The Literacy Association of Ireland (which we used to know as the Reading Association of Ireland) is part of a worldwide organisation of people who are professionally involved in the teaching of reading and the encouragement of the reading habit. The Literacy Association of Ireland clearly interprets the term ‘literacy’ in its broadest sense, because one of its most public activities is its biennial selection for its awards of Irish-published books for children and young people, in Irish and English. These are mainstream reading-for-pleasure titles, not designed with literacy teaching in mind.
In the past, awards have on occasion been made not to authors but to publishers that the association felt deserved special recognition (Little Island received a publishing award in 2011, for example), but generally speaking, RAI awards (as they used to be called) went to outstanding books published in Ireland over a two-year period. What distinguishes these awards from other book awards in Ireland is that the association has always exclusively awarded Irish publishers and Irish-published books. This year for the first time the Literacy Association of Ireland has divided its awards shortlist into four age-related categories, from picturebooks for the very young to young adult novels, with three titles at each age level.
This year the LAI shortlist consisted of twelve titles in four categories, four of which (all at the lower age-levels) were in the Irish language. It is a tribute to Irish publishers of books for children and young people that the association was able to shortlist twelve books for its awards across the age groups. Little Island was delighted to have two titles on this year’s shortlist, both in the YA category.
The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde was published in 2015 and is aimed at readers of around 10–14. It is a Dystopian novel, set in a post-Apocalyptic, neo-medieval world, in a society where language and the arts are under pressure from the apparently benign (but in reality dangerously unhinged) leader. When the wise old wordsmith, who is charged with defining and doling out a very limited number of words to schoolchildren and trades-people, fails to return from a research trip, his young apprentice Letta has to step up to the plate and become the custodian of language. An adventure story that challenges children to think politically and philosophically. Rights in this title have been sold to North America, Australia/NZ and Denmark.
A Lonely Note, which won the award in the YA category, is a novel by Kevin Stevens published in 2016, who has published several adult novels as well as a handful of titles for children and young people with Little Island. Written in beautifully cadenced prose, A Lonely Note is a story about a Muslim adolescent of Iraqi background growing into manhood in modern America and coping with pressures and challenges from within his family and from school and society. Tariq’s struggle to become himself in the face of pressures is engaging and poetic and the story builds to a tense and cinematic climax. A story about race, masculinity, being an outsider, searching for a father figure, this novel is far more than the sum of its themes – it is a truly astonishing work of literature by a very fine writer. Little Island is delighted that this outstanding novel has been recognised by the LAI award.
This is what the judges of the LAI award had to say about A Lonely Note:
‘A quite wonderful addition to the literature for young adults describing the immigrant experience, this is a stand-out book. … The story is beautifully written, with well-developed characters that tackles issues such as bullying, alienation, religion and teenage uncertainty, seamlessly woven into an engaging and gripping story. It has a great voice and is a well written account of the struggle for identity. Simply superb.’
Other winning books were published by An Gúm, Futa Fata and The O’Brien Press.
by Siobhán Parkinson