Everyone Should Exist in Literature

Janet Noble, CKG Judge


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





Tears and Laughter

Ruth Keys is the CKG Judge for YLG Eastern

Ruth Keys

Hello there, I feel privileged to be a CKG judge and little bit of me still cannot believe it.

What an honour and privilege to be part of something so wonderful and inspirational. We were asked to read the books and at the same time check the books fitted into the criteria for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals.   It was not just reading for pleasure, but reading 254 books and having to judge them.  I didn’t find it the easiest of tasks.  I however did have help; I am an advocate of reading aloud and my two dogs have had to listen to quite a few passages from the lists.  Always attentive and never judging!

What struck me was the sheer quantity, variety and scope of books I came across. The unbelievable mix of writing and illustration talent that is present in children’s books.   I have read books which have made me cry, laugh, think and be challenged.   What a cornucopia of marvelous books came into my hands. It has widened my reading horizons. I have read and learned from books that I would not have picked up previously.  So do not judge a book by its cover… I didn’t have that luxury and I am so pleased I didn’t.

I have been shadowing in schools and loved the interaction between the pupils and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlists.   Seeing students read new genres, catching snippets of conversations, hearing people talking about books, language and pictures.     It is a wonderful thing to hear a student champion a book with passion that is tangible. I have seen some students wipe away a tear and some laugh out loud.  The Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals give us a chance to bring high quality books to the students’ attention.  It is great to see the empathy for other people in new situations that is found through reading.

   “Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.” Neil Gaiman

The books shortlisted this year of 2019 are, in my opinion, an awesome group of books and I really hope having read them all you will agree.

Finding an outright winner in the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals is a challenge.  So, I wish you well in choosing winners for the Shadowers’ Choice Award.  To all you CKG shadowers out there…  Good luck and happy reading.

I am a lover of books.

Jenny Jones is the CKG Judge for YLG South West

Jenny 1

I am a lover of books. A book lover. When I hear myself talking about books I say things like “I adore this book”,“this book made my heart sing”,“I never wanted this book to end”, “I was up all night with this book”, “This book made me cry/laugh/write/dance around the room/want to run away to sea/join a circus” (delete as appropriate). I am a lover of books and this is the language of passion. As a book lover I love the whole of a book, I am entranced with the essential nature of it, its charm, the cut of its jib, its swagger and sway. I pass over its imperfections (if I even notice them at all while I’m busy in its company). Often the imperfections themselves make a book special to me.

But to take the role as a CKG Judge seriously I had to become a surgeon, not just a lover of books. I had to cut into each book’s surface and look at its spine, its muscles, its sinews, its lifeblood. I had to study the imperfections, to weigh them up, to put my feelings towards certain types of books, for particular authors and illustrators aside. It was difficult. It was even upsetting at times but it had to be done. I had to become a different kind of reader.

Jake Hope, previous Chair of Judges, offered us a useful metaphor during our training sessions. He said to imagine each book as a snowglobe, a world complete in itself with its own rules, logic and aesthetic. How well does this enclosed world work within its own boundaries? If there are imperfections are they scratches on the surface of the glass or are they cracks that you can’t pass over because they threaten the integrity of the whole? You can’t compare one completely different style of book with another directly but you can ask yourself  ‘Is this book outstanding at being what it has set out to be?’

I turned to writers for guidance with the Carnegie Medal judging process. Writers dedicate their lives and livelihoods to their art, so who better to go to for guidance?

I read Stephen King’s illuminating and inspiring manual-come-autobiography On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and noted his dislike for adverbs and the overuse of adjectives. “Show don’t tell,” is his repeated advice. Yet simplicity is often deceptively difficult. Anton Chekhov is often credited as writing, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Learning to see this art clearly was vital to my new skill set.

The sad news of Ursula Le Guin’s death came at the beginning of my time as a judge, and I took many pieces of advice from her. She has written wise, acerbic works on the art of writing. It was this point about exposition (setting the story out, background, context) that I copied into the front of my judging notebook and referred to constantly:

Jenny 2

Well-crafted exposition is difficult to spot; poorly crafted exposition isn’t, once you start to look carefully. If a passage is dragging (especially near the beginning of a book) then a lot of the time it will be because the background information, the exposition, hasn’t been ground up finely enough.

Le Guin also writes in Steering The Craft: “A story is made out of language, and language can and does express delight in itself just as music does.” When language expresses this delight in itself you can’t help but notice it. It takes outstanding writers to achieve this but it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard to access.

