Karen Poolton is the CKG judge for YLG North West
and is the school librarian at St Bede’s College, Manchester.
As my 2 years as a judge comes to an end, I have been reflecting on the whole experience and realised that it has been the hardest thing I have done professionally, even beating the time I had to remove a dead pigeon from the porch roof of Burtonwood Library! There were times when I just didn’t think I would be able to get through the huge piles of books in my spare bedroom and as the weight piled on (no time for exercise and I made the mistake of rewarding myself with biscuits when I finished a book!) and my eyes got more and more tired, I wasn’t sure it had been such a good idea.
Having said all that, it has also definitely been the most rewarding part of my career. I have taken so much from the experience I thought I would sum up just some of the things I have enjoyed so much:
- The sheer excitement of boxes of books arriving at home ready for me to unwrap and read. Incidentally, it meant I got to know neighbours I had never spoken to before when they very kindly took books in which arrived when I was out!
- The experience of reading books from genres I normally keep well away from.
I have actually enjoyed reading fantasy and science fiction and will continue to do so. I have been a school librarian for so long that I think I had become a bit lazy in terms of my reading, so the children I work with have hopefully benefited from my new enthusiasm about reading all kinds of books.
- The value of re-reading.
I don’t think I had ever willingly re-read a book before my judging experience, having always thought it a bit of a waste of time. However, I discovered the value of re-reading as I read the shortlisted books for multiple times. There is so much to gain from the second reading of a book, particularly one where the plot has carried you along on the first reading and you just want to know what happens next. There are all sorts of nuances and depths waiting to be discovered. I will also be a lot more understanding of children who re-read books for the sheer comfort it brings.
- The joy of spending time with like-minded people talking about books.
Meeting so many inspirational people in the course of the judging process has been truly amazing. I have learned such a lot from each of them and have come away from judging meetings with fresh enthusiasm for the job I love.
- The shadowing experience
I have been working in schools for over 30 years and have led an annual shadowing group for most of that time. I will admit to varying degrees of success and had become a little bit jaded in my enthusiasm. I have had years when the budget just wouldn’t stretch to enough copies of the shortlisted books, years when the shadowers have been hard work and years when just about every meeting I arranged had to be cancelled. Having been part of the process has renewed my enthusiasm for the shadowing experience and this year I can’t wait to hear what my group think of the books I am now so familiar with.
- Appreciating illustration
Judging the books nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal was one of the biggest challenges for me. How could I judge artistic quality? The training days, the extra reading and listening to experts talk about the books in front of us have opened my eyes to how fantastic illustrated books can be. I have now used the Greenaway shortlisted books with group of children in Years 6, 7 and 8 and have been amazed with how rewarding that has been for the children involved.
I am really grateful for being given the opportunity to be a judge. Thank you to the North West committee members for nominating me, to everyone involved in the judging process, particularly Amy who has guided us all through the process and also to my long suffering husband who took over all household tasks and provided my meals.
I know when the nominations are announced in October I will suffer from withdrawal symptoms and will really miss the knock on the door signalling the arrival of another box of books. I will, however, read as many of the nominated books as I possibly can and talk about them with anyone who will listen with enthusiasm and confidence.