The annual All Party Writers Group (APWG) Winter Reception at the House of Commons in early December was a hive of writers, Lords and MPs, who celebrated the presentation of not one, but two prestigious ALCS-sponsored awards.

First came the announcement of the 2017 Educational Writers’ Award, the UK’s only award for creative educational writing, which was won by The Book of Bees, written by Wojciech Grajkowski, illustrated by Piotr Socha, and translated into English from the Polish by Agnes Monod-Gayraud.

The Book of Bees is a striking, witty and many-layered hive of a book which tracks bumble bees from the age of the dinosaurs to their current plight, swarming with information along the way about the role bees have played throughout history and in the rest of the natural world. It also answers such buzzing questions as: Who survived being stung by 2443 bees? What does a beekeeper actually do? And how do bees communicate?

The winner of the Educational Writers’ Award – celebrating its 10th anniversary this year – was announced by John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the APWG.  Roger Thorp, Editorial Director at winning publisher, Thames & Hudson, accepted the award on behalf of the author and illustrator from John Glen MP (both pictured above), Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism.

This year’s judges were school librarian Marion Le Lannou; London headteacher Mike Reeves; and writer, editor and publisher of books for young people Annemarie Young, who described the judging process as “tough but rewarding”. She added “good non-fiction deserves to be treated as literature, and deserves more support”. The judges were unanimous in their praise for the winning title:

“The Book of Bees is a wonderfully imagined and wittily illustrated compendium of information all about bees their central role in our world, which pitches contrasting elements together in just the way that children love.  Full of humour, it takes in the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, entomology, botany, the Bible, design, technology and more, breaking the subject of bees out of its traditional confines. Everything is beautifully explained in detail on a double-page spread for a deeper understanding. Quite magnificent.”

The 2017 Educational Writers’ Award focused on books for 5-11 year olds, published in 2015 and 2016. The Book of Bees beat off strong competition from the five other titles shortlisted for this year’s Award. They were Secrets of the Sea, written by Kate Baker and illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Big Picture Press/Templar); Fluttering Minibeast Adventures, written by Jess French and illustrated by Jonathan Woodward, with paper engineering by Keith Finch (Red Shed/Egmont); Genius! The Most Astonishing Inventions of All Time, written by Deborah Kespert and designed by Karen Wilks (Thames & Hudson); How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons, written by Sean McManus and illustrated by Venitia Dean (QED Publishing/Quarto); and Tree of Wonder: the many Marvelous Lives of a Rainsforest Tree, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Simona Mulazzani (Chronicle Books).

Now in its tenth year, the Educational Writers’ Award was established in 2008 by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) and the Society of Authors (SoA) “to celebrate educational writing that inspires creativity and encourages students to read widely and build up their understanding of a subject beyond the requirements of exam specifications”.

The second award of the day went to children’s author, Cressida Cowell, who won the Ruth Rendell Award for the author or writer who has done the most to raise literacy levels in the UK, either through their writing and books, or through their advocacy and championing in the cause of literacy.

The Ruth Rendell Award was established in 2016 by ALCS and the National Literacy Trust in memory of bestselling novelist Ruth Rendell who died in 2015 aged 85. Known for writing thrillers and psychological murder mysteries, including the Inspector Wexford series, she was also a long-time champion of the National Literacy Trust and its work to raise literacy levels in the UK.

Accepting the Award, Cressida Cowell said:

“I’m deeply touched and honoured to be the recipient of this year’s Ruth Rendell Award. Thank you so much to the National Literacy Trust, ALCS and the judging panel. I do feel, though, that I should be passing it back to the National Literacy Trust, whose unstinting work on behalf of children is so crucial. I’m part of a community of authors, librarians, teachers, booksellers and literacy organisations whose advocacy is still very badly needed: one in eight disadvantaged children still do not own a book, and one in three children leave primary school lacking the ability to read well. My first role as a children’s book writer is to get as many children as possible reading for pleasure, in the same way that I read for the joy of it when I was a child. Books have a unique capacity for awakening empathy and creative thinking, and reading for pleasure has a significant, measurable impact on academic achievement, happiness and earning potential.”

Cressida Cowell (pictured left with John Glen MP) is the author and illustrator of the bestselling How to Train Your Dragon book series. Over the past year, she has travelled the length and breadth of the UK to promote reading for enjoyment and give creative writing and events and workshops to 15,000 school children. She has also worked as an author ambassador for a wealth of literacy campaigns on behalf of charities and organisations including the National Literacy Trust, BookTrust, The Reading Agency, World Book Day and the Premier League.

Commenting on the decision of the judging panel to give the second Ruth Rendell Award to Cressida Cowell, Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust said:

“We are delighted to announce Cressida as the winner of this year’s Ruth Rendell Award. Cressida lives and breathes her faith in the transformative power of books, making it both her personal and professional mission to change children’s lives through literacy. Not only have Cressida’s wonderfully written and illustrated books inspired millions of children to fall in love with reading, but her workshops and events are legendary for inspiring children to start writing stories of their own. Cressida’s wonderful impact on children’s literacy in the UK cannot be underestimated.”

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of ALCS, said:

“Ruth was for many years an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group, and a great advocate for writers and literacy, and we’re absolutely thrilled to be involved in this fitting tribute to her. Our congratulations go to Cressida who is a worthy winner of this award.”

Read the full press releases

A Hive of Information! The Book of Bees wins the UK’s only award for creative educational writing

Cressida Cowell crowned UK literacy champion as she wins Ruth Rendell Award 2017

Pictures © Matt Crossick