Why we launched the Amnesty CILIP Honour

Nicky Parker, Amnesty, speaking

On 23 October CILIP and Amnesty International UK announced a major new partnership. The two organisations will supplement the long-standing Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals with a new commendation: the Amnesty CILIP Honour. We believe this is a milestone in recognising the power of books to help children shape a better world.

In essence, Amnesty’s judging panel will award the honour to one book from each of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlists. The books we commend will be those that we believe most distinctively illuminate, communicate or celebrate human rights – which in essence are freedom, truth, justice and fairness, detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We at Amnesty are extremely proud to be partnering with CILIP. We know the vital role that librarians play in creating a well-informed, balanced and responsible society and we want to celebrate the books on their Kate Greenaway and Carnegie shortlists.

Why this partnership?

For several years we at Amnesty have been wanting to establish an award that celebrates the connections between great children’s books and human rights. Media reports can make people fearful and worried that human rights are an inappropriate topic for young children. But human rights are positive; it is their violation that is negative.

Amnesty and CILIP share core values on intellectual freedoms and we are delighted that CILIP and the Youth Libraries Group are keen to collaborate with us. We couldn’t wish for more knowledgeable partners in the world of children’s books.

We have a lot in common: both CILIP and Amnesty are founded on stories and information. For Amnesty, it’s traditionally about bearing witness and giving voice to the voiceless. It’s well-known that writers are always among the first to be imprisoned under repressive regimes, because dictators are frightened of the power of ideas, stories and poetry to change society. One of Amnesty’s first prisoners of conscience was the Angolan doctor and poet Agostinho Neto, who suffered terrible brutality at the hands of the ruling Portuguese authorities before becoming the first president of Angola. There is a long roll-call of other imprisoned writers - think of poets Irina Ratuschinskayaand Jack Mapanje (imprisoned in the Soviet Union and Malawi respectively), singer-songwriter Victor Jara (murdered in Chile) and Vaclav Havel, who was subjected to many stints in prison and eventually became first president of the Czech Republic. Today, poet Liu Xia, wife of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been under illegal house arrest in China since 2010.

Writers rely on the human right to freedom of expression, as do libraries and Amnesty’s eight million supporters around the world. With the Amnesty CILIP Honour, we have the opportunity to highlight the content of children’s books – and the many freedoms and rights writers and illustrators regularly engage with but which are often ignored.

Celebrating children’s books and human rights

Like CILIP, at Amnesty we believe that children’s books are essential on many levels – social, emotional and intellectual. They broaden horizons and offer safe spaces to explore ideas. They enable children and young adults to make sense of the world around them. They provide hope in times of darkness. Most importantly, perhaps, they enable readers to imagine what it is like to be someone else, to walk around in their shoes. Authors and illustrators are past masters of encouraging the development of empathy – a skill that is essential in combating prejudice and thwarting the growth of conflict. And it’s a skill that needs nurturing. Our education team provides completely free training and resources, including notes on using fiction to teach about human rights. We encourage and welcome librarians to make use of this via our free TeachRights scheme at www.amnesty.org.uk/education

Amnesty UK has worked for over a decade on developing children’s literature that upholds our human rights and the values that underpin them.We’ve partnered with publishers, authors, illustrators and bookshops. Books we’ve commissioned include FREE? with Walker Books, We Are All Born Free and Dreams of Freedom with Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Some lovely films about them are at www.amnesty.org.uk/everybody, www.amnesty.org.uk/dreams and www.amnesty.org.uk/chickenshed.

We also endorse picture books – like Birgitta Sif’s Oliver about an eccentric little boy (celebrating our human right to an identity) - as well as novels for older children such as Sita Brahmachari’s Red Leaves, which looks at belonging, identity, what home means. We want to raise awareness of important themes within apparently simple books and, by offering notes at the end of a novel, we provide young readers with information about what they can do next. We offer them a safe way of turning empathy into action - moving from a story that has fired up their imagination into the real world where they can show solidarity.

What sorts of books are we looking for?

Don’t worry that we’ll only look for dark, realist books. Having fun is an important aspect of enjoying our human rights. We read every book on the shortlists this year to check our belief that great books engage with human rights – and sure enough, they all do. For this we have the expertise of youth librarians to thank! Catherine Rayner’s Smelly Louie, for example, about the dog who loves to roll in smelly, mucky substances, is very celebratory of the right to an identity and freedom of expression. And this year’s nomination There’s a Bear on my Chair by Ross Collins, about a mouse trying to get a bear off his chair, strikes me as having more than a bit to do with our right to protest…

Amnesty CILIP Honour judges will include me, Rowena Seabrook (our head of education) and Tanya Landman, whose Carnegie-winning Buffalo Soldier engages with so many human rights. We’ll invite young winners of our Youth Awards to join us too. And of course the awards will continue to be shadowed in schools, where children submit their own reviews of what they’ve read. We’re going to supplement CILIP’s very comprehensive notes for teachers with extra human rights education resources, and we’ll promote the scheme to our extensive TeachRights network.

We’ll host a shortlist announcement party at our Human Rights Action Centre in London on 15th March –put it in your diaries!

Helping children shape a better world

With this Amnesty CILIP Honour, we want to highlight great books that develop children’s awareness of human rights and the values that underpin them – books that raise aspirations, build empathy and give children strength to stand up for themselves and each other.

We want to celebrate the work of libraries, the books on the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie shortlists and we want to empower children to make a difference, to stand up for themselves and each other.

Books really do have the power to help children shape a better world.

References

Image Credit - Photography by Phil Wilkinson, original cropped and resized

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