The International Reading Association’s Literacy and Social Responsibility Special Interest Group has announced a new award for children’s books: The Social Justice Literature Award.
The group’s announcement says:
This award is presented to honor books that address social responsibility towards individuals, communities, societies, and/or the environment as well as invite reflection and socially responsible action by the reader. . . .I support the social goals stated in the award criteria. I don’t think that books which promote such ends or are even written to promote them must necessarily come across as didactic. Nor do I think that books without explicit political or social messages really lack political and social implications. And I even think that the American children’s-book industry is already somewhat didactic, though it may resist that label.
Selected books include picture books and non-picture books, with poetry, narrative, and nonfiction titles appropriate for each category. Books selected for a given year must be published in the United States by the end of the preceeding year…[and] must meet the following criteria:
Strong Literary and Artistic Qualities, including but not limited to:
- Fostering respect and understanding of a diverse population
- Promoting equity, justice, peace, and/or social responsibility
- Presenting social issues in their complexity
- Addressing social responsibility towards individuals, communities, societies, and/or the environment
- Appealing to the intended audience
- Inviting reflection and socially responsible action by the reader
- Analyzing causes of injustice and revealing alternatives and/or challenges to the injustice, opening the imagination to other possibilities
Still, I see in this award description a conflation of “Literary and Artistic Qualities” with political goals and outcomes. I’d prefer to see an award for books that promote those ideas or explore those themes and also exhibit strong literary and artistic qualities separate from ideology.