Why I read

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

Jennifer Horan

Working in a school library, I am frequently approached by pupils who say, “Do you actually like reading?”, “Don’t you get bored just reading all day?” (we don’t just read all day, but that’s an issue for another time), and “The book was like that when I got it.”  These children from an online, fast-paced, forced-to-analyse-the-living-daylights-out-of-dull-texts-at-school generation seem genuinely perplexed as to why anyone would read for pleasure and out of choice.

Many thoughts run through my head when I’m faced with such questions – I love reading, so much that I can’t put it in to words.  It certainly doesn’t bore me; I don’t know what it is about reading that I love, I just know that I’ve been hooked on it for as long as I can remember.  I think: I read for escapism, to find some happiness when the world around me is awful.  I read for entertainment, to find a riveting story that will keep me occupied and engaged, laughing, crying and at the edge of my seat.  I read for inclusion, to know that I’m not alone, that others have experienced thoughts, feelings and events that I have and have lived to tell the tale.  And this gives me hope, another reason why I read. I read to exercise the little grey cells.  Reading uses more imagination than television allows, it’s like a workout for the mind and more favourable than a session at the gym.  Reading feeds my soul, it teaches me about the world, lets me experience places I’ve never visited, like Australia, Middle Earth, the moon.  It takes me on an adventure.

Being involved in judging these past two years has certainly been just that. I’ve read more in a pressured, short space of time than I thought was humanly possible.  I’ve been challenged, reading books I’d never have picked up on my own, persevering with genres and styles that are outside my reading comfort zone.  It has been a brilliant introduction to new authors, and has given me great ideas for stock for my school library.  And as my judging term comes to a close, it has been an experience I’ll never forget and one that I’m immensely humbled to be part of.  I hope the buzz and excitement around awards such as these sparks a love of reading amongst the young, and young-at-heart – you’re never too old (or too young!) to enjoy a good read.

But mostly when I’m asked if I like reading I just say, “Yeah.”



A Four Letter Word

Tracey Frohawk is the East Midlands YLG CKG judge and is the

librarian at Weston Favell Academy, Northampton.  

Tracey suggests you listen to What Do I Know by Ed Sheeran  whilst reading her post.

Tracey Frohawk.jpg

I HATE you!  Some words are unbelievably strong, whether they are used in a good or a bad way; they have a huge amount of emotion attached to them and once said, they can’t be unsaid.  We don’t realise how hurtful we can be by voicing these words, the damage they cause can last a lifetime.

I LOVE you!  This humble word can change everything once uttered from your lips.  It is incredibly strong and will stop you in your tracks for that split second whilst you delight in the feelings it inspires; the emotions it causes within your body and soul.

Quite often we don’t realise how many times we will hear these words during a day whilst working in a school library.  The most common phrase will be either of these:  I HATE reading or I LOVE books.  It’s incredibly sad to hear a child say they hate reading, as reading for me is a complete pleasure and I am able to immerse myself in another world, losing all sense of time and surroundings.

Occasionally we all face dark times in our lives, so having the option to be briefly transported to a different universe can help us find the strength to deal with reality afterwards, even if it’s not pleasant.  Reading gives us the capacity to connect with characters, recognising our own emotions by identifying similar experiences we share with them in the books we read.  We can appreciate we are not alone as the characters can often become our friends or enemies; we all love to hate an archetypal villain like Dolores Umbridge!

The first novel I remember reading by myself was The Adventures of Pip by Enid Blyton, I was whisked away on wonderful adventures and my love affair with books began.  One of my favourite series was The Chronicles of Narnia; I was convinced I would meet and marry Aslan!

When I became a children’s librarian the first YA book I read was Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by the late Louise Rennison: I loved it!  I was instantly transported back to my teenage years and reminded of the emotional angst a teenager has to deal with in a hilarious yet believable way.

I am delighted to say my love affair with reading and children’s literature has continued and evolved over the years. Being a CKG Judge has been a privilege and honour.  I will never fall out of love with reading, even if the subject matters are difficult or emotive; I embrace the journey even if I don’t love the destination. What I love might be something you hate, but that’s OK: books have always caused controversy and that’s wonderful, because it’s the sign that they inspire powerful feelings in us.


Achieving the impossible

Jennie Hillyard is a special collections librarian from Newcastle upon Tyne who has always loved children’s fiction, despite not getting to work with it.  “I became a CKG judge to have an excellent excuse to spend more time reading children’s and YA fiction and discovered that it was certainly that!”

Everyone’s first reaction when you tell them how many books are on the nominations list is “204 books in 118 days – that’s impossible!”

Yes – it is!  That’s why we don’t wait to start reading until the nominations are released….  After all, as members of CILIP, we all get to nominate too so, we need to read books ahead of the deadline so that we can choose titles too.

