Alan Dingley, is a librarian at Palmerston North Intermediate School and judge and convenor of judges for this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Alan has extensive experience working in schools and with children of all ages.
From special needs assistant, to school librarian, drama tutor, to professional improviser and MC, Alan has developed skills and ideas that he puts into practice with youth literacy programmes, team building and confidence workshops. He believes children who don't like reading, just haven't found the right book yet.
Alan has been kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to be a judge, as well as his thoughts on the entire process, and how this year’s finalist books will delight readers of all ages. Thank you, Alan!
I believe it’s crucial that any book awards for children and young adults should have librarian representation. We are on the ‘frontline’ and have unparalleled same-space access to the titles and the students. Being able to promote New Zealand literature within that dynamic is so important for our continued growth of literacy in our young people.
There were a ton of books entered in the 2021 awards. Take us through your process of how you balanced reading all of the books and also being a convener of judges.
Reading over 150 books, of different styles and genres, is difficult enough but you are also reading to judge, not just for enjoyment. That can cloud your decision sometimes as you may be reading different books from what you’re into, so you must shelve your preferences in favour of professional impartiality.
What do you think readers will take away from this year’s list of finalists?
This year a couple of themes that pop up are the environment and well-being. None of it is bashing the audience over the head though, it’s touched on lightly, or obliquely. The range of titles definitely contains something for everyone.
What experiences would you like to share with the readers of this article?
I have been lucky enough to have been a judge for two years and I believe the awards benefit from a steady turnover of judges. I would love to see the judges be used as part of the promotional angle for the awards, maybe also add a younger judge for the shortlist process! I was so lucky to be surrounded by passionate, intelligent judges, it made this such a fulfilling experience.
How do you think librarians and libraries can get more involved in early childhood life?
Librarians need to be proactive, more than ever. Sometimes by nature librarians are their own worst enemy, as they may be more comfortable letting people come to them, instead of raising elbows and pushing to the front. We must promote our awesomeness, and believe in the value we bring to our communities. We may have to ask ourselves ‘Is it us?’, so that we can figure out how libraries can draw people in, and keep them coming back.
What do you think libraries could be doing to be more effective in supporting reading for pleasure?
We need to show that we are taking an interest in what is interesting to our users! Know what book is next if they are reading Andy Griffiths, or Reina Telemeiger, all WITHOUT JUDGEMENT! I shamelessly suggest The Day My Bum Went Psycho a lot, because they will giggle, and then we’re in on the subversiveness together.
Why do you believe it is important for children to have a positive relationship with reading at an early age?
Reading is something that, regardless of status, is accessible to everyone. Children need to see us read, they need to hear us read, and they need to hear us talk about books, and libraries, as the magical escapes that they are. We need to promote what we love.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of children literature and books?
Bravery from libraries, authors and publishers. No topic off limits, trust the reader in their need and want to explore. Illustrators are given more and more space.
Do you have any inspiring words to share with the young people of New Zealand that are thinking about writing a book?
I am honest with my students. I have great ideas but no follow-up, kind of like a firework, big bang and flash….then nothing! I tell them to write any idea down, save it, revisit regularly, leave it if it isn’t moving you forward.
What are you most looking forward to readers discovering through this year’s list of finalists?
There will be, as always, surprises but we can assure you that the judges left nothing on the table. I look forward to people revisiting the winners, hoping they will see what the judges saw.
If not, then that’s the great thing about books, we may pick up the same title, but everybody reads a different book.