Ellen Krajewski is the judge for Eastern YLG and is the librarian at The Hemel Hempstead School, Hertfordshire.
Martha (YLG Wales) talked about her literary firsts and it got me thinking about the books that influenced me as a child. What was the book that got you hooked on reading? For me, that’s an easy question, it was Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have vivid memories of sitting on the carpet in the afternoon in first year infants (now Year 1) and listening, enthralled, as our teacher read to us. I was instantly transported to another time, another place; I was Laura’s shadow as she and her family travelled across the undeveloped wilds of America in a covered wagon. How exciting it was to be sleeping under that canvas, coyotes howling in the distance, never knowing how close you were to Indians, Pa protecting his family with his shotgun, and little Jack the dog sleeping on guard underneath the wagon. Of course, life for Laura and her settler family was, in reality, not at all glamorous, but I was hooked. I still have my original set of Little House books but my daughter, who also grew up with those stories, has warned me not to attempt to take them down from the shelf as they are likely to disintegrate! So I have bought a new set so that I can reread them for the millionth time!
Having caught the reading bug I worked my way through the children’s section in my local library taking in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Secret Seven, St Clare’s and Malory Towers, then moving on to Little Women, What Katy Did and Pollyanna. My love of historical fiction was borne out of Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword and Eric Williams’ The Wooden Horse. In my second year in secondary school I had a young inspirational English teacher who handed out reading lists for the summer. This was heaven to me and I made it my mission to read every book on the list. It meant I could venture into the absolutely silent adult section of the public library, where I was mesmerised by the sight of hundreds of books that were there for the reading, just waiting for me, competing for my attention, tempting me into their worlds. I worked my way through Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm and Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. I discovered other authors on nearby shelves and explored books that I really shouldn’t have been reading that young, by Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins, not literary greats but forbidden fruits to an early teen. As class texts I discovered Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong and Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt, quite a risqué choice for a convent grammar school in the 1970s.
I was asked recently to nominate ten books that had touched me, not necessarily great literature but books that had stayed with me. Having made my choices, I could have made another list immediately. My son questioned why I had not included The Gruffalo, Hairy Maclary and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Included in my list was at least one Carnegie Medal winner, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I was privileged to be part of the judging panel who chose that winner and I consider it to be an extraordinary honour to be back on the judging panel this year, faced with the incredibly difficult task of choosing a winner from the outstanding shortlist. Every book on the shortlist is highly deserving of its place there and every book on the shortlist has the ingredients to be this year’s winner. Will Patrick Ness become the first author to win a third Carnegie Medal? Will Marcus Sedgwick, shortlisted so many times, finally be crowned the winner? Will Sarah Crossan be successful on her third shortlisting? Or will the accolade go to the debut author, Robin Talley? Will Frances Hardinge add the Carnegie Medal to her Costa success? Or will it go to previously shortlisted Kate Saunders, Jenny Valentine or Nick Lake? That is the unenviable task facing the judges shortly and it is an honour, a pleasure and a privilege to be part of that process.