Hello everybody! Today, I’m super excited to be part of the blog tour for the Children’s Book Award, with both an explanation of what the award is and a guest post from shortlisted author Liz Kessler. Onto the post!
The Children’s Book Award is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. It is highly regarded by parents, teachers, librarians, publishers and children’s authors and illustrators as it represents the children’s choice. Thanks to the support of the publishers, around 800 new fiction titles are donated to be read and reviewed by local FCBG groups across the country every year. This year approx 50,000 total votes were cast, and we expect many thousands more to come in for the Top 10. At the end of each testing year, many of the books are donated to hospitals, women’s refuges, nurseries and disadvantaged schools by our groups.
There wasn’t an award in 2021 – the challenges of getting books out to the child judges in lockdowns meant the award did not run last year. Therefore, this year’s award celebrates the most popular books from 2020 and 2021 so no one misses out. If you’d like to buy packs of the books, you can do so here.
And now, onto the post from Liz Kessler, about her shortlisted book and the incredible true story it’s based on!
Many years ago, I saw the phrase ‘Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty’ on a sticker and have loved it ever since. As an ethos, it takes some beating – especially in current times. With everything going on in the world at the moment, I believe that acts of kindness are needed now more than ever.
Partly why this phrase means so much to me personally is because it was an act of extraordinary compassion more than 80 years ago that saved my family’s lives.
The remarkable chain of events began during a trip on a Danube Steamer in 1934 when my father – at the time a four-year-old Jewish boy living in Vienna – nearly scuffed a fellow passenger’s dress.
As a result of that chance encounter, the woman, a Mrs Gladys Jones from a small village in the north-west of England, got into conversation with my grandfather. Their conversation led to a day spent together, a tour of Vienna and a taste of my grandmother’s home-made Sachertorte – the famous Viennese cake.
Some time after their return to England, Mr and Mrs Jones wrote in halting German to thank my grandparents on the headed notepaper of their dental practice.
Four years later, when my family’s lives were in immense danger from Hitler’s Nazi regime, this letter would be the thing that would save them.
As a Jewish family, their rights were already strictly limited in 1938, and they knew that their lives were becoming more and more in danger. They were not allowed to leave the country without a sworn statement from someone in the country they wanted to get to. But they didn’t know anyone at all – until my grandfather found the letter from Gladys Jones.
He wrote to the Joneses, asking if they might be able to help, and the English couple did something that changed the course of my family’s lives forever: they said yes.
And so in May 1939, with one box of personal possessions, thirty shillings in English money, no knowledge of the language and a huge debt of gratitude to the Joneses, my family came to England and were free to live the rest of their lives without the threat of Fascism, oppression and death hanging over them.
The knowledge of how much an act of kindness can transform someone’s life has always been in my heart and last year my novel When The World Was Ours, inspired by the extraordinary events of my dad’s childhood, was published.
The novel follows the lives of three children during a decade of change, displacement and war. Perhaps the most heart-breaking thing about it is that these themes are not a thing of the past. They are as relevant today as they ever have been. My biggest hope for my book is that young people will read it and find themselves relating to the themes and the characters, and that it will inspire them to think about their own role in their lives and in the world today.
I pass this book on to the next generation as a baton and an invitation. And I hope and pray that in another generation’s time, my book will be a story of unthinkable events that can barely be imagined by the children of the future and that we might, finally, have learned that kindness, compassion, empathy and love are the things that will make the world a place for all of us.
Thank you so much for reading! Have you read this book, or do you want to? Do you find this an interesting period of history to read about? I’d love to have a chat with you in the comments!