Hilary Gow is the CKG Judge for YLG South East and an Early Years Librarian in Bournemouth.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting two schools in rural Dorset to talk about the Carnegie book awards. One of the talks was to 70 or so young people in a small theatre. As a visual aid I had taken advice from a colleague and photocopied the covers of all the books nominated for this year’s award – 114 in all. I had attached the first one to the centre of a used roll of cling-film and then stapled the rest together and spooled them around the tube until it resembled a gigantic spindle.
At the beginning of the session volunteers unrolled the spindle and stretched the book covers across the front of the stage, up the steps and then along the back of the theatre. As it unspooled the audience raised their hands when they recognised covers they had read and talked about what they had thought of those books. It proved an effective way of showing the sheer quantity of books that had been nominated this year and the quality of those books – all of them having their merits even if only 20 of them could be longlisted, 8 of them shortlisted and then finally only 1 win.
It was a graphic reminder for me of the enormity of the task the judges had been set and, looking back, I wasn’t surprised that at times I had felt daunted by the sheer volume of reading remaining to be done as I opened yet another box full of unread books! At one point my 11 year old grandson offered to read some of the books for me. For a moment I was tempted to make use of his fast reading skills. But, as I explained to him, it was important that the same person read all the books in order to be able to assess them against each other. Also the judges have to use a set of criteria around the writing style , plot and characterisation to ‘grade’ the books and this takes a bit of getting used to.
One of the reasons I volunteered to be a judge was that I love reading for pleasure. I love that feeling of being immersed in another world. Reading as a judge, because it involves assessing, is not quite the same thing. However, as this year’s judging draws to a close I feel satisfied that the results of our work has brought some excellent books to the attention of a much wider audience. All judges on the Carnegie Greenaway Awards panel sign up for 2 years. I have already started looking forward to coming across lots of excellent books that I might not have read if I hadn’t had to as I start work on my second year as a Carnegie Greenaway judge. And I have read a few books just for pleasure!