The Award (1979-2001) was given annually for particular excellence in one of the following areas: single-poet collections; poetry anthologies; the body of work of a contemporary poet; critical or educational activity that promotes poetry for children. The most important aspect of the award was the writing it generated: each May Signal, until the May 2001 issue, included substantial articles about the winner and other poetry published during the given year.
Since the Signal Poetry Award ceased, there have been new developments leading to the creationg new poetry awards. For details of the new UK poetry award please see the website of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (www.clpe.co.uk). In the US The Lion and the Unicorn (Johns Hopkins University Press) will be making its first award for children’s poetry in 2005. For details please contact Lissa Paul (email@example.com)
"A first-class critical appraisal of the year in poetry for children in Britain" is what Young Book Trust's Children's Book Handbook (1996) said about the Signal Poetry Award articles, which are published in each May issue of the specialist journal Signal Approaches to Children's Books (Thimble Press). The articles are the main reason for the award: that is, it was set up to ensure that at least once a year a solid chunk of Signal's space would be spent on the important subject of poetry.
Every book of poetry single-poet collection or anthology, home-grown or imported published in the UK is eligible, and the selectors consider them all, which makes it necessary to do a great deal of trawling through catalogues and reminding publishers, to be sure we don't miss anything; the award doesn't work by publisher submission only. Although each judge brings a slightly different approach to the task, some themes are perennial: the importance of single poet collection; the elements of a good anthology; the physical aspects layout, illustration, typography of poetry publication; subject matter and language; a concern that the award is too often given to work at the upper end of age range; what real poetry is.
As to criteria, Alan Tucker's, in the first year (1979), still seem sensible: the books "should not be too difficult to read; they remain in the mind, remembered with more pleasure than when they were read; [they] offer rewards on first reading". He also said, in the same article, "Poetry is the most literary of the arts ...; in educational terms ... poetry requires a higher reading age than novels; the difference between children's poetry and adult poetry is far greater than the difference between children's stories and Dickens and Tolstoy."
Ten years later, in commending Come on into my Tropical Garden, Aidan Chambers indicated his criteria: "Grace Nichols is eminently a poet for children. She enjoys and handles strong rhythms well. She is at home with everyday subject matter the experiences which still excite the young and which crustier adults rediscover through children and the literature written for them. She employs a variety of verse forms. She enjoys the play of words and is not afraid of naivety, which yet she controls so well that she is never embarrassing or twee."
In its 18 years the Signal Poetry Award has generated over 250 pages of writing, by such writers as Gerard Benson, Diana Hendry, Peter Hunt, Jan Mark, Margaret Meek, John Mole, Brian Morse, Neil Philip. This total doesn't include the often fascinating disagreements with some years' verdicts. I remember particularly an exchange between Morag Styles and Neil Philip about whether or not children can write real poetry it's often the disagreements that reveal the most useful points, and is a good reason for publishing substantial citations so that readers know just what was being valued and devalued, in the books being considered. Prolonged applause, then, for the books on this list.