For the first time in its 88-year history, Children’s Book Week moves from its traditional home in November to early May this year. For the Children’s Book Council, which has administered Children’s Book Week since 1944, the move is a chance to bring renewed attention to literacy and reading—as well as to the week itself—on a national level.
“Children’s Book Week started in 1919 and has many, many years of history and tradition,” says Robin Adelson, executive director of the CBC. “It started for a fabulous reason that still holds true: the love of reading, the love of books and to celebrate books. But I think what’s happened over the years is it became a ‘week’ in name only. It’s always been highlighted by fabulous posters and original art, and it has always has been upheld by local celebrations. But there hasn’t been a centralized, unified force that’s really necessary to make it a truly meaningful week across the country.”
Adelson joined the CBC back in fall 2006; since then the organization has made efforts to, in Adelson’s words, “revisit and revamp” its programs, as evidenced by the January appointment of Jon Scieszka as the country’s first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, as well as this renewed attention given to Children’s Book Week, the nation’s longest-running literacy event.
Adelson says the CBC is endeavoring to make Children’s Book Week work for teachers, librarians, booksellers and publishers in ways that it might not have in years past. “One thing that became clear was that to the extent there have been local celebrations, they have generally been in libraries and to some extent in schools,” she says, noting that bookseller participation has been comparatively minimal. “Over the last 10 years we’ve heard more and more that [November] is too crowded and too busy, particularly in the retail market, but also from librarians and teachers,” says Michelle Bayuk, the CBC’s marketing director.
This year’s festivities will take place from May 12 to 18—in conversations with a variety of industry professionals, the CBC found that month to be not only less crazed than November’s pre-holiday crush, but also a way for Children’s Book Week to serve as a springboard into summer reading. “It’s not easy to find a week that’s not already dedicated to something else in the literary world—which is great,” says Adelson. “I think we found ourselves a nice little pocket.”
One longstanding Children’s Book Week tradition—an exclusive poster created by an illustrator to celebrate the occasion—is getting a tweak this year as well. For the first time, the poster (this year drawn by Mary GrandPré) will be given away for free. The CBC is printing more than 100,000 posters, to be sent to schools, libraries and independent bookstores; the posters are also available online. The poster offers an activity guide and book information for children; additionally, the guide and an official bookmark designed by Gene Yang (American Born Chinese) are available for download from the recently launched Children’s Book Week Web site.
New for 2008 is the Children’s Choice Book Awards Ceremony and Gala, to be held on May 13 in New York City. The awards are based on Children’s Choices, a program the CBC has run since 1975. In the program, 10,000 children read and evaluate submitted titles in a given year and select their favorites. “When those scores come in, we’ve always known the ranking but not done anything with them,” Bayuk says. “This year we decided to take it to another level.”
The top five titles in each category, which were released this past Monday, serve as the nominees for the inaugural awards. In addition to three grade-level book awards (kindergarten to second grade, third and fourth grade, and fifth and sixth grade) author and illustrator of the year awards will be bestowed at the ceremony; the finalists in those categories were chosen by using a combination of bestseller lists. Children can vote for their favorites at bookweekonline.com. Schools and libraries can also collect children’s votes and submit them.
Tickets for the Children’s Choice Book Awards cost $300 each, and the CBC is also offering corporate sponsorship opportunities; invitations are expected to go out shortly. “In the grand scheme, the plan is that this first year will pay for itself—it’s not a profit-making venture,” says Bayuk. “The whole point is to bring children’s books to a higher level.” Adelson says the CBC has seen a strong response to their early announcements about the gala, noting, “We fully expect it will be a sold-out event.” Ambassador Scieszka will serve as emcee for the awards, which will also honor Al Roker with the first annual Impact Award, recognizing the success and influence of Al’s Book Club for Kids on The Today Show.
Other events will continue to be added to the Children’s Book Week schedule in the coming weeks, and will be posted on the Book Week Web site. On May 15, the CBC has planned a signing at the NBA store in New York City, with authors of popular basketball-themed titles signing books and meeting fans.
Moving forward, the CBC plans to continue to find new ways to bring attention to children’s books and literacy. “All of the changes [at the CBC] are our way of saying this country has its issues and we want to be part of the solution,” Adelson says. “We’re addressing the issue of children not being motivated to read and not reading for enjoyment. If you want something to be fresh and new you’ve got to make a big change.”