Little Rebels is a relative newcomer on the children’s book award scene. Now in its sixth year, the award was conceived by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and established in conjunction with Letterbox Library. The prize celebrates the best in children’s books, for ages birth through to 12, which tackle, explore and celebrate ideas of social justice through well-crafted stories and exceptional artwork.
Little Rebels is currently run by Letterbox Library in partnership with Housmans Bookshop. Both Letterbox Library and Housmans Bookshop have long histories of unearthing, foregrounding and celebrating literature about social justice. Letterbox Library is a 33-year-old mail order children’s booksellers specialising in bringing inclusive and anti-discriminatory books to schools and nurseries. Housmans is the longest surviving and one of the last remaining radical bookshops, with a growing and exciting children’s book section. Their respective specialisms in equalities and radical thought make them the natural choices for creating a new canon of social justice children’s fiction through the vehicle of this award.
In the world of children’s literature, social justice can of course take many guises. Previous submissions to Little Rebels have introduced an exploding teddy bear, a boy who likes to knit rainbow-coloured scarves, a child who is ostracised for-quite literally- defying gravity and a field of worms who join a union and go on strike. Previous winners of the award have embraced feminist insurrections, young people navigating the care system and… a little finch who ponders on weighty existentialist concepts! Interestingly, two of the five winners have been refugee narratives, reflecting the recent concerns of some children’s authors to give children stories to counter some of the hateful anti-refugee rhetoric so prevalent in our wider popular culture.
By highlighting and amplifying the existence of social justice books, the Little Rebels Award becomes so much more than simply an accolade of good quality children’s literature. The award expands the appreciation of children's literature out of the next best seller or sparkly book series. It takes quiet and patient stock of the books which nudge and provoke, which gently encourage children to notice the world around them, to ask questions and, where necessary, to challenge the status quo. If our children are witness to the world then they are witness to social injustices. The stories we give them can empower them to make sense of such things and they can also enable them, if they choose, to join us adults when we say, 'this has to change'.
This is what the Little Rebels Award embraces; simply put, it celebrates children's compassion and keeps their hunger for asking 'why?' alive and well.
For full details of the award, click on The Little Rebels Award for Radical Fiction. And do sign up for updates! You can also follow the progress of the award on Twitter at @littlerebsprize. The shortlist will be announced in May and the winner will be announced at the annual London Radical Bookfair on 2 June.