I can keep quiet no longer.  Despite the fact that some of my favourite authors have been nominated for the Queen of Teen award (“It’s glitzy, it’s glam, it’s the ultimate award for teen fiction!”), I have just looked at the website for the first time now. And while I passionately believe that anything that promotes books and reading to kids is great, I’ve had to spend half an hour in a darkened room to calm down.

If I lived in America, I could reach under my bed for my .50 calibre M2 machine gun and express my sorrow at the state of feminism from the roof of the local MacDonald’s. As I have chosen to reside in a nation that outlaws weapons of mass destruction for personal use, I have to make do with this blog.

Here’s what the QofT folk say about themselves:  “It’s the sparkliest, most glamorous and certainly the pinkest award in the world of fiction…the Queen of Teen award was founded in 2008 to celebrate the feistiest, frothiest and most fantastic writers for the tween and teen market!!!”

OK, The Orange Prize, it ain’t. But just in case you thought there was a serious intelligence behind all this frothy fun, here are some of the probing questions asked of last year’s winner, Louise Rennison:

What makes you smile?

What makes you scream?

Describe your favourite outfit.

What’s your favourite girlie movie?

What’s your favourite saying?

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

What’s your star sign?

Bags or shoes?

Sweets or chocolate?

Bags or shoes?? Why, people, WHY? Why is so much marketing to girls swaddled in sparkly pink and demeaning language?  (Please don’t tell me girls are biologically pre-programmed to like pink, words like ‘fabbie’, and hundreds of exclamation marks, because I grew up in the 60s and I know better.)

I haven’t read Louise Rennison’s books, but I’m prepared to admire them, and I certainly do admire (2008) shortlisted authors Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy, both of whom have dedicated their careers to writing subtle, non-stereotypical novels about all sorts of tough subjects. Couldn’t we nominate them for a prize that wasn’t quite so aggressively…pink?


47 thoughts on “Queen of Teen? Make mine the Prince of Darkness.

  1. lili wilkinson 9 years ago

    Oh, and in answer to your question: Couldn’t we nominate them for a prize that wasn’t quite so aggressively…pink?

    If only. This year every single title on the Guardian Fiction Prize shortlist had a male protagonist. Our literary awards culture is ridiculously skewed away from books about girls and women. Awards like the Queen of Teen are the only place girl-protagonists are recognised.

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  3. Celine 9 years ago

    ‘I’d much rather teenage girls were reading pink books about girls who like shoes and make mistakes and learn and become stronger, than read black and red books about girls who are only interested in their abusive, distant, passive agressive vampire boyfriends.’

    Those aren’t (and shouldn’t be) the only two choices for teenage girl readers, ( I might be wrong, but I think that only one person on these comments has been dissing what’s between the covers of the so called ‘pink’ book, btw. this isn’t a debate over the quality of the content and I think it would be wrong to make it such.) It’s the tone of the QoT website that (I think) is the point of the discussion.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Ah, thank you Celine. Well said.

  4. Judi Curtin 9 years ago

    Great debate, Meg, thanks, and thanks to David Maybury for drawing my attention to it.
    The question ‘bags or shoes?’ makes me deeply uncomfortable.
    In their recent Q and A, the esteemed journalists at The Guardian saw fit to ask novelist Peter Carey the following:
    What was your most embarrassing moment?
    What would your super power be?
    How often do you have sex? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (The exclamation marks are mine because I write ‘popular’ children’s books and rely on extreme punctuation to get my point across.)
    Judi Curtin
    PS track me down and e-mail me if you’re shallow enough to need to know how Peter Carey responded to such searching questions.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Ah! Excellent point, Judi. And I love that Q&A (known as the Proust Quiz, I think?) Is the difference perhaps that it’s offered as a bit of entertainment amidst more serious content, not plonked in the middle of more of the same? Perhaps I’m just making excuses. None of what happens on the QofT website is particularly bad in isolation, it’s the onslaught of silliness that depresses me. I’d love it if they mixed it up with just a bit of content that reflected some of the wit, intelligence and sensitivity of their nominated books — and their audience.

  5. Celine 9 years ago

    Quite a few folks seem to be implying that pink and sparkly covers will appeal to the ‘less confident reader’ Why? Are you saying such covers imply less than challenging content? Surely not. Surely that is the most patronising of arguments – to both the author and the reader. It implies that a girl will pick up a ‘pink’ book because she thinks she’s incapable of reading something else! What exactly? What are these other books she feels incapable of reading? And why does she feel incapable of reading them? If I wrote a book and it was implied that it’s content was somehow ‘starter level’ because it had a pink and sparkly cover I think I’d be incensed. (I have no quibble with pink and sparkly, by the way! I’m simply baffled at the weird reasoning being presented here)

    In a related point, I was thoroughly depressed the other day by a self professed ‘teacher/librarian’ who described my books as ‘beautifully written’ with ‘fine characters and themes’ which she ‘enjoyed very much’ – but she wouldn’t be recommend them to her pupils as ‘only the very literate of girls would appreciate them’… Jesus. I’m so glad my teachers hadn’t that attitude to us – despite the school being located in what was considered a so called ‘working class’ area we were encourage to stretch ourselves and explore every kind of literature and art. Not just what was considered ‘appropriate for our abilities.’

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Thanks for that, Celine. An excellent question. I guess all this goes back to ideas of femininity — and the thought that pink and sparkly=girly=intellectually light-weight.

      I can barely address the second half of your comment. Given that To Kill A Mockingbird has sold 30 million copies (see yesterday’s blog) I’m guessing that the market for literary novels that appeal to a teen market as well as adults must still exist.

  6. Celine 9 years ago

    Thankfully I think that teacher’s attitude was rare ( or am I being too hopeful there?) Certainly the majority of my reader’s mail comes from teenage boys and girls, and/or the teachers, librarians and adults who have passed the work on to them.

    As for the pink = girl = lightweight argument. Coupled with the arguments that the content is anything but lightweight, but that teenage girls need somehow to be conned into reading it. (as if it will take them by surprise how intelligent or engaged they are.) I just throw my hands up – I really do. Its ok to like pink and sparkling things – if the cover appeals to you then it appeals to you, good on you fo knowing what you like. But don’t say it appeals because a girl is too low in self esteem to pick up another type of book.

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  10. Daisy 5 years ago

    So this award only applies to writers who cater for stereotype pretty-in-pink teenage girls? What about those of us who like to wear black and read books about wars and non-boy-related suffering?

  11. Daisy 5 years ago

    There are some good authors who have won this, but seriously- pink and glittery and- bags or shoes? What about- how long did it take you to write…. or what is your top tip for young writers? Sorry, silly question.

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