Musings of a CKG Judge (with apologies to William Wordsworth)

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


I read and wandered like a cloud

Until my life was #CKG’d

Then all at once I saw a crowd

A host, of wondrous books to read.

Beneath my desk, piled on the floor

Through every post came more and more.


As many as the books that shine

And tempt you from a library bay

They stretched in never-ending line

For every mood and every day.

Two hundred plus I do believe

Stood fluttering forty thousand leaves.


Fuelled with coffee/tea/gin/sherry

I plunged into the pile with glee

A Judge could not but be merry

With such distinguished #CKG

And as I read I often thought

What wealth to me these books had brought.


Outstanding read and visual treat,

The stories nestle in my heart.

Fine words with glorious pictures meet,

Rich feast of writing and of art.

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances like the Daffodils.


Art, art, wonderful art!

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

Martha Lee

I became the librarian for the School of Art & Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University in September 2016. This was a massive change from my previous role as a Community Librarian in a public library. It means that now, unfortunately, I don’t get to work with children and young people which is the bit that I really miss the most. However it does mean that I get to work with art and design students and am surrounded by the most incredible art books and image resources.

My change in role has given me a whole different perspective and appreciation of the Kate Greenaway titles. Working with the illustration students at university in a shadowing group was a revelation, the students were so enthusiastic and opened my eyes to further detail of the shortlisted titles.  Not only this but seeing this year’s Degree Summer Show, my first, was awe-inspiring. The students’ talent and creativity was inspirational.

One of the hardest things about judging the Kate Greenaway nominations is that art is so personal and subjective but, as a judge, you have to be completely impartial and balanced and set your personal taste to the side entirely. I studied History of Art at University so art has always been a passion of mine. I know that I’m pretty horrendous at drawing, painting and just generally being remotely creative but I love, love, LOVE looking at and appreciating art. I poured over the gorgeous pages from this year’s shortlist with relish.

From Brian Selznick’s masterful draftsmanship, Francesca Sanna’s poignant screen-print like illustrations to Chris Riddell’s unmistakeable style and William Grill’s masterful use of colour and line. I was enthralled by Jim Kay’s exquisite art and imaginative interpretation of Harry’s world, Lane Smith’s delicate use of colour and brilliant use of texture, the beauty of the natural world that shines through in Dieter Braun’s work and Emily Gravett’s excellent use of humour in her wonderfully distinctive style.

These are all truly wonderful pieces of art and I hope they bring as much joy to you as they did to me when judging them. I’ve now been inspired to get out my pencils and start practising…however bad the results may turn out!

Through the back of the wardrobe

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

Alison Cassels

When I was eight, I walked into a wardrobe, brushing past fur coats, feeling the snow crunching under my feet, and came out under a lamp post into a new world. Yes, it was Lucy’s adventure really but as I sat enraptured as a wonderful teacher (thanks, Mr Brennan) read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us, it became mine too.

When a child from a Shadowing group I visited asked me what it is I love about reading, this is what I thought about. I told him what I discovered in the classroom that day, how books take you to other places and times and let you meet people and experience lives that are different to your own.

Now, research is showing how important this is. When we are absorbed in a novel our brains think we are part of the story and the empathy we feel for the fictional characters wires our mind to feel the same way about real people. When children experience other lives through books, they learn that other people have feelings just like them and learn to see the world in a different way. To find out more about this research, visit the Empathy Lab

‘In reading, you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals’                  Neil Gaiman, Empathy Lab.

Reading all the 114 nominations for the Carnegie Medal was an incredible experience. It often seemed strange and difficult to come back to my ‘real life’ as my reading life went from Alaska to Australia, from inner cities to outer space. I met many people in situations that I have never come across myself and learned from them about the challenges facing children and young people today.  One of the criteria for the Carnegie Medal is ‘’a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.’’ To feel so many of those real experiences in such a short time left me feeling shattered and also so enriched by the journeys I had made and the characters I had met. It’s a reading experience that will stay with me for a long time and I’m so excited that soon I will push open that wardrobe door and start on another big adventure.


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?