On Thursday 9th June librarians from around the North West came together to discuss the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards.
This trailblazer event for Manchester Children’s Book Festival was supported by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and featured a stellar panel of authors and past and present judges, who responded to questions put to them by Chair Jake Hope and the audience. The panel was made up of:
- Jake Hope (Chair) – Reading development and children’s book consultant, Jake has judged numerous prizes and is the Chair of YLG Northwest
- Melvin Burgess – Melvin has been shortlisted for the Carnegie medal five times, winning in 1996 with the ground-breaking Junk
- Candy Gourlay – Candy is the author of Tall Story and Shine. Tall Story was nominated for the Carnegie medal in 2011
- Jillian Connolly – Jillian is Reading and Learning Development Manager at Lancashire County Council and is the current CKG representative for the Northwest
- Lizzie Ryder – a past CKG judge, Lizzie is a school librarian in Bury and runs an active Carnegie shadowing group
- Gabrielle Wood – also a previous CKG judge, Gabrielle formerly worked in public libraries and is now Head of Learning Resources at Chetham’s School of Music
L-R: Lizzie Ryder; Candy Gourlay; Melvin Burgess; Gabrielle Wood Jillian Connolly; Jake Hope
Image courtesy of Manchester Children’s Book Festival
Jake began proceedings by asking the panel about their perceptions of the Carnegie and Greenaway awards. Both the authors were very enthusiastic about the awards, with Candy Gourlay referring to the Carnegie Medal as the “top prize” in children’s literature and Melvin Burgess saying that being nominated for Carnegie launched his career. Those with judging experience were keen to point out the integrity of the awards and the fact that judging is a year-round process – every title that is nominated is read and considered against the judging criteria and Jillian explained how seriously this is taken and how much judging can take over your life (in a really good way of course!). The criteria for the awards was passed around the room so the audience could see what the panel was referring to.
Jake then asked the panel about the impact of being nominated for the awards on marketing and sales. Melvin was keen to point out that sales are ultimately down to members of the public and how receptive they are to a book, but did point out that the media coverage that is generated by being nominated for awards definitely helps, particularly in the case of Junk, which gained huge exposure through Carnegie.
Candy talked about the importance of reaching readers and some of the challenges of writing for the older middle-grade audience. Noting the key role of librarians, she said that “if your book is nominated for the Carnegie, that means that a librarian has liked it” – not only does this help with marketing (as the phrase “Carnegie nominated” can be used) but it also means that other librians may read it and buy copies for their libraries, thus having an impact on sales.
It has been noted recently that some authors have appeared on the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists on a number of occasions and Jake asked the panel to address this issue directly by asking if an author / illustrator’s profile has any effect on the judging process. The answer from Lizzie and Jill in unison was a resounding ‘no!’ Both were keen to stress that books are always judged in isolation, against the criteria, and that public profile and previous work are not taken into consideration. The question of why other popular authors have never made the shortlists was also raised and again the judges were keen to point out that, if they were nominated, books by those authors would be judged against the criteria, like any others.
Image courtesy of Manchester Children’s Book Festival
There then followed a discussion of the Shadowing scheme, which thousands of children and young people take part in every year. There were some important questions from the audience around the suitability of shortlisted titles for shadowers, with librarians understandably anxious about promoting titles to shadowers that may be deemed too “old” or too issue-driven. The issue of possible parental complaints is also a worry, with one member of the audience commenting that there is “no way” they could give certain titles to shadowers (last year’s When Mr Dog Bites was cited as an example) because they would be guaranteed to get complaints. The panel admitted that there is no easy answer to this one: a book that would be absolutely fine with one group may be untouchable with another. The panel explained that all books that are published on children’s / YA imprints are eligible and that all nominated titles must be given equal consideration against the criteria – and Gabrielle Wood pointed out that ultimately decisions about the lists cannot be made to please the shadowers. Having said that, it was clear that shadowing is considered to be a rewarding experience, with Lizzie reporting instances of young people saying they have really enjoyed books they would never have read if they hadn’t been on the shortlist.
One of the most interesting questions for me came from a member of the audience and focused on the Carnegie criteria that states that characters should be “believable and convincing” with “behaviour and patterns of speech consistent with their known background and environment.” Pointing out that judges are often likely to be middle-class white females, the questioner asked how judges can possibly know if characters are believable if they don’t have the knowledge or experience of that particular background. Acknowledging that there is not a massive amount of diversity amongst the judging panel, Jake did say that there has been a lot of diversity amongst winning titles. Melvin pointed out that lack of diversity is an issue in publishing in general and also spoke about the difficulty of attempting to write a first-person narrative about somebody who is from a background other than your own, saying that to write about people well you “have to know them,” whilst Candy talked about the individuality of all experience. The judges said that it is impossible to know absolutely whether characters are truly authentic and that they can only go on whether they feel convincing and believable within the events of the story.
All in all, this was a really stimulating evening with important questions being asked. The passion for providing children and young people with rich, rewarding reading experiences was evident from the panel and the audience alike. Huge thanks to Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for supporting the event, along with the brilliant panellists and audience. Roll on Monday when the winners are finally revealed and no doubt more discussion will ensue!