Challenging, Intense & Exciting

Zoey Dixon, CKG Judge

Zoey

I have always thought it sad that so many people stop reading children’s books when they stop being children. I never stopped reading children’s or teen novels, but I did forget about picture books. When I became a children’s librarian I re-discovered my joy of picture books. I found that I could sit for hours marveling at the clever stories that were told using fantastic illustrations. I came across old favourites and made new ones. I hunted for the perfect books for my under 5s sessions or class visits because I know that a good book will stay with you forever.

Geraldine McCaughrean’s A Pack of Lies was the first Carnegie Prize winning novel that I remember reading. It quickly became a favourite and I re-read it countless times, hypnotised just like those characters listening to MCC Berkshire tales were. Many more winners went on to become some of my favourite books, from the epic fantasy of Philip’s Pullman’s Northern Lights to Melvin Burgess’ Junk. These were the novels I remember recommending to friends as I adored them so much. I wanted to share my joy of reading especially as I love talking about books. Sometimes I couldn’t always find the words to articulate just how much I’ve enjoyed it or how a book made me feel.  But I don’t have that problem now!

To be a judge for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway has been one of the most challenging, intense and exciting experiences of my career so far. It is hard to describe the feeling when all the judges came together to discuss the nominations and create the longlist for both awards. The passion and the energy in the room is palatable. It has allowed me to develop my knowledge of children’s literature and illustrators and given me an insight into the breadth of stories that are being told. And having read so many books (the most in a very long time) I can engage in my favourite past time: sharing and talking about them!

I’ve really enjoyed visiting groups that are shadowing the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award. The shadowers are far more articulate than I was at their age. They are knowledgeable, insightful and passionate. Their understanding of the books takes into account their life experience and is shaped by what they see happening in the world, and their place in it. They have constantly surprised and challenged me as well as teaching me new things. To see them as enthusiastic about the shortlist as I am has been a joy and I leave those sessions feeling energised.

But I haven’t only shared the books with kids. I also persuaded my adult reading group to give a title from the shortlist a try. They were reluctant at first, and some admitted some snobbery. But they loved it, and that title got the highest scores out of all the adult books we had read that year. They were surprised at the calibre of children’s literature and are now regularly reading more children’s literature. To me this proves that the books shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal are not just examples of outstanding children’s literature, but of the written word.

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Oh, the places you’ll go …

Carol Hales is the CKG Judge for YLG South East

Carol Hales CKG photo

I approached my first year as a CKG judge with a heady mix of excitement and trepidation.  I have always read avidly, but slowly.  How on earth was I going to read all of the nominated titles (137 Carnegie and 117 Greenaway)?  In the words of Frank Zappa: So many books, so little time!

As all judges must, I became adept at squeezing reading time into each day, however busy.  Train delays and missed connections on my journey to work became cause for celebration, as they gave me valuable extra minutes.  I pretty much gave up on my social life (friends and family were very understanding) and stopped watching TV, other than allowing myself my weekly fix of Strictly.  I learnt to carry a book ( and usually two) with me at all times – there is nothing worse than having the gift of unexpected reading time, but no book.  I tried setting my alarm for 5.30 to fit in some early morning reading, but sadly, more often than not, I pressed the snooze button instead.

There were certainly times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to read all of the books in time, but somehow, miraculously, I did.

And was it worth it?  Absolutely it was!

Jeanette Winterson has said, “Books and doors are the same thing.  You open them and go through into another world”.  Over my months of CKG reading, I have opened and gone through doors into so many extraordinary and unexpected worlds, many of which I would never have entered were I not a CKG judge.

I have travelled back in time and found myself caught up in the intrigues and dangers of Civil War England and both World Wars.  I have been alongside the Montgolfiers as they pioneered hot air balloon flight, and have experienced life in the jungles of the Philippines.  I have spent time on remote British islands and in the heart of cities.

I have marvelled at brilliantly imagined fantasy worlds, and have been immersed in realms of ancient magic, witchcraft and faerie.  I have entered terrifying dystopian futures, and have journeyed into space.

Illustrated books have taken me up mountains, below the oceans, into deserts, and even to Mars.

My reading has also taken me to places and landscapes already familiar to me, but seen from new and different perspectives.  And on these journeys, I have had a glimpse into so many lives: women fighting for the vote, indigenous people whose way of life is under threat, young carers, refugees, young people caught up in cycles of violence, children working in sweatshops, young addicts and many, many more.

It has been a joy and a privilege to enter all these worlds and to spend time with their inhabitants.  I have laughed and cried, cheered and raged, and been enriched by the experience.  I can’t wait to see what new worlds next year’s books will have in store for me, although I’m pretty sure that I will still be panicking about how to read so many books!

Everyone Should Exist in Literature

Janet Noble, CKG Judge

Janet

In July 2018, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) published Reflecting Realities, the first UK study looking at diversity in children’s literature. Funded by the Arts Council, CLPE’s aim was to quantify and evaluate the extent and quality of Black and ethnic minority (BAME) representation and diversity in children’s publishing in the UK in 2017.

Summary of Findings

  • There were 9115 children’s books published in the UK in 2017. Of these only 391 featured BAME characters
  • Only 4% of the children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME characters
  • Only 1% of the children’s books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character
  • Over half the fiction books with BAME characters were defined as ‘contemporary realism’(books set in modern day landscapes/contexts)
  • 10% of books with BAME characters contained ‘social justice’ issues
  • Only one book featuring a BAME character was defined as ‘comedy’
  • 26% of the non-fiction submissions were aimed at an ‘Early Years’ audience

These findings are disappointing but not surprising.  I am 54 years old and yet I struggle to find books about the kind of child I was, and still meet, in schools and libraries across London every day.

That every child should be able to access and enjoy great books in which they see themselves depicted is eloquently advocated in this extract from the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie’s The danger of a single story 2009 TED Talk.

Janet Ted

I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call “the danger of the single story.” I grew up on a university campus in eastern Nigeria. My mother says that I started reading at the age of two, although I think four is probably close to the truth. So I was an early reader. And what I read were British and American children’s books. 

I was also an early writer. And when I began to write, at about the age of seven, stories in pencil with crayon illustrations that my poor mother was obligated to read, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to. 

My characters also drank a lot of ginger beer because the characters in the British books I read drank ginger beer. Never mind that I had no idea what ginger beer was. And for many years afterwards, I would have a desperate desire to taste ginger beer. But that is another story. 

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books, by their very nature, had to have foreigners in them, and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify. Now, things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available. And they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books. 

But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized. 

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are. 

Chimamanda Adichie has written the novels Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014). Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017.

To view the full video of Chimamanda Adichie’s The danger of a single story 2009 TED Talk, please go to :https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

CLPE’s Reflecting Realities study can be found at: https://clpe.org.uk/library-and-resources/research/reflecting-realities-survey-ethnic-representation-within-uk-children