The first time I…

Martha Lee is the CKG judge for YLG Wales and is a Community Librarian in Hengoed.

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Life is full of ‘firsts’:  first steps; first words; first day of nursery; then primary school and your first day of comprehensive school. Your first kiss;  first boyfriend/girlfriend;  first time you have sex; the first time you time your try a cigarette or alcohol (normally remembered because they are such a bad experience – I was 16, too young and it was vodka and orange juice – I haven’t been able to drink vodka since and only recently orange juice!). Your first day at college or university; first day of a new job, the first time you buy a house, your first baby and so on and so on.

I think we all agree these are momentous occasions in everyone’s life that we all can recall with clarity. But what if in addition to all these significant, life changing, events you’re a complete bibliophile as well? If you are, like me, you’ll also have all your literary firsts which are equally as momentous and life changing as the ones listed above.

Of course there are all the picture books you were read when you were little which always make a huge impact and bring back nostalgic memories: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson Dairy, Meg and Mog, Burglar Bill, Cops and Robbers, Each Peach Pear Plum – there are SO many fabulous books I remember from my childhood, I could go on and on but you get the idea! Being read aloud to is one of the best ways of getting children into the reading habit so all these books I reminisce about gave me a brilliant foundation, getting me drawn in to the particular experience of each book more and more. I began to dream and wonder and just wanted to read and read so I started to pick up books by myself to go on more adventures.

To begin, there’s the first book you read by yourself. Now I can’t remember exactly which my first was, being constantly surrounded by books I could be wrong, but I vividly remember sitting down and reading The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy when I was seven years old. I absolutely fell in love with clumsy Mildred and her adventures at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, along with her cat Tabby and friends Maud and Enid, always getting told off by the truly terrifying Miss Hardbroom.

The first time you read Harry Potter. Now I know Harry Potter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I can remember so clearly the first time I read it, nearly twenty years ago, it’s definitely a ‘first’ for me.  My mother came home from work with a copy (from the library of course) and said that this was a new book that had come in that day and it was meant to be really good. I took one look at it (and the, let’s be honest, pretty bad cover), made a face but took it upstairs anyway and started reading it because I was bored. About 20 minutes later I ran back downstairs and declared to my entire family that this was THE BEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ, EVER. From then on I was a massive fan and queued up at midnight outside Waterstones in Cardiff every release date for the next one, peering in desperation at the book in the dark car on the way home. As I said in my bio on the CKG website, Harry Potter changed my life and certainly exploded my reading habit.

The book you know you’re too young to be reading but you carry on anyway. This was definitely Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess when I was twelve. Where to begin? Violence, swearing, sex, murder, betrayal, blood…this was a disturbing, gripping and utterly fantastic read. I read it once 17 years ago and can still remember every detail.

Your first ‘classic’. You either love them or hate them. Of course you study them in school (Of Mice and Men – hated it, Shakespeare – loved it) but reading Pride and Prejudice for the very first time of my own accord age thirteen turned me into a desperate romantic and all I wanted to do was be as cool and awesome as Elizabeth Bennett.

The first book that made you cry. Three words: The Amber Spyglass. Philip Pullman – how could you do it?! I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t read it but I cried solidly for a week after I had finished this. This book, this series, had such an impact on me – providing rocket fuel for my reading habit so that at thirteen I was an insatiable reader and didn’t stop through my teen years.

Your first adult book that scared you witless. Hands down this was I Am Legend by Richard Matheson when I was fourteen. Forget the rubbish film and read the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read something that has scared me more, just thinking about it now makes my heart race. I definitely wanted to do a ‘Joey’ and put it in the freezer.

So these are just a few of my literary firsts and there are still many more I could mention and many more I am yet to experience. All these earth-shattering firsts I have encountered have made me the person and devoted reader I am today. My regular visits to the library as a child and then a teen, getting recommendations for books from my librarian, parents and sisters and all of the amazing authors I’ve read has contributed to shaping my personal, emotional and literary development. I am so excited and privileged to have my CKG ‘first’ as judge which could help shape children’s reading habits. I have no doubt in my mind that those shadowers, and indeed anyone, who reads from this truly fantastic shortlist will have one of their own momentous ‘firsts’.

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Goodbye Radio 4

Jennifer Horan is the Network Librarian at Kemnay Academy, Aberdeenshire.

Jennifer Horan

Goodbye Radio 4, I’m leaving you.  Well, for a while, at least.  No longer will your familiar tones accompany my breakfast, dinner and free-time.  You see, my life now revolves around reading.  Then reviewing.  And reading, and reviewing.  And my love for you is due to your book programmes.  Almost every day you provide me with a list of fantastic new books to devour, and whilst I’m dedicating my reading efforts to CKG I can’t be distracted by non-CKG titles, no matter how glorious they may sound.  Even Book at Bedtime is distracting.  My desk is covered in post-its listing titles I must get my paws on as soon as my judging duty is complete; any more and I’m likely to be chastised by The Woodland Trust for paper overuse.

