Meet Jake Hope - the man who judges the Costa Children's Book Award
PUBLISHED: 00:02 13 January 2015
He reads up to 400 books a year and is helping to organise a major World Book Day event in Preston. Sue Riley meets Jake Hope
In the heart of Preston lives a man you’ve probably never heard of but one who is having a fundamental effect on the books your children or grandchildren read.
He’s not a published author – he once wrote a 120,000-word novel but when a literary agent criticised it, he threw the whole thing on a fire. Forgive him, he was only 18.
Nor is he a publisher. Jake Hope has judged all the top UK awards for children’s fiction. When the prestigious Costa Children’s Book Award is announced this month it will have been Jake who’s read more than 50 of the short-listed books and helped decide the eventual winner.
It’s something he takes in his stride, having judged the Carnegie for two years, co-ordinated the Lancashire Book of the Year, appeared on Blue Peter and even been on the judging panel of Italy’s prestigious Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2010. He couldn’t believe a Lancashire librarian had been called on for that one. ‘I thought it was one of those emails from a Nigerian Prince asking for money…it was an amazing experience,’ he says.
Even when he’s not judging he reads at least one book a day. ‘I read about 400 or so a year. I get so many books sent to me for review,’ he explains. ‘I love children’s books but it’s a treat when I read an adult novel!’
Born in Blackburn, he did an English degree at York where he developed a love of children’s literature as an antidote to the rigidity of the course. After studying for an MA at Reading he got a job as ‘Admin Assistant, Young People’s Services’ at Lancashire County Council and his enthusiasm shone through.
‘The major part of that role was working on the Lancashire Book of the Year. It was a huge project.’ The award started in 1987 and was one of the first where children were involved in the judging process but it was only when Jake became involved that it started getting national publicity.
‘Lancashire has such a rich geography and history and does not always get the publicity it deserves. I wanted to creatively bring that to the fore. I think we are very lucky we have a range of excellent authors in the region and I am very keen to promote their work,’ he says.
He also began staging author events with big names including Michael Morpurgo and Anne Fine; then Frances Lincoln publishers asked him to judge one of their prizes and that led to him being on the Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards panel.
He’s also worked on the Blue Peter book award and yes, he was given a badge although he already had a green one for his conservation work a child. One of his proudest achievements, though, is the creation of a Reading Trail which finally became a reality three years ago.
Seven years after he put forward the idea of getting children from across Lancashire to read 50 books - raising their awareness of the place they live in with incentive prizes – it was created and became a huge success.
A year ago he went freelance; now his day-to day work includes book reviewing, judging and also working on literature projects, including choosing the best diverse children’s books since 1950.
Jake, 35, was born to an Asian mother, but he was adopted by white parents at six weeks old and spent his early years in Fleetwood before the family, together with his two older sisters and a brother, moved to Great Eccleston. As a child he loved Enid Blyton and, even though he’s a champion of diversity in children’s books, he says her merits are sometimes overlooked.
‘She was quite a pioneer in many ways and has not particularly fared that well as she was business minded at a time when it was not so acceptable in a woman. People look at the worst rather than the best examples of her writing.’
Although he does a lot of digital work, he believes printed books still play a huge part in children’s lives. ‘Part of the physical experience of reading a book now is giving them an enhanced level of what it is to have a book as an object.’
Jake is now dedicating himself to his next big project - working with SilverDell Books in Kirkham and the University of Central Lancashire on Preston’s contribution to World Book Day. The flagship event on March 5th will see Preston North End football stadium filled with thousands of youngsters meeting authors including Frank Cottrell Boyce and comedian Danny Wallace who will be launching his new children’s book. It’s a location Jake has wanted to use for many years. ‘I always wanted to hold an author event at a football stadium because it would appeal to boys who are perhaps less interested in reading. It gives you scope to widen the appeal,’ he says.
And now the Costas are over, what next? ‘I live in a one-bed flat and the books are just everywhere. It tends to be a bit of a problem and I quite like it when judging is over and I get my flat back again!’