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Amazon-backed award turned down by Ahlberg

Distinguished children’s author Allan Ahlberg [pictured] has declined the inaugural Booktrust Best Book Awards‘ Lifetime Achievement Award, because it is sponsored by Amazon.

Ahlberg, 76, who has written more than 150 children’s books in a career spanning nearly four decades, explained that he felt compelled to take the stand on ethical grounds following widespread reports of Amazon’s tax avoidance in the UK.

In a letter to The Bookseller, he said: “Tax, fairly applied to us all, is a good thing. It pays for schools, hospitals— libraries! When companies like Amazon cheat— paying 0.1% on billions, pretending it is earning money not in the UK, but in Luxembourg—that’s a bad thing. We should surely, at the very least, say that it is bad and on no account give them any support or, by association, respectability.”

Ahlberg said Booktrust’s reputation had been tarnished by partnering with Amazon. “For my part, the idea that my ‘lifetime achievement’.. . should have the Amazon tag attached to it is unacceptable,” he said.

In refusing the lifetime achievement award, Ahlberg simultaneously turned down the £5,000 prize money, which went with it. 

Amazon has been heavily criticised in the past two years for paying low corporation tax on exceptionally high sales. The low tax payments are technically legal because Amazon claims to sell goods from its European headquarters in Luxembourg. However, Ahlberg believes it is “immoral”, and Booktrust’s decision to partner with the online retailer was “a mistake”.

In a response to Ahlberg’s letter, Booktrust c.e.o. Viv Bird said she was disappointed by his choice but said that “this was his personal decision.” “Booktrust works with a wide range of partners in order to fulfil our charitable aim of bringing books to children and children to books,” she said. “We are also grateful for the tremendous support we get from many eminent authors and illustrators. Amazon’s sponsorship of the Best Book Awards, in its inaugural year, enabled us to celebrate some of the best of children’s literature, create a buzz around books, and make a significant contribution to our mission of encouraging more children to read.”

Ahlberg told Booktrust he would decline the award several weeks ago; there was no mention of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony last week (2nd July). However, The Bookseller understands the charity intended to award the Lifetime Achievement prize later this year. Bird said: “We will make a decision about the LAA in due course.”

Lucy Cousins won the 0-5 Best Picture Book Prize for Peck Peck Peck (Walker) at the event; Stephan Pastis picked up the 6-8 Best Story Award for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (Walker); the 9-11 Best Fact Book Award was given to Operation Ouch! Your Brilliant Body by Dr Chris van Tulleken and Dr Xand van Tulleken (Little Brown); and the 0-14 Best Tech Award went to Little Red Riding Hood by Ed Bryan (Nosy Crow).

Bird added: “Thousands of children took part in voting for the Best Book Awards, with 300 of them attending the Best Books Bash, along with famous authors and leading publishers. It was thrilling to see the excitement among children who had the chance to meet some of their favourite authors and illustrators.”

It is not the first time a Booktrust prize sponsor has attracted controversy. The charity partnered with Nestle from 1985-2007 for the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, but in 2003, authors Melvin Burgess and Gillian Cross, among others, signed a letter stating they did “not wish to be associated” with Nestlé’s prize, in protest over the company’s marketing of powdered baby milk in developing countries.

The prize was discontinued in 2008, with Nestlé saying it was “moving its community support towards nutrition, health and wellness”.

Amazon declined to comment.