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…




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