By Ellie Brady, Caitlin Evans and Thomas Caldow
The inaugural Woke Babies Book Awards will take place this February, curated by the company behind the monthly Black children’s books subscription box, Woke Babies. The awards are set to shine a light on talented Black creatives in the children’s book industry.
Woke Babies was founded by Kelly-Jade Nicholls and the team consists of Amara Lawrence, Natasha Vignon, Adrienne Thomas and Promise Asaenaepha. Every month they select a bespoke collection of Black children’s literature, as well as games and activities, for children of various ages and levels of understanding, to educate and inspire while ultimately remaining fun and accessible. As stated on their website, in 2017 only 1% of all children’s books published in the UK featured a Black protagonist. Clearly seeing a gap to be filled, Woke Babies set to work and began actively improving the availability of Black children’s literature for young Black readers in the UK.
Their mission is to keep the art of reading books alive for youngsters, and as such they provide top class children’s books by Black creatives. They hope to keep Black children inspired by providing them with an extensive vocabulary and educational resources through their careful selection of immersive and creative books. This, they believe, helps to spark young Black children’s imagination and sense of empowerment. With a flexible £20-per-box subscriptions service that allows users to cancel or skip months whenever they need, Woke Babies ensure that their services remain accessible to young Black readers no matter what.
The awards are separated into four categories: Author of the Year, Illustrator of the Year, Picture Book of the Year, and Special Recognition Award. The categories aim to reflect the vibrant children’s literature industry, including the importance of artistic style and illustrations to children’s books and stories.
The Special Recognition Award is particularly of note, as the award celebrates self-published authors, something that the Literary Prizes industry often fails to do. This issue is even more prevalent for Black authors and illustrators; statistics prove that the current publishing industry lacks diversity and representation of Black communities, meaning that many Black creatives turn to self-publishing their own work instead. The Special Recognition Award hopes to give back to those authors and celebrate their work that deserves to be recognised as any other authors. The award is sponsored by DK, who will provide a £1,000 prize to support the winning author as they write their next book. The World Book Day organisation are also sponsoring one of the Awards, by featuring the Picture Book of the Year winner in their Share a Story Corner.
Another notable feature of the Woke Babies Book Awards is the recognition of public opinion. Public nominations were open until 4 February for the Picture Book of the Year and Special Recognition categories. The eligibility criteria for these nominations included that they must be appropriate for the target market of ages 3–6, as well as feature a Black protagonist and author or illustrator. Not only this, but nominated books must not be about a struggle-based historical or social theme: instead, the award hopes to celebrate and normalise Black literature on any and all topics.
The award’s talent is not just on show in the books it celebrates but, in the judges, as well. They include:
Natasha Vignon: As the prizes representative for Woke Babies, Vignon states, “To be a part of this ground-breaking award ceremony for children's books is incredible."
Ken Wilson-Max: Wilson-Max has spent close to thirty years writing and illustrating a wealth of beautiful children’s books and championing diversity in writing.
Rykesha Hudson: Rykesha works with Book Trust Represents to celebrate Black creatives. She also runs an Instagram which highlights inclusive picture books.
Kirsty Cunnington: Kirsty honed her expertise in the field of children’s literature through her position as Programme Manager for the National Literacy Trust.
Kate Sayer: Kate’s work with World Book Day means that she is a children’s literature expert ready to bring her knowledge to the prize.
Francesca Young: Francesca’s role as Publisher at DK means she is ready to be an excellent judge for the inaugural award.
Trish Cooke: Trish has been the author of children’s literature since 1989. She was also a writer on the CBBC hit show The Tweenies.
Elorine Grant: As an Art Director, Elorine has lent her talents to many award-winning children’s books. Her success ensures she will be an excellent judge.
Jasmine Richards: For more than fifteen years Jasmine has worked in children’s publishing. Alongside her work as an author, she has founded the Storymix enterprise.
Marvyn Harrison: Founder of Dope Black Dads in 2018, Marvyn works to support and celebrate the Black community. He will publish his first children’s book this year.
Sallyanne Sweeney: Sallyanne’s work as a literary agent has led her to grow an award-winning client list including Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola.
Liz Pemberton: With a background in nursery management and teaching, Liz has seen first-hand the importance of representation in children’s books.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming book nominations from this fantastic new prize!