of the shortlisted authors and illustrators, including Michael Foreman, Gill Lewis, Neal Layton, Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz.

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©Letterbox Library L to R: Neal Layton, Michael Foreman, Wendy Cooling, Gill Lewis, Alexis Deacon, Viviane Schwarz.

In between much laughter and water gulping (wasn’t it hot?) and to a lively audience of children and adults, participants were asked how they felt about being nominated as little rebels; each also gave a summary of their shortlisted title. Michael Foreman brought a mini briefcase of earlier books he’d written which fitted the Little Rebels Award criteria- a particular highlight was his picture book, All The Kings’ Horses, published in 1976 and selected for review by the sadly now defunct feminist magazine Spare Rib. Introducing Gill Lewis, Wendy Cooling told the audience that Gill’s activism was evident from her earliest days- she was found force-feeding bread to a poorly hedgehog before she herself could walk. Gill spoke passionately about the politics which informed her shortlisted title, Gorilla Dawn. Gill (and I hope she won’t mind me saying this) had come on to the fair still carrying a tiny wooden chair she had placed in front of Paddington Station and Downing Street earlier in the day, her own unique contribution to the #3000chairs project which highlights the plight of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children. Neal Layton said how pleased he was to be shortlisted for this award. Talking about the “thinly disguised” protagonist of Uncle Gobb (ahem, Michael Gove) and the Dread Shed, he referred to the current government’s obsession with creating an education system which effectively destroys creativity and “divergent thinking” through worksheets and over-testing.

Alexis and Viviane both talked about the difficulties they’d faced when first trying to get I Am Henry Finch published. This prompted an interesting discussion amongst the authors about what ‘risks’ the children’s publishing industry perceived when deciding whether or not to go ahead with books which some might deem controversial. Alexis talked about the pressures faced by publishers, which then create “a culture of fear in the industry because of the need to make money”. Michael Foreman concurred- in the past, he said, publishers would work with a creator because they felt their work was simply worthy of publication for its quality but that now the industry is far more profit-driven.

It has been another fine year for our favourite children’s award and many, many thanks are due. Thank you to our judges: Wendy Cooling, Elizabeth Laird, Catherine Johnson and Kim Reynolds. Here’s Wendy sharing space on an organ stool with Bread & Roses Judge and Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett:

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©Letterbox Library Little Rebels and Big Rebels Judges, Wendy Cooling & Natalie Bennett.

Thank you to the authors, illustrators and publishers who create and produce books which encourage children to think, to question, to champion fairness and applaud social justice.

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©Letterbox Library Shortlisted authors and Judges Wendy Cooling/Catherine Johnson take a bit of time out amongst blossom petals.

As with every year, the Little Rebels Award has had some wonderful support from a range of sources. Special mentions to book bloggers, Playing by the Book, Read It Daddy and Mirrors, Windows, Doors. The Guardian and The Bookseller always give generous support to the award. This year, journalist Natasha Onwuemezi’s The Bookseller on the London Radical Bookfair made the cover page of The Bookseller. Natasha delivered a copy of The Bookseller to us in person on the day of the fair- thank you! The completely wonderful Guardian Children Books Site The Guardian within minutes of the announcement and we’re excited to hear that Books for Keeps will be including a comments piece with Little Rebels Judge, Catherine Johnson, with their next issue.

Thank you to those individuals and organisations who have remained devoted to the award throughout its life. There are far too many to mention but here are a couple of candid shots of some of the award’s most loyal fans, laughing along to the rebellious words exchanged by the shortlisted authors/illustrators:

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©Letterbox Library An audience selection including smiling faces of Anne Lazim and Charlotte Hacking from the CLPE.

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©Letterbox Library L to R: Patrice Lawrence, Liz Stratton, Jayne Truran, Catherine Johnson

As always, our thanks to Nik Górecki from Housmans Bookshop for asking us (Letterbox Library) to run the Little Rebels Award on behalf of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. It’s an honour and a privilege. Thank you to the General Federation of Trade Unions who fund the prize money for both the Little Rebels Award and the Bread & Roses Award for Radical Adult Non-Fiction. And a final thanks to Guardian cartoonist and children’s author/illustrator, Ros Asquith, who donated the framed Little Rebels print which is presented to the winner every year. A special “cheers” to Ros this year for tweeting this image on the day of the bookfair; it kept a smile on our faces all day:

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Some final images snapped from the Letterbox Library bookstand at the fair:

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