A daunting task

Hilary Gow is the CKG Judge for YLG South East and an Early Years Librarian in Bournemouth.

Hilary Gow

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!


My favourite things…and a shortlist playlist

Jennifer Horan is the CKG Judge for YLG Scotland and Network Librarian at Kemnay Academy, Aberdeenshire.

Jennifer Horan

My favourite things in life are reading, music, cats and white chocolate Magnums.  Being a CKG judge these past two years has been a dream as far as reading is concerned, and it can be done whilst stroking cats and eating Magnums, but where does music come in?  I love books that come with accompanying playlists – often a sign that the author has really thought of the story behind certain songs, and an inventive and exciting extension to reading.  I’ve always thought that coming up with a book playlist would be far easier said than done, so set myself a challenge to come up with one to accompany this year’s CKG shortlist.  I was proved right…

Here is my shortlist playlist.  Some tunes are straightforward links between titles, some have a bit more depth as far as plot is concerned.  Can you think of any other songs that would tie in with the shortlist?

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on EarthSatellite of Love by Lou Reed

The Bone Sparrow All that you have is your soul by Tracey Chapman

The Smell of Other People’s HousesAlaska by Maggie Rogers

The Stars at Oktober BendAstronomy by Trashcan Sinatras

BeckA Place Called Home by PJ Harvey

RailheadLong Train Runnin’ by The Doobie Brothers

Salt from the SeaWar Requiem by Benjamin Britten

Wolf HollowUmbrella by Rihanna  

Wild Animals of the NorthThe Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns

TidyBig Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

The Wolves of CurrumpawThe Last Cowboy Song by Willie Nelson & Johnny Cash

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneI Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone

There is a Tribe of Kids The Animals Went in Two by Two (traditional)

A Great Big CuddleTeddy Bear Hug by The Wiggles

The Journey Where is the love? by Black Eyed Peas

The MarvelsI Was Meant for the Stage by The Decemberists


My small book-eater

Caroline Fielding is the CKG Judge for YLG London and is the librarian at Charlton Park Academy

Caroline Fielding

I remember discovering, years ago, that the judges for the CKG medals are librarians from the Youth Libraries Group & deciding at that moment that it wouldn’t just be great CPD but that I *needed* to get more involved. But fate did not want to make it easy for me, deciding that the short period of my judging tenure should coincide with the arrival of a small book-eater we named Beatrice. Pre-Bea, reading 200+ books would have been a walk in the park, I used to read all the nominated books anyway, but there were times during my pre-reading (often in the early hours over a breast pump) that I feared I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Thankfully, by the time the nominations were announced she slept reasonably well at night so I only had to worry about ignoring my hubby every evening in order to get a decent wedge of reading in before bed. 6am alarms generally got me a chapter or two before she demanded release from the cot. I’d carry a book with me wherever we went (well, who doesn’t anyway?) in the hopes that she might doze off in the buggy so I could sit on a bench & read, cursing CILIP for timing the heavy reading in winter but thanking my lucky stars it didn’t rain much. We’d surround ourselves with Greenaway titles in the living room & I would point out exceptional pages or ideas to make a note of. She’d potter around the piles of books, picking them up & saying “ooo”, even occasionally sitting with me to read one.

Even with my speed reading this wasn’t enough, so visitors had a toddler thrust at them while I buried my nose in a book, & hubby & Bea went out without me whenever possible so that I could concentrate on properly evaluating the titles against the criteria. I’m also ashamed to say that she developed a small addiction to the iPad while I wrote notes & I have felt like a terrible mother & wife (especially as hubby’s lost 1/4 his annual leave to judging meetings).
Worth it though? Hells yeah! I still can’t quite believe I’m the London Judge; it is the greatest honour & responsibility, a peak in my career at a time when really my career would otherwise be on hold. With the longlists & then shortlists chosen I’m happily getting a bit more sleep & procrastination in, as the date to pick our winners looms & I keep tweaking my notes & re-reading passages. Itching not only to have conversations about these books but also to get on with pre-reading for next year. And even more excitingly, Bea turns 2 & starts preschool next month two mornings a week, giving me nearly 6 extra hours a week reading time!

A controversial read…

Martha Lee is the CKG Judge for YLG Wales, she is an academic librarian at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Martha Lee

During judging this year there was a moment that I’ll never forget. My personal favourite of the 114 nominated Carnegie titles and the book I had actually nominated myself became a severe point of contention amongst the judges and divided opinion. I thought it was fantastic and that it undoubtedly met the criteria that we judges have to adhere so stringently to when assessing each individual title. The plot was tightly devised, the writing phenomenal in its darkness, wit and pure visceral nature and the characters so sharply distinct and compelling that, in my opinion, it deserved to be on the longlist, shortlist and ultimately win. Not only this but I had never read anything like it, it was so unique and would have made the longlist that little bit more unusual.