I also turned to my friend and picture book expert Melanie McGilloway aka @LibraryMice for guidance in developing Greenaway Medal judging skills. She lent me a large collection of books and this was a huge help. They expanded my visual literacy skills, ensured I could really ‘see’ skillful illustration clearly and helped me to be confident in using the language with which to discuss it.

The extraordinary book Picture This by Molly Bang uses illustration to teach visual literacy, composition and the psychology of visual storytelling in a playful way. It made me look at every illustration and think about the many choices involved in its creation. It showed me how absolutely every part of an outstanding illustrated book has been thought through and is as it is for a reason. This might sound obvious but until you really start looking at illustrations and thinking about them carefully it is all too easy to look at but not ‘see’ the artistry.

Jenny 3

From Picture This by Molly Bang

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert teaches adult readers how to start conversations and discussions about visual literacy. I imagined reading the 117 nominated Greenaway titles aloud to my readers at school and talked myself through her ‘whole book approach’ as I studied each page. Greenaway Shadowing groups might find her Whole Book Approach Tweets from November 2016 really helpful when they are looking at the judging criteria as she included lots of examples.

Jenny 4

The ‘Whole Book Approach’ Tweets are collected and linked to here:- http://megandowdlambert.com/november-picture-book-month/

I am at the midpoint in my time as a CKG Judge now. The Shortlists for 2019 are out and I am re-reading these extraordinary books and studying them even closer than before. I am also busy reading books that are eligible for 2020 because any day could see the publication of a CKG 2020 winner and I want to have given all of the nominations the best consideration that I can.

Has becoming a CKG Judge dampened this book lover’s passion for books? Absolutely not.

Does the surgeon love the sinews? Absolutely.

This last year and a half has taught me to see the beauty in the bones beneath the skin, to really appreciate the skill in the hand of the maker. It has deepened my love of children’s literature immeasurably because I have a deeper understanding of it and of the vast variety of voices and visions out there.

A new generation of judges

Maura Farrelly is the CKG Judge for YLG Northern Ireland


One of the joys (and there have been so many) of being a regional judge has been the reaction of pupils who have enthusiastically followed the judging process alongside me, and have even taken on the role of CKG judge within school as they shadow the awards.

Over the last two years, I have loved the animated, and sometimes fierce discussion on judging days. The adrenaline fuelled intensity of those meetings is unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. It has been brilliant to see judging meetings reflected in book club as young readers gain the confidence to speak up in a group of their peers to defend or champion a book they have read and feel passionately about. With the introduction of the Shadowers’ Choice Award this year, book club might begin to echo judging meetings even more strongly!

Certainly, for myself, and also the shadowers in school, reading CKG titles has introduced new authors and led to the discovery of new books. I often feel a wee burst of pride when I overhear one of the shadowing group recommend a CKG title to another reader and support their recommendation with comments on character, plot and style.

We have had our first few shadowing meetings of the year and the excitement is already building.

It seems only fair that I give the last word to one of our shadowers. This is Emma, and she’d like to tell you what shadowing has meant to her:

“I love shadowing because I’m able to make friends with girls who enjoy the same things I do. It encourages me to read books that I might not have read otherwise. It also lets my voice be heard. Shadowing is very exciting and my parents know exactly when we start because I always have my head in a book. My mum also hears about the shortlist because I explain in full detail what the books are about, no matter where I am (which is the beach a lot of the time). Shadowing is such an amazing experience and I enjoy it so much.”

Welcome to CKG Shadowing 2019

A warm welcome to all of the 2019 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards shadowing groups! It’s an exciting time in the medals’ annual calendar as shadowing officially begins with the shortlist announcement on Tuesday 19 March 2019. I hope you will find books which inspire and entertain, as well as provoke discussion with your peers and group leaders; I also look forward to reading your reviews and insights and to taking a look at your artwork and videos.

This year, I am delighted to announce the introduction of the inaugural Shadowers’ Choice Awards. For the first time in the medals’ illustrious history the overall winners of the Shadowers’ vote for their favourite shortlisted Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal titles will be publicly announced and presented at the prestigious awards ceremony at the British Library on Tuesday 18 June 2019.

So, whether you are rebounding with Charlie Bell and eating Grandma’s peach pie, travelling through Europe with Marinka and her quirky house, waiting with Piggy for Wild Pig to lead him to freedom beyond the fence or feasting with Duck and Mouse in the Wolf’s belly, there are wonderful worlds to explore in these 16 superb books. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as the judges and I have – thank you so much on behalf of us all for participating in the 2019 shadowing initiative.

