Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Well, look at us. Here's Alexis giving his bit of the acceptance speech for the 2016 Little Rebels Award at the London Radical Bookfair, with his hand in his pocket as is appropriate, and me making the appropriate face for an award winner, and Wendy Cooling getting ready to hand over the framed trophy, most appropriate of all in every way.

This is hands down the best thing I've won in my whole life. - The Little rebels Award recognises books that celebrate social justice and equality for children aged 0-12 - what could be better?

Don't be too cross that I was reduced to making faces by the end, people said the most wonderful things about "I am Henry Finch".
Kerry Mason of Letterbox Library who runs the award put it like this:
“It’s an absolute gem of a picture book. It deploys the simplest of graphics and text to ponder vast questions about our humanity. Viviane Schwarz’s blood red thumbprint finches get to the beating heart of our existence and Alexis Deacon’s minimalist, beautifully structured, sentences are like a beginner’s course in existentialist thought. This is a book which respects and honours the youngest of readers, believing them capable of and thirsty for philosophical thought.”

Out fellow shortlistees were: Michael Rosen and Neal Layton for Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed, Gill Lewis with Gorilla Dawn (who won the award in 2015), John Boyne with The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a Girl, Michael Foreman with The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army! - A strong list!

We had a panel talk with everyone who could make it. It was a sunny day (hence me stealing Alexis' hat), the trees around Goldsmith College were scattering pink petals everywhere. It was a very friendly talk, despite the underlying frustration of an overall lack of "rebellious" picture books being published in the UK. It's hard to not be friendly when pretty much everyone involved still has pink petals stuck somewhere on their head. Michael Foreman pulled his impressive backlist out of a handy suitcase like a stage magician, Alexis and I demonstrated some domestic birdsong and everyone agreed that there should be more rebellious books. I contemplated the 70s German books I had as a child and wondered if I was the only one there who feels that current UK picture books are incredibly tame on the whole, and that the books I learned to read with would knock them sideways...
My favourite book had a page with a naked king that you could glue paper pants on if you thought he deserved them, and my sister made him some that you could take off again just to annoy him. Many times I went holding a book that bothered me up to my mother, asking: "Is this ok???" And she's say: "No, it isn't", or "Yes it is", or "I am not sure", and always "Lets talk about it," but never "They really shouldn't make such confusing books for children!" - Reading the same books again, I still find that they encourage discussion, and I am impressed with my family, and grateful.
So I guess I was lucky. I want all children to be that lucky. I don't want access to information and permission to take agency to be a privilege. Opportunities to be confused and difficult and curious and learning in ways that can't be measured in standardised tests and judged across the board must be a basic right for every child.

It was great to meet the judges and organisers, the fellow artists and book sellers at the fair.
I am enormously heartened seeing the level of political engagement in such a respectful and creative environment.
I've got a bit tired of London lately as everything I love is getting pushed out and shined over gradually, but... we have a new mayor now who I actually voted for, and we still have events like this one, and there is hope. Maybe we can even fix education, eventually.

I am enormously proud to feel that Henry can be a mascot for rebellious thought, until next year. But let's make books fit to dethrone him with panache and kindness and curiosity. Let's keep asking questions as well as explaining what we think we know. Picture books are not just for putting tiny children to sleep peacefully, they are for waking them up as well.

Here's a writeup in the Guardian (just in case you are for example a member of my family and want to see that this is a real award) and here is the proper, detailed official event writeup by Letterbox Library.

Photos copyright Letterbox Library.