The nominations for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals were published today. As a former judge, I’m always excited, interested and sometimes disappointed. Like any other young people’s book enthusiast I have my own opinions not only of the books that make it but also of the general trends in the award. It’s a long time now since I was on the judging panel and almost inevitably I have a suspicion that it was better in my day! However, even if I could define what I mean by ‘better’, the truth is that the entire process is highly subjective. Yes there are guidelines and criteria but it would be disingenuous to suggest that personal preference is entirely laid aside during the judging process. After all, the panel is made up of readers who are all affected in different ways by books.
Having said all that, though, there have been some recent nominations and/or longlists that have left me feeling distinctly uneasy about the way the Medal seemed to be going. In my opinion they were full of worthy books dealing with some kind of topical issue reminding me very much of the didactic novels of a former time that were roundly slated. I don’t mean to suggest that none of the titles was worthy of inclusion but the lists made me feel weary.
All this means that I was nervous about today’s unveiling. But I needn’t have been! With reservations (see below), the nominations list (available at https://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/press.php?release=pres_2020_nominations_carnegie.html) is one of the best, most diverse I have seen in a long time. For those who don’t know, any member of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) may nominate one title. In practice, most of those who do so are children’s and young people’s specialists working in public and school libraries. They’re the ones who see (and hopefully read) a wide range of books throughout the year. Many of the nominators are members of CILIP’s special interest group the Youth Libraries Group (YLG), the body that actually makes the award on behalf of CILIP.
Every year I nominate a book that I deem worthy. Only once has a book I nominated won. That was Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman. But I persevere. It’s tricky though as there are so many excellent books to choose from. Even in the days when I could nominate two titles I swithered until almost the closing date. Now it’s almost impossible and I find myself second-guessing what might be nominated by my fellow professionals. This year I had four titles in the running and actually I was fairly sanguine as I felt they were all books that others would nominate. BUT I HAVE BEEN CAUGHT OUT! Two of the four are missing from the list and I want to shout at someone but I’m not sure whom. Maybe myself. Did I make the wrong choice? But who’d ever have thought that no-one else would nominate the superlative Elizabeth Laird’s A House Without Walls? I’m pretty sure it’s eligible in terms of publication date and it is brilliant. I’m less surprised that The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth is missing. Not, I hasten to add, because it isn’t good enough; just because Laura is less well-know than Liz Laird. As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I loved The Light Between Worlds. One of the criterion for the Carnegie Medal is that the book should live with you after you’ve finished reading it. Laura’s book didn’t do that; rather I continued to live in it.
On a more positive note I am relieved that The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay has made the list. And so have a number of other books I enjoyed: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon, Clownfish by Alan Durant, The House of Light by Julia Green, The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis, All the Lonely People by David Owen, Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer and Anna at War by Helen Peters. If you haven’t read these make them your reading list for the rest of the year.
And, of course, to those add my nomination. The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery.