Australian Sonya Harnett has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an honor that speaks to the discussion we're having about Nina Lindsay's comments about "shelf-sitters." Completely deserving of the many awards her writing has won, Hartnett is, however, no crowd-pleaser. While as a culture we are used to the fact that adult fiction with a small audience routinely beats out bestsellers at awards time, we don't seem to like it so much when something similarly "literary" for children competes for shelf space, attention and awards alongside books that have wider appeal. "No kid is going to read this" is something we have all said. That can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, if the person who says it therefore decides not to review it or buy it for a library.
This is a situation as old as libraries but has become more prominent as a) libraries have become less elitist and more responsive to popular taste and b) book budgets have shrunk, making it more attractive to purchase something that will circulate twenty times rather than twice. It's hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when juvenile hardcover fiction was only found in libraries. Expectations were smaller, so were print runs, and thus smaller books had a chance. Is this still true? Could Sonya Hartnett thrive in America?