• 85 Year old Holocaust survivor Peter Lantos’ memoir wins Information award
  • A verse novel tackling county lines exploitation wins the 11-14+ category
  • A picturebook about loss and grief wins the 3-6+
  • An exemplary first chapter book wins the highly competitive 7-10+
  • A first win for unique indie publisher UCLan Publishing

The UKLA Awards, the only national book awards exclusively judged by teachers, have been announced, recognising four truly exceptional books as 2024 winners. Scooping the 11-14+ category award, Crossing the Line by debut author Tia Fisher was described by the judges as a ‘life-saving book’. A LR4K Star Book, and winner of the Yoto Carnegie Shadowers' Choice Medal for Writing 2024, Crossing the Line is an immersive and powerful verse novel about terrifying county lines child exploitation, that the author acknowledges is based upon the real experiences of a friend’s son. Tia commented: ‘I'm so grateful to the teachers who have promoted Crossing the Line in their schools, not only to the children but also to staff and parents. The UKLA award will give Erik's story even greater visibility, opening much- needed conversations around county lines and exemplifying the importance of reading for pleasure.’ We were lucky enough to interview Tia Fisher about her stunning debut, you can watch the event here in conversation with Joy Court, and also read a feature by Tia explaining why she felt this was a story to be told in a verse novel format.

The 3-14+ Information category features another groundbreaking text, The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Die, and also awards the eldest winner on record. Peter Lantos has said he felt he had a moral obligation to write this account of his survival for children, as one of the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust. Katya Balen, a Guest Editor on LR4K in January 2023 picked The Boy Who Didn't Want to Die as her Book of the Month, saying "it's not an easy read, but it is an important one. It is also one that manages to find hope even in the darkest places." The book describes an extraordinary journey, made by Peter, a boy of five, through war-torn Europe in 1944 and 1945. Peter and his parents set out from a small Hungarian town, travelling through Austria and then Germany together. The judges felt that Peter’s lived experience related in his ‘simple, direct and truthful style’ was entirely appropriate for the audience and, it ends on a positive note. “It’s a book, not about death, but about survival.” Peter commented on his win: "I am delighted to receive this most prestigious award from the United Kingdom Literacy Association. The memory of having taught medical students for some 40 years adds a special appreciation to the fact that it comes from fellow teachers."

Grief and loss are also explored in the 3-6+ category winner, The Hare-Shaped Hole by John Dougherty and Thomas Docherty, but the judges felt that this ‘beautiful, moving and important book’ gave children of all ages the ‘vocabulary to talk about loss’ and that ‘this was a universal feeling with a much wider application.’ A beautiful story of love loss grief and the power of memories, The Hare-Shaped Hole feels hopeful as it focuses on collecting and carrying positive memories.

The judging criteria call for the selection to be from a “wide and inclusive range” of publishers and the winner of the 7-10+ category is a first for unique indie publisher UCLan Publishing. They are based at The University of Central Lancashire and involve students at every stage of the publishing process. The MA Publishing at UCLan teaches students the tools they need to work in the industry whilst giving them live UCLan Publishing projects to work on. Winners of this age category are most usually best suited to the top of the category age range but, with only 176 pages, Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest by Liz Flanagan, illustrated throughout by Joe Todd-Stanton has seen off some big hitting challengers on the shortlist, including the Yoto Carnegie shortlisted, The Song Walker by Zillah Bethel. This fantasy story is a clever and satisfying blend of fairy tale and ecology. A short read with fast paced chapters and brilliantly illustrated throughout, it is a perfect choice for children who are emerging as independent readers. The judges praised this ‘excellent adventure’ with its ‘anime like’ illustrations and the ‘brilliantly written age- appropriate text’ make it the ‘perfect first chapter book’ providing ‘pure reading for pleasure’. 

As Chris Lockwood, Awards Chair said “Once again, the range and quality of the books submitted for our award were of the highest standard. There are many talented and creative writers, illustrators and translators bringing forward exciting and stimulating works for children and young people. Publishers should be congratulated on their efforts to identify, nurture and support creators working in this area. Our range of teacher judges this year needed all their skill, knowledge and insight to select the texts to go forward to the shortlists, and the final panel, which chose the winning books, should be proud and delighted with the outcomes.”

From the 84 teacher judges involved in this unique process, twelve are nominated by their colleagues to go on to form the final judging panel which decided the winners of the UKLA 2024 Book Awards. They read the shortlists from all four categories regardless of the age group they teach, which adds a fascinating insight to the impassioned debate. As judge Florella Scozzafava said “Being on the UKLA teacher judging panel has helped me expand my reading habits and, with the support of other teacher judges, step out of my comfort zone. Hearing different interpretations on texts has helped me think more critically about what roles particular texts serve and this has made me even more deliberate in my book-buying decision making for school. I've come away from every meeting buzzing with ideas of how to use texts and inspired by colleagues across the country who work so hard to promote the love of reading.”

The fact that these shortlists are judged by class teachers and can be heartily recommended to their peers makes them particularly useful to the award sponsors. Deborah McLaren, Director of Lovereading4kids said: "What a quality quartet of children's books this is. Out of the 10,000 children's books that are published each year, it's an almost impossible task to pin it down to just four. But pin it down they have, and the teacher judges have selected a fantastic four to fly the flag for reading for pleasure in the classroom. The shortlist was a triumph, and we know at LoveReading4Kids, how challenging it is to select a winner from such a brilliant list of children's books. But the UKLA has done it again, and we are also big fans of all four books. The only national awards to be judged entirely by teachers, the UKLA Awards are a special thing and we love being involved. It's wonderful to know that these books have been shared with children in schools, and they've had such a huge impact. Reading for pleasure is so critical to the outcomes of our children and helps us create readers for life. To everyone involved with the UKLA, your trustees, your members, your teacher judges, thanks for all that you do to encourage reading for pleasure in our children."

Stephen Park, Commercial Director at Reading Cloud said; “Encouraging reading for pleasure and improving literacy are very much at the heart of Reading Cloud, so we are delighted to support these worthwhile and unique children’s book awards as co-sponsors again this year. We are always heartened to see so many dedicated teacher judges all over the UK working with the longlisted, shortlisted, and winning books to inspire a love of reading in their pupil groups and beyond. A big congratulations to the winning titles.”

For UKLA, giving classroom practitioners the opportunity to read high quality new children’s books is as important as finding an overall winner. Research carried out by members of UKLA (Cremin et al 2008) clearly demonstrated the links between teachers’ knowledge of children’s books and the likelihood of pupils becoming successful readers. Despite this evidence, teachers are seldom given time to read new books or funding to purchase them when they do. Once again teachers, student teachers and schools across the UK have been shadowing the final judging and are currently involved in voting for their favourites. Their winners were announced live at the awards ceremony on July 5th at the UKLA International Conference in Brighton.