Isobel Powell is the CKG Judge for West Midlands YLG and head of Coventry Schools Library Services.
I wanted to share with you my experiences with book awards and how they can help you broaden your reading habits. Being a judge has certainly taught me a lot about the way I choose books. I have a very definite taste in books (all those who know me will certainly testify to that!) and although I read a lot I will often avoid reading books that I don’t fancy the look of. When you become a judge you are faced with reading such a wide variety of books that there are bound to be ones which you would normally slide to the bottom of the pile. The joy of being a judge is discovering a book that you would otherwise never have read and actually finding yourself enjoying it, or even loving it! That is a great moment and reminds you that it is easy to get comfortable in your narrow rut of books and never venture outside.
I have recently been to talk to a couple of shadowing groups from 2 of our local secondary schools. First I went to President Kennedy School to meet with their Year 7 shadowing group who were new to the Carnegie medal. I talked to them about the judging process and the number of books we have to read, they were a bit stunned at the thought of reading so many books! They asked lots of questions and we had a great discussion about the criteria used and how you have to judge a book on its literary merit rather than your own personal taste. They had each only read 1 or 2 of the books off the shortlist so far and yet were already forming strong opinions about the ones they liked and didn’t like! I told them that to have the most objective opinion they needed to read all of the shortlisted books even the ones they didn’t want to. As I said above about being a judge and having to read books you wouldn’t normally choose this also applies to being part of the shadowing scheme. You are given a smorgasbord of books which vary widely in style and genre and by reading all of them you might just discover a new genre or author that you otherwise would never have found.
The following week I went to Sidney Stringer Academy to meet their shadowing group. Compared to my previous visit this was only 2 girls rather than a whole table of shadowers. But the number of people in your shadowing group isn’t important, what is important is what each individual gets out of it.
They were a lot more familiar with the process for the Carnegie medal and instead wanted to talk more about the Greenaway medal. We discussed the criteria used for judging illustrated books and how it differs from the ones used for the Carnegie. I think they were surprised at how in depth judging pictures can be. I took 3 of the shortlisted Greenaway books and showed them some of the subtle little details that give a whole different view on the way the illustrator has created the book. They had looked at the books before but hadn’t noticed any of the things I showed them. I hope that they will look at the Greenaway books in a different way now, really delving down into the detail and savouring each new discovery. Visual literacy is one of the first skills you learn when you are too young to read. Do you remember being able to tell the story just from looking at the pictures and knowing what comes next? My youngest daughter was obsessed with The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr. She would sit with the book and ‘read’ me the whole story just by looking at the pictures, ignoring the text completely. Yet as we get older that skill is often neglected as the written word takes over. Taking part in shadowing the Greenaway is a brilliant way to start honing that skill again.
I have also spent the last few weeks working on the selection of books for our local book awards. The Coventry Inspiration Book Awards have been going for over 10 years now and we have shortlists of books for ages 4-18. Young people get a chance to read, comment and vote for their favourites. We launch the awards in the autumn term and they run until World Book Day, when we announce the winners. Many of our local schools take part in these awards and the children who take part in them often then go on to the Carnegie and Greenway shadowing in the summer term. This way they can enjoy a wide range of wonderful books and be part of a reading community all year round! Many regions have their own local book awards so if taking part in shadowing has wetted your appetite, check out what else you can be a part of next term and keep reading.