It may not surprise you to learn that I am a book lover and avid reader, but here’s something I never thought I’d say: reading (this intensely) is tough.  Very rewarding, but tough.  With the responsibility comes pressure – you want to do justice to your duty and make sure the very best books are considered for the prize.  With such a high standard of contenders, it’s inevitable that there will be disappointment from readers when some titles don’t make it, so as judges we must be certain of our choices.

Replacing recreation with hardcore reading is not the only way my life has changed since becoming a judge – I now measure time in book quantities – waiting for my computer to load: “Time for another chapter”, being delayed on the train: “I could’ve read a book there” etc.

But despite the hardship, I feel like the luckiest person on the planet to get to share my passion for reading, being introduced to some wonderful titles and authors, and to be part of this prestigious award.  And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Electing A Winner

Jan Foss is the South West CKG Judge, she is a Children’s Librarian in Guernsey.

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I live in Guernsey where we have our own government, distinct from that of the UK, and we are currently in the middle of a General Election. Unlike the UK, we have no political parties and each candidate stands independently. I have had to plough through a lot of manifestos from hopeful men and women standing in my district, trying to work out which candidates will be the best for the job.

It occurred to me that the process for judging the Carnegie and Greenaway is very similar. Each nominated book stands on its own, independent from all the others. In our political election, I have to evaluate how each candidate stands up to my own personal criteria. The Carnegie and Greenaway ‘candidates’ are put through rigorous criteria and it is not easy to reach even a longlist of 20, let alone the 8 shortlisted titles for each medal.

At the husting meetings, the candidates are questioned by members of the public and our shadowing groups are doing a very similar thing with the shortlists! Across the UK and beyond, groups are avidly reading, questioning and discussing each book, assessing whether or not it should be the winner. Discussions are often robust and can sometimes become heated, but that is a reflection of the quality of the literature and the passion of the readers.

In Guernsey we are voting for a total of 38 people to represent us in our Government. As judges we have to choose one winner from 93 candidates for the Carnegie Medal and from 69 candidates for the Kate Greenaway Medal. As already stated, it was difficult enough to reach the shortlists, so I think we have a real task on our hands to choose winners out of so many outstanding books. Every single book out of the 16 is a potential winner and although the decisions that need to be made are daunting, we are undoubtedly privileged that we have so many talented authors and illustrators creating books that will be read and loved for many years to come.

Thanks Mum!

Jillian Connolly is the Reading and Learning Manager for children and families

in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.

Jillian Connolly

Well, the shortlist is out there now and I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not going to accidently let anything slip…. So far I’ve had a few chats with colleagues, they’ve been telling me what they think of the shortlists, which titles they have loved, how pleased they were to see “such a body” make the shortlist or at times, what a shame “so and so” didn’t feature.  One thing that has been evident though, is how passionate people get about the books they love!  How much we care about our favourite authors or a piece of work that has really connected with us.  Then, of course, there is the flip side.  We get equally as passionate about things we have read that we’ve not enjoyed.  Those storylines that were unbelievable, those characters who drive us crazy, the endings that weren’t supposed to go that way.

I imagine across the country at the moment such conversations will be starting amongst the shadowing groups.  Different voices will be championing or challenging the works on the shortlists.  Opinions will be shared and debates will soon be taking place.

So why does it matter?  Where does that interest come from? It has been said many times that the books and stories we read and the authors whose world’s we enter into have such an impact on who we are.  But why do we do it?  What makes us readers?

I attended a meeting this week about how the library service can engage with expectant parents, so it started me thinking about how some of us are readers.  Are we born this way or is it a habit that is nurtured?  For me, my love of books came from my Mum.  From very early on Mum would read stories to me.  Story times occurred throughout the day and not just at bedtime.  A book soon became the best way to keep me occupied, particularly when she had to take me out on errands and needed to concentrate.  A twenty pence Ladybird book was always money well spent!  Slightly showing my age there, but for me the familiar quote of “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents” was true.

For others though their love of reading is encouraged by people they meet through their education.  A teacher who helped bring a set text to life , a class mate who shared a much loved author or a school librarian with enthusiasm and a good recommendation.  Sometimes it’s simply a case of stumbling across the right book at the right time.  As I said, I have always been a bookworm but there have been times in my life when I’ve been through a reading drought.  Not having the time or the inclination to read and as a result I get out of the habit….Until I come across that one book that clicks with me or that I can’t put down or which stays with me for days and then I’m right back in the habit again.  On one such occasion, years ago now, a dry spell came to an end when I was asked to read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve for a teaching course.  The creativity of the concept, the excellent writing and the vivid characters were enough to ignite my passion for reading again.  Reeve, of course, is a former Carnegie winner himself and this year’s shortlisted authors are great storytellers, just like him.  The titles I am re-reading at the moment all have the potential to be that inspiring read which creates a reader.  The book that you can’t wait to recommend to a friend or family member.  Stories that stay with us long after we’ve turned the last page.

I hope many of the shadowers have those experiences, I hope the shortlist is a way into reading for some and for others that it keeps that reading momentum going.  For me, I’m just thrilled and proud to have been part of this process.  It’s a reader’s dream job being a CKG judge and an opportunity made available to me due to my love of books.  And on that note I’m going to sign off with two words…..Thanks Mum!