To make it possible, we have a “Possibles List” which is created by the Working Party and regularly  updated, and includes children’s and YA books published in the UK within the timeframe – 1st September to 31st August.  There are no guarantees that any of these books will be nominated; they are simply “possibles” due to their publication date.  It’s always up to the wider CILIP membership to ensure books which deserve to win get nominated (hint, hint!).

I felt the need to get through as many of the Possibles List as possible in advance of nominations closing because I hated the thought of a deserving book missing out.  In reality though, I learnt that it’s impossible and you have to trust that other people will read the ones you can’t find in time.

My main initial problem was a zero budget for buying potential books from the list.  I personally almost never buy a paper book I haven’t already read.  Only deeply loved books make it onto my overcrowded shelves; everything else comes from libraries.  The few books I do buy are usually second hand from charity shops too – and as these are recently published books not many titles had made it to the second hand market yet.  I am very lucky to have the Lit and Phil Library in Newcastle with their members-led book request system who bought a number for me and Gateshead Libraries with their truly excellent YA collection close at hand.  Tracking down the possibles list also meant I also used Newcastle Libraries, North Tyneside Libraries, Wakefield Libraries, County Durham and Darlington and although I didn’t buy a single book I admit that I did incur a few library fines…


The Lit and Phil Library, Newcastle

It was interesting to see which books were held by the most library authorities and which were held by none.  Sepetys’s “Salt to the Sea” proved to be particularly elusive in the North East.  Getting hold of such recently published books via libraries alone was challenging and they are otherwise expensive, especially in hardback. It is of course equally difficult for librarians who want to choose titles to nominate, but don’t have the book budget to buy a wide range of new titles.

As judges, we get free copies delivered of all the nominated books, and once some publishers know you are a CKG judge, they do start sending some lovely packages of proofs and ARCs too so your second year judging is easier.  (Although you then can’t voice your opinion about their book in public so all you can say is “Thank you – looking forward to reading it!”)  It would be impossible to wait for the publishers to send the copies though for the nominated titles – you would then have to achieve the 204 books in 118 days and you would have no input to the nominations process.  As some books didn’t arrive from the publishers until January this year, it would be a very stressful way to be a CKG judge!

I decided back in July that I had to be very disciplined in only reading books which were eligible – this meant not only no adults fiction, but also no other children’s and YA books and, hardest of all, no re-reading old children’s fiction.  Normally, re-reads are a big part of my reading habit.  I find I remember a small section from a book then it inspires me to re-read the whole book and stepping away from that almost automatic habit has been very strange.  I did give myself a pass for newly published titles from my favourite cosy crime series Bellingwood which I justified by being very quick reads….  It also was particularly hard not to be able to borrow books from friends because I couldn’t give myself the time to read them.  I love personal recommendations and I am storing them up for autumn 2018.

My advance reading paid off and when nominations were announced I discovered I had already read 59 of the 114 Carnegie books.

I think people underestimate how much reading you can fit in.  For me it was about using the small bits of time during the day when perhaps before I would have been catching up on social media – the time while you’re eating your breakfast, whilst you’re waiting for your tea to cook, on trains and in hospital waiting rooms.  If I had the books as audio or kindle books I could have utilised my driving and washing up time too….  I got through a huge number of coloured sticky tabs which I used to highlight key lines for quotes.  My wife got very frustrated at finding the used tabs stuck to the floor, sofa, bin and all other surfaces.

The hardest thing by far I found was not being able to discuss my opinions of the books with other people – physically or digitally – although I was almost discussing them with myself whilst I made notes for each title against the criteria.  It usually came out to 2-4 typed A4 sides which, being a hybrid girl, I then printed out for a paper folder.  I’m not quite fully digital!

It was also odd to be reading so much about topics outside my usual realm (football and beetles not being subjects that would usually make me pick up a book).  Never since formal education had my reading choices been dictated by an external force; with the additional ruling that I must finish every book and explain my arguments around it.

Going back to all paper books was a strange shift too, almost like going back in time.  Back to a time when I needed to take four books on a weekend away and consider which would be the lightest options.  I quickly divided books into “read at home on a weekend” (thick and/or hardback and picture books) and “commuting books” (paperback).  My main lesson from this year is that I should have started my Greenaway picture book reading sooner – they were very awkward to read on the bus in January…



Words shape our lives

Jake Hope

Jake Hope is the Vice-Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals.  Throughout 2017 to mark the anniversary of the awards, Jake will be blogging about each past winner, exploring their themes and writing.  You can follow these blogs here .  There are opportunities for groups to adopt one of the past winners and read this.  The list of past winners make for fascinating reading with an incredible breadth and range of themes and styles, something to suit all tastes, interests and abilities, find out more and sign up for one of the exciting titles here.


