Alison Tarrant is the librarian at Cambourne Village College, Cambridgeshire
This is my favourite time of year – the sun has been glorious over the past week, the Great Crested Grebes on the river are performing their elaborate mating rituals and we can start moving the narrowboat, on which I live, about more. Over the last week I have been enjoying the sun; while the sun laps at the bow I’ve had my nose firmly in the final part of the judging process. I’ve been from Glasgow to Ethiopia, from the emotional pull of siblings to the deepest thoughts of what make us human, and how we work. What journeys to go on from the river bank! (I leave the Kate Greenaway shortlist until I’m back at work – space is tight on the boat, and these are books to be poured over!)
This is also my favourite time for being a judge. The re-reading stage of the process is so vital to the quality of the decisions that we come to – revealing hidden depths of characters, plots and atmosphere as it does. The delight of re-reading is when the book grows with you, when each time you read it you notice something new or read things in a different way. Reading is an art form that allows for interpretation, that (should, at least) have space for everyone, and everyone’s opinions count. The number of judges is key to the intense discussions that are had every time we meet. Everyone speaks and everyone is heard; this leads to great debates and passionate discussions.
I have also been doing a few talks to different CKG Shadowing groups around my region; one of my favourite parts of being a CKG judge. It is an absolute privilege to be invited to take part in your discussions and see what you’ve been up to. It gives me a chance to answer your questions, and explain how and why things work the way they do. Most importantly though, often my presence is the starting point for discussions and debates- which I believe is the heart of the Medals. The process, the judges and the working party are the brains of the Medals, but the shadowing groups are the heart. Encouraging and prompting discussion, whether in agreement or perhaps more often outrage, is such an important part of the Medals. For me, it’s the part that makes giving up my life completely for 3 months totally worth it. To get young people discussing, sharing opinions, articulating what they think and why, may not be something that will tick any official boxes, but it is important. Important for the young people, as they learn communication and debating skills. But it’s possibly more important for everyone else – young people so often get a bad rap – allegedly they are thuggish, unengaged, apathetic, unable to string a sentence together. Not in these debates they’re not! Let’s show everyone what engaged, impassioned, thoughtful, young people exist in our schools and within our communities. The shadowing site is incredibly strong and at a time when most shadowing groups are only just starting there are already 1153 reviews listed! Last year this reached 14,800. That doesn’t strike me as being a sign of an unengaged generation.
The Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards shine a light on the strongest books published for children and young adults, but this light is refracted by the shadowers, through their rainbow of reviews and debates. Whatever your opinion on the books, there is a place for everyone on the shadowing website, so log on, and get your thoughts read!