Alas, after much discussion (and championing by me) it was democratically voted off the longlist. I was so upset. The thing about CKG is that you invest part of yourself in all the amazing books that you read. As a judge you must of course constantly remain objective but after all the time, stress and tears of reading 207 nominated titles, it’s impossible not to have your personal favourites and if they don’t make it on to the longlist it’s a heavy blow.

This experience made me think of the importance of controversial books and how vital it is for us as judges and librarians to remember the value of these books and what they bring in terms of reader engagement. I understand how personal opinion can interfere, but we must strive not to allow it to overshadow our impartiality and censor these brilliant books.

Some young adult books deemed controversial (and even banned in some cases) include Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To Kill a Mockingbird, Junk, Of Mice and Men, When Mr Dog Bites and The Bunker Diary, to name but a few. Through the themes within controversial novels readers can be inspired to find ways to problem solve, deal with conflict and overcome struggles via bibliotherapy. These books can also influence deeper thinking, moral sensitivity, social awareness, tolerance and encourage readers to question. Not to mention the passion, vigour, and enthusiasm for reading it offers teens (and adults alike). Because, after all, who wants to read a bland and boring book?


Train delays, traffic jams and family: reasons to be cheerful

Jenny Hawke is the CKG judge for YLG South East and is the Library Supervisor at Petts Wood Library, Kent.

Jenny Hawke.jpg

I don’t have a very long commute to work, a short bus ride and then a short train journey. Nonetheless, along with all the other passengers on the train, when we heard the driver telling us we were held up at a red signal, I used to groan and sigh thinking about all I had to do at work and the day I had got planned slowly disappearing as I realised I would be late. However, once I became a Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judge last autumn all this changed. Train delays were a joy as it meant I could read an extra page, or maybe two, and if I was really lucky and the delay was going to be a long one, a whole chapter. When you are faced with 40,144 pages to read in a few months anything which gives you more time is very welcome!

It was very exciting opening the boxes and unpacking all 114 Carnegie nominations and 93 Kate Greenaways, but it was also very daunting. We have a lot of books in our house already so finding somewhere for another 207 was a tall order. Luckily the hall fitted the bill and we used a recently inherited bookcase for the Carnegies and storage from IKEA for the Kate Greenaways. Once unpacked our recycling pile looked as though it was about to take off and it was at this point I realised what I had in store for the next few months!

JH 1

My birthday and Christmas fell within the judging period. My birthday was so low key: blink and you would have missed it. Christmas was a bit trickier when my sister asked us all to go and stay with her in Wales. I said I couldn’t possibly due to all the reading I had to do. However, she persuaded me and the car journey provided me with 5 hours reading time. Luckily I can read in cars without feeling ill. Once in Wales I would sneak upstairs and furtively read a few chapters of a Carnegie or flick through a Kate Greenaway. This was between opening presents and eating Christmas lunch and lots and lots of chocolate. Nevertheless, when we set off for home I felt I needed to read more and more. Luckily I got my chance as we got stuck in a traffic jam on the M4 for over 5 hours. It actually took us 8 hours to get home. I managed to read a whole Carnegie in that time and the start of another one. So for me train delays and traffic jams are not just reasons to be cheerful but essential elements in a judge’s life!

Throughout the whole judging period my family gave me lots of support and this brings me to one of the main themes which runs through all the books on the Carnegie shortlist this year: the importance of family. In a year when we are celebrating 80 years of the Carnegie Medal I started to think about the books my late father use to read to me as a child and how that had influenced me and developed my love for reading. I have fond memories of him reading stories to me like The Borrowers, Watership Down and The Family at One End Street (again all books which have the notion of family running through them). JH2.jpgI’ve always worked in libraries, for the last few years mainly with children, and my Dad’s passion for reading and books has inspired me greatly. Visiting the library with my parents was a regular activity which we all loved. With my Mum it was slightly different, and although she did read books to me, her main skill was to make up wonderful stories about a little girl called Jane who meets a fairy (called Fairy) at the bottom of the garden. Fairy and Jane went on to have many adventures together and despite not having physical pictures to look at the images were very vivid in my mind and have stayed with me throughout my life.

I have five nephews who are all grown up now but during their childhoods I would regularly read to them picture books such as Dogger, Each Peach Pear Plum and Mr Gumpy’s Outing. I remember them clinging onto me while we read Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski and opening up all the flaps and gasping at the cat in the toilet!

All the above books were duly passed down to my daughter and again reading these and other classics became a regular part of our family life. And of course I also told her the Fairy and Jane stories which my Mum told me.

During my chartership I became fascinated by the past Carnegie and Kate Greenaway winners and decided I wanted to collect as many of these as I could, and read them of course! Over the years I have built up a quite a good collection (although as you can see I do have quite a few gaps!).


