Potter magic wears off for book judges
IT MAY have been the world’s fastest-selling book and have done more to spread the English language among the world’s children than anything else written this or last century. But in the Scottish Arts Council’s list of last year’s best children’s books, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn’t make an appearance.
Even though it has broken every kind of publishing record since it was released last June, the novel hasn’t made the shortlist in the SAC’s Children’s Book of the Year awards, which are announced today.
The Order of the Phoenix was submitted for consideration for the award but was not one of the 15 books to make the judges’ longlist. Although the four judges were allowed to call in books that were not on the list for the children’s award, none of them did so.
When asked why The Order of the Phoenix had not been called in, one of the judges said that he didn’t realise it had been eligible in the first place.
But according to the SAC’s own rules, it would have been eligible for the awards, and is not disqualified because it is part of a series.
Indeed in 2001, Rowling won an SAC award for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in her phenomenally successful series, even though she had already won another SAC award for her second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, only two years before.
Although she gave back the 1,000 she won in the 2001 awards, and although she did not attend the awards ceremony, Rowling said at the time that "an award that is so particularly Scottish means a lot to me".
Off the record, some leading figures in the world of children’s books admit that the decision not to include Harry Potter V in this year’s SAC shortlist makes sense. The awards are meant to highlight the diversity of Scottish children’s writing, they insist, and in any case there is too little development in Rowling’s fiction.
Such is the popularity of Rowling’s writing among children that few people in the world of children’s publishing are prepared to say that in public. But the fact that Rowling has been similarly passed over for awards such as the Whitbread and the Carnegie this year may be evidence of a certain critical slighting of her work.
The critics who point out that, on the contrary, Rowling’s books do change along with her characters, that they have massive inventive depth and an increasing darkness and complexity, argue that this is the secret of their enduring appeal.
Although the phenomenal sales of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone commanded a lot of attention at the time, less has been paid to the phenomenon of the English language edition’s sales in Europe.
Indeed, as this version topped the best-seller lists in Germany, France and many other countries, a whole generation of Europeans may have learnt to speak English through the stories of a teenage wizard’s battle against the evil Lord Voldemort.
The books chosen for the shortlist include King o’ The Midden, a book of rhymes in Scots edited by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson; Elizabeth Laird’s The Garbage King, about third-world street children; and Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket Close, a thriller set in Edinburgh at the time of Burke and Hare.
For the first time, children played a part in selecting the shortlisted books for the 5,000 children’s prize.
Four readers from Orange Chatterbox library reading groups joined a four-strong judging panel chaired by Scotland on Sunday’s literary editor, Andrew Crumey.
The shortlist for the SAC’s Book of the Year comprises Anne Donovan’s Buddha Da; James Robertson’s Joseph Knight; and Landscapes and Legacies, a collection of poetry by Tom Pow.
The winner of the award - which at 10,000 is Scotland’s most lucrative literary prize - will be announced at a ceremony in Edinburgh on 24 June.
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