Alison Brumwell
Chair of CKG Judges

Thank you from the Chair of Judges

There’s a combination of sadness and excitement as this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals draws to a close. Sadness that all of the fervour around Reading and reviewing the books is drawing to a close, but excitement that the winners are now announced and that, finally, everyone knows and is able to discuss and debate these. Do you agree with what the judges selected this year? Can you recognise why these books were chosen as the winners?

Reading so many of the thousands upon thousands of reviews submitted has been massively inspiring and uplifting and the feelings and views you have taken the time to place into words is impressive. So many responses, so many reactions to the characters and stories crafted and structured through words and pictures. In many cases reading your views and verdicts has led my opinions to change and alter.

This is one of the remarkable things about reading, we all approach it with different ideas, imaginations and invest into it parts of ourselves. People sometimes think reading can only be a quiet, solitary and even outdated activity. The truth is it can challenge and comfort as well as changing who we are and how we think. Sometimes this is in small ways, sometimes in significant ways and sometimes in ways that are quite unexpected.

After you have shared your opinions on the books, it only feels right to let you know why the judges selected their choices of winners. Perhaps you will agree, perhaps you will feel fiercely that another book should have won, this is one of the great things about reading we all bring to it our unique understanding and experience.

The 2018 CILIP Carnegie medal was awarded to Geraldine McCaughrean for ‘Where the World Ends’. ‘Where the World Ends’ felt to the judges to be perfectly pitched, it conjured a time and a place that readers inhabit; living, breathing and almost tasting the smack of salty sea spray upon lips as they feverishly turn the pages, eager to learn more about the predicament that sees Quilliam and the boys left fighting to survive on Warriors Stac. It is a book that has a huge amount to say about belief, about the gradual shift between childhood and adulthood and which brings to bear an indomitable sense of the human spirit for survival. In equal measures tense, thought provoking and told with style and panache it offers a rich reading experience that unreels and unravels more upon every reading.

The 2018 CILIP Kate Greenaway novel went to Sydney Smith for ‘Town is by the Sea’. ‘Town is by the Sea’ sees a powerful and poignant union between words and pictures. It’s an astonishing book that balances the intimacy of a boy’s childhood world of play, imagination and the safety of family and home in a small seaside town, with a larger and more perilous story of an adult world of work and the dangers of coal mining. The story brilliantly pairs and pits these two aspects together creating an unforgettable experience that makes profound comments about the nature of childhood, change and the journeys we chart into our future as we grow…

Encountering change can be challenging, but the stories that we carry with us in both our hearts and our minds can help us weather the changes we might face. We hope that you have enjoyed the experience of shadowing and have encountered and read some stories that will stay with you throughout your life…

As well as leaving a lasting mark on the minds of the judges, many of the 237 books that were nominated have been gifted by the judges to schools, public libraries, nurseries, prisons and children’s homes across the whole of the UK where they will continue to change minds. It brings to mind a passage from the author Fay Weldon’s book, ‘Letters to Alice’…

books are wonderful things; to sit alone in a room and laugh and cry, because you are reading, and still be safe when you close the book; and having finished it, discover you are changed, yet unchanged! To be able to visit the City of Invention at will, depart at will – that is all, really, education is about, should be about.

Thank you for joining us and shadowing this year’s awards and for helping to make the process so enjoyable and enlivening and thank you for sharing with us your ideas and thoughts. Happy Reading!

Jake Hope
Chair of CKG Judges


Alison Cassels is the CKG Judge for Yorkshire & The Humber YLG and is a Reading Officer in Wakefield.

Inspired by the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The pile of books was rising fast

As through the office trolley passed,

A Porter pushing, loaded high.

The Reader saw them with a sigh

I must read more!


Temptation strews the rocky path

The box set and the long, deep bath

But tea in hand with fixéd eye

Still soared that clarion battle cry

‘I must read more!’


At break of day, as heavenward

On glorious tide of words she soared,

She’d lived a hundred different lives,

Seeing the world through others’ eyes.

‘I must read more!’



In that gigantic paper mound

Half buried in the text was found

The Reader, with an eye serene,

Inspired by all she’d read and seen

‘I must read more!’


The mountain climbed, the battle won,

The textual notes are used and done

And now the frantic reading’s past

Will books be laid aside at last?

‘I must read more!’