Words shape our lives.  They give definition to who and what we are.  Words lend structure to the experiences and memories that constitute our past.  They build our present through the communication and commitment we have with all that lies around us and they help to determine the paths we make from past and present into our possible futures.  Words are powerful.  They hold the opportunity to bind and to bridge, but also to divide and destroy.  How we use words holds an immeasurable force – that usage links us to past ideas, associations and accrued levels and weight of meaning.  Words flock as flecks and flicks on pages coalescing and grouping to form sentences and stories providing accounts of our experiences and emotions, guiding us, letting us know that we are never alone.

Many of the stories we encounter as children leave a lasting impression on our lives.  Some are carried with us as we grow, develop and make choices about our future.  Parts might challenge or comfort us in our views and decisions.  One thing is certain, the best books change us, often in small and subtle ways, but in ways that nonetheless alter how we think, feel and approach aspects of our lives.  These stories are literally outstanding because they affect us deeply.

Since its inception, the CILIP Carnegie Medal has sought to recognise and reward outstanding literature for children.  In so doing, it has contributed to creating a bedrock of classic titles – stories, characters and ideas that every reader should encounter, that offer a rich reading experience that lasts long after the final page has been turned.  The list of previous winners offers snapshots of particular times and preoccupations, it guides us through ideas of how our concepts and understanding of childhood and maturation has changed and adapted.

Reading through every winner feels an incredible experience, one that sparks myriad memories and thoughts and this is what the best stories do… they connect our ideas joining individual points together and creating a gossamer web of ties and threads that increase our awareness of the awe-inspiring complexity and sophistication of life.

From Arthur Ransome’s  Pigeon Post, the inaugural winner in 1936, through to Sarah Crossan’s One, last year’s winner, the CILIP Carnegie Medal offers outstanding writing and outstanding reading experiences.  Though tomes and tones may differ, these words have pushed boundaries, have innovated, illuminated and inspired.

Being able to explore each title and try to entice new readers to delve into their depths and fathoms feels incredibly exciting and a real journey.  I hope you might be tempted to join me on some of this, to try something different or new and to encourage others to do likewise.  Literature lives when it is not only in the hands of readers, but in their hearts and minds too.  Let’s make this anniversary an exciting one, let’s look forward to this year’s eventual winner when it is announced in June, but most of all let’s rejoice in the words of winners and challenge ourselves to write and speak new words about these…


Once Upon a Time…

Tricia Adams

This is where every story starts so please, let me introduce myself.  I am a librarian, Tricia Adams, and have been lucky enough to have been one for my whole career – though the jobs I have had are like chalk and cheese in many respects!  Having said that, my passion has always been to get people reading and I am often to be seen recommending books, arriving with parcels of books – on loan of course – for sick friends and relatives, and giving books to any children who come into my sphere!  And, then there’s the day job, which is all about supporting people who work in school libraries through the School Library Association – of which I am the Director.  School libraries are a key enabler in helping kids find the books they need and, working in partnership with public libraries, provide the lifeblood of our reading future.

This is why I am so honoured, and just plain thrilled, to be chairing the judging panel in this important anniversary year for the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards.  The fantastic involvement of both school and public libraries in shadowing the awards is so important in involving students in reading, not only in reading for pleasure, but also in placing the very best texts in front of students and encouraging them, perhaps to stretch themselves, to read something they may never have otherwise picked up – and possibly, just possibly, discover a whole new passion!  I do hope so.

I had the pleasure of being Chair of Judges back in 2008, we had a fantastic year, I am looking forward to an even greater year this year!  The judges have already committed an enormous amount of work and effort to their reading – this year we have had the most nominations in the history of either award – 114 Carnegie and 93 Greenaway.  They have worked, and continue to work really hard to produce a Longlist, with the then unenviable task of judging these titles again, to create the Shortlist (published 16th March).  The judges make up a team who fight hard for the books they think deserve to gain the high distinction of being on the Longlist and Shortlist – and every book has had its time in the spotlight.  The quality of nominations was such this year that it was an incredibly hard process to arrive at the Longlist.

The celebrations this year do mean that shadowing will have even more resources available for groups.  There are already historical review pieces on the website that might create jumping off points for discussion.  My Vice Chair Jake Hope is creating a wonderful anniversary blog covering all the winners over the year.  The packs for the Shadowing Groups will have additional anniversary, celebratory materials included in them – and no, I’m not going to tell you what they include, that would spoil the surprise! Make sure your group is registered to Shadow and join in all the fun. Keep watching the website – and I know I shall be looking out to see which books shadowers find the most involving.

Keep reading and discussing – talking about books is almost as important as reading them!

Tricia Adams, Director – School Library Association, Chair – Youth Libraries Group & Chair – Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award