Monday 20th June will see the announcement of the winners of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. To set the scene and build the tension whilst we count down the hours until that announcement we bring you a sneaky peek behind the scenes of this most prestigious award.
We asked this years judges (lots) of questions about the awards process, what makes an outstanding book, how they cope with all the feelings and how the awards sit within the landscape of Children’s Literature.
How do you cope with ALL the feelings?!
The hardest thing about judging is not being able to talk to my friends about the books I’m reading, so it’s great to have the support of fellow judges who are the only people who know what you’re experiencing. Some books have had me laughing out loud, others have had me in floods of tears (once whilst journeying on the train), but that’s testament to how powerful reading is. Jennifer Horan, CKG Judge for YLG Scotland
I have a good cry and I try not to read too many titles dealing with emotional issues one after the other. The process is really very cathartic. Tanja Jennings, CKG Judge for YLG Northern Ireland.
How do you feel if a book you have loved doesn’t make it through to the shortlist?
When you read and reread and really believe that the book meets the criteria it is heart-breaking when it doesn’t get through. You do realise as you discuss the book with the other judges where the positives and negatives are though. It is still upsetting and quite a few tears have been shed but it’s ultimately a unanimous decision made and it has to adhere to the criteria, and not your personal feelings. Elizabeth McDonald, CKG Judge for YLG South East
It can be hard and you can almost feel a bit heartbroken but as a judge you have to read with your heart and your head. As its essential that a book meets the criteria so you might love it but it needs to be so much more than that. Lucy Carlton-Walker, CKG Judge for YLG North East.
Carnegie and Greenaway books have to be ‘outstanding’ to win – how do you recognise that quality?
Each nominated title is held up against the lists of criteria for each award and evaluated on its own merits and while not every book will hit each point, every book finds champions on the panel who will extoll its virtues on how it is deserving of progressing from nomination to long-list and to short-list. Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.
A key factor is the style of the writing. Does it challenge the reader? Is it evocative? Does the author paint pictures with their words? Is it a book which stays with you after you finish it? Does it take you on a journey through rich vocabulary, intertextuality and powerful imagery? Do its characters engage you? Tanja Jennings, CKG Judge for YLG Northern Ireland.
I liken this to the ‘X Factor’. An outstanding book just has that something that makes it better than the others. In Carnegie books this usually comes down to the style of the book – the way it is written. All the books on the nominations list have good plots and characters but the outstanding books are consistent, believable and complete. Meanwhile the style takes you into the story and immerses you in the experience that has been created. Greenaway books have that visual impact as well as working well with the text to provide a complete visual experience. Tracey Acum, CKG Judge for YLG Yorkshire & Humberside.
And can you tell from the start that it’s going to be an outstanding book?
I don’t think that you can as depending on the literacy devices that the author or illustrator are using sometimes the book is leading you down a path that you were not even aware of till half way through. Also it’s amazing how reading a book for the second or third time changes your opinion as you notice things that you didn’t during the first read. Lucy Carlton-Walker, CKG Judge for YLG North East
Do you have a strategy for reading the longlists?
Kiss the wife and daughter good bye, pick up the first book and start reading! It is best to begin as early as possible, keep reading and take every quiet moment to pick up a nominated title and read! Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.
As we have to read all of the 92 titles for Carnegie and 69 titles for Kate Greenaway it’s really up to each judge, how they do there reading. I just choose books as they arrived and started to assess them against the criteria. I also reread the books I had already read and accessed them against the criteria too. Even if you had read the book before, you are normally reading it for pleasure, so rereading with the criteria firmly in your mind is very different. When you reread for the shortlist, you start to see more and more of the style, characters and plot decisions, as any of the books that are winners must be memorable and stand up to several re-readings. It always amazes me, how many more things I find on the re-readings to justify why each of the books should be the winner. Elizabeth McDonald, CKG Judge for YLG South East
Just keep reading! A previous judge advised me to save reading those I liked the look of best until the end so that I would have good books to read at the end when I was flagging. This doesn’t always work as the old adage is very true – you cannot judge a book by its cover. Other judges have read them in alphabetical order, or randomly as they came out of the box. We all find a system that works for us, but just have to keep going. Tracey Acum, CKG Judge for YLG Yorkshire & Humberside.
How closely do you stick to the criteria?
Judging a book against the criteria is paramount, subjectivity is removed from the process as much as possible. Eventually you start dreaming about the criteria as they are so ingrained in to the decision-making process. Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.
Completely. This is why the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway prize is also unique as each title must stand up and be outstanding in each of the stated criteria. So for the Carnegie the books must be outstanding in Style, Plot and Character. The Kate Greenaway must be outstanding in the artistic style, format, synergy of illustration and text and the visual experience. Elizabeth McDonald, CKG Judge for YLG South East
Very closely. Our reading and all our discussions always have to refer back to the criteria. That is what we use to measure the quality of the books. Tracey Acum, CKG Judge for YLG Yorkshire & Humberside.
How important is the nominations process and how important is it that Librarian’s engage with it?
For the CKG medals to retain their prestige, the library profession has to be engaged in the process. Librarians are experts in their field when it comes to identifying and recommending good reads, and a strong nomination list gives added weight to the later outcomes. Plus, you can’t complain that your favourite didn’t make it if you haven’t nominated it! Jennifer Horan, CKG Judge for YLG Scotland
There is perhaps a perception that it’s harder to judge the Greenaway than the Carnegie. Would you agree with this?
It is different and no less taxing to consider the artistic merits of books nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This is where the criteria really come in to their own, for without them I think that judges would still be deliberating! Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.
Yes and No, Each medal and criteria are unique and different. The Carnegie medal is for a book of outstanding literary quality. The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards. We focus on the Style, Plot and Character Developments within the criteria. With the Kate Greenaway medal we are looking for a title that should be a book of outstanding artistic quality. The whole work should provide pleasure from a stimulating and satisfying visual experience which leaves a lasting impression. Illustrated work needs to be considered primarily in terms of its graphic elements, and where text exists particular attention should be paid to the synergy between the two. We focus on the artistic style, format, synergy of illustration and text and the visual experience within the criteria. Elizabeth McDonald, CKG Judge for YLG South East
Personally, I find the Greenaway difficult as illustrations have a very personal reaction and it is harder to look at them in a detached way. Also, there are so many different styles and techniques used so it is difficult to judge against each other. Having said that, the Carnegie books take more reading and have equally varied styles and techniques. Both have their own challenges, but I enjoy doing both. Tracey Acum, CKG Judge for YLG Yorkshire & Humberside.
Yes it is, when I first saw the KG books I thought it would be really easy to judge them and choose a winner, but it isn’t, believe me. Using the criteria whilst reading really keeps you on track, you could easily adore a book because you like the illustrations, but it CANNOT be chosen for that reason. It starts from the front cover, end pages and every single page to the back cover, placement of the illustration on each page, the gutter of the book, the type of illustration – full page, vignette, double page spread etc. I really enjoy judging the KG books because it is a pleasure to appreciate the illustrators’ hard word. Tracey Frohawk, CKG Judge for East Midlands.
How do you see Carnegie and Greenaway within the wider landscape of Children’s Literature in Britain?
Carnegie & Greenaway are (rightly) called the gold standard of awards in the UK. Other awards can be considered to be popularity contests but the CKG Awards alone are chosen by professionals in the field of books for children and young people. Matt Imrie, CKG Judge for YLG London.
We’d like to offer our thanks to the judges for taking the time to answer our questions and to give you a great big pat on the back. It’s a mammoth task and a huge responsibility. We’re so very much looking forward to finding out the fruits of your labour on Monday!