JH 4

However, my stipulation is that the copies all need to be second hand (apart from the more recent ones of course) which stops me spending too much money. I have bought them from charity shops, second hand bookshops and boot fairs. There is a thrill when I walk into a shop and find one. I take my hat off to Jake Hope who not only has been reading the nominations list for this year’s Carnegie but is also reading his way through all the past winners and posting reviews on the Anniversary Blog   Once my judging stint is over that will be my plan. In the meantime in the public library where I work the teen groups have adopted three past winners to read this year (if you run a shadowing group do consider doing this). The books chosen are Skellig, The Family at One End Street and Dear Nobody. I’m also reading as many of the past Kate Greenaway winners that I can this year to the reading group I run every Friday for children aged 5-7 with their parents and carers.

A couple of years ago I reached the tender age of 50 and my family showed how much they all knew me by producing this wonderful cake. The photo says it all! They may not be Kate Greenaway winners but they still tasted good! Here’s to more train delays and traffic jams for #CKG18.



A Career in Libraries

Karen Poolton is the CKG judge for YLG North West

and is the school librarian at St Bede’s College, Manchester.

Karen Poolton

I have recently taken on the role of Careers Coordinator alongside my main job as librarian at the school I work at. It has proved challenging and interesting and, as is usually the case, it has been good to tackle something new. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity of having Careers input into lessons from Year 7 onwards and it is my role to encourage students to consider all sorts of options and introduce them to a wide range of career possibilities. I frequently find myself telling students not to worry about not knowing exactly what career they want – we don’t expect most of them to make firm choices while they are still at school – and that keeping their options open is a often a good idea. I am also aware that in the future, we expect people to have a number of different careers through their life.

I say all this, but actually, I did know what I wanted to do when I was a young teenager and I have only ever been employed as a librarian! I have never felt the need or desire to do anything different and feel privileged to have always been gainfully employed in either a school or public library authority, aiming to pass on the joy of reading and provide information, and the skills needed to access it, to people of all ages. There are always downsides to any job and things that are frustrating in any work environment, but despite these, I have never had any doubts that being a librarian is a brilliant job. At times I feel guilty that I am enjoying my work so much and, even after 35 years, I still can’t believe someone is paying me to buy books!

I am now lucky enough to be a CKG judge and am viewing this as the high point of my career (the low point involved a dead pigeon and a broom, but I won’t go into any more detail!). I’ll probably be happy to retire after my 2 years are up. It is proving a challenge – I found reading that number of books in the time required really hard – but brilliant at the same time. To immerse myself in all those brilliant books has been a real joy and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

So, as I do my careers bit at school, I will remember that there will be some young people who do know what they want to do with their lives from a very young age and I will encourage them to go for it. You never know, one day, I might also meet a student who wants to be a librarian, in which case, I’ll tell them that it is the best career anyone could possibly wish for!

Read, read, read….!

Amy Powell is Librarian for Children and Young in Telford

and is the West Midlands CKG Judge.

Amy Powell

I have always loved reading and so my job as a Librarian is no big surprise to my nearest and dearest.

I love my job and am in the very fortunate position of raving to others about the joys of reading for pleasure and being able to offer them a wonderful never-ending supply of amazing stories for free through the public library service.

I have lead Carnegie Greenaway Awards Shadowing Groups in the past and have read the longlists for each award for the last 4 years, so to have the opportunity to be on the judging panel for 2016/17 is one of the most exciting and greatest honours of my life! I would say I have loved every minute of it but admittedly there have been some tough times too, like preparing for Christmas with a young family and working full time and literally not having the time to put a book down for fear of not reading them all in time to create the long list- LOTS of caffeine and chocolate required! As a judge you kind of already feel as though you have had Christmas by the time December arrives, as you literally receive one parcel of wonderful goodness after another as soon as the nominations list’s announced. I got to know my postman very well! Then you have piles of brand new, amazing books everywhere which I could quite happily live amongst; however it’s not always practical when you live with other people and have children.  When it got to the point where we thought we were going to have to eat Christmas dinner off piles of books my husband built me a library in our garage- which was all of my dreams come true!!

Amy 1

The excitement of me being a CKG Judge has rubbed off on the young people who are part of our Reading Hack group in Telford &Wrekin Libraries and they have eagerly wanted to know each and every step. They certainly tested my loyalty to being a judge by trying to squeeze the longlist and shortlist titles out of me before they were officially released – to no avail I must add!

Here are some pictures of them exploring the shortlist titles in a very novel way- which I can’t take credit for as it was an idea I got from fellow judge, Jenny Hawke. Each title shortlisted was put on a Twister mat and every time they landed on one of them they had to read the first couple of pages to the rest of the group- definitely whet their appetites and inspired them to get reading all of those wonderful titles!!

Amy 2

Amy 3