12 Angry Men (and women)

Ruth Parsons is the CKG Judge for Eastern YLG


Hello! I’m Ruth and I live in deepest rural Suffolk, where it’s green, lush and quiet: perfect for prolonged reading! I’ve been fortunate enough to be the Eastern Region judge for the past two years. I had always wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of jury rooms, and now I have an insight.

When I’m not reading to relax, I love watching old films, and one of the most memorable for me must be ’12 Angry Men’ with Henry Fonda in the starring role as the one member of a jury who must convince all the others of a defendant’s innocence. It’s nail-bitingly tense. I thought of him on more than one occasion as I tried to find the words to ‘save’ a worthy book from the gallows of oblivion!

Of course, it isn’t as dramatic as that, and during the first year of judging I remember a moment of profound relief. This was the discovery that, for the most part, the CKG judging criteria mean that there is a broad basis for agreement. Reading alone for months, sworn to secrecy, I had started to question my judgement, and that first year, it was a relief to find consensus. It’s when it gets down to the final few that it becomes more fraught. But we were never ‘angry’, thankfully – just a little firm, a touch assertive…

Of course, not everyone agrees, and there are certainly intense moments when a favourite book doesn’t make it. It’s a good job that librarians are such civilised and articulate people!

An aspect shortlisted titles share is that they all inspire empathy in the reader: one of the criteria for the Carnegie Medal, for example, is that we feel the ‘sub-conscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious…real experience that is retained afterwards.’ The Kate Greenaway Medal criteria demand that we feel pleasure ‘from a satisfying and stimulating visual experience’. These wonderful books took us on an adventure, showed us different lives, times and experiences. While I was thinking about empathy, I noticed that on 12th June, the very week before the winners are announced, Empathy Lab are holding their second Empathy Day. Here’s a link: http://www.empathylab.uk/empathy-day.  Science has proved that books build more understanding between people and help to break down prejudice. I know that the short-listed books do just that.


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