Kate Greenaway Medal

Alongside the Carnegie Medal sits its sister prize the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.  The nominations list for it has also been published today.  The nominating and judging process is the same for the two awards and you can read about it in my previous blog.

Once again this list is varied and I’m delighted that many non-picture books are included.  Having said that, I am probably most pleased to see When Sadness Comes to Call by Eva Eland on the list.  I’ve written about it elsewhere.  It’s a book about depression and anxiety for small children.  That makes it sound heavy and forbidding but it’s not.  It’s gentle and calming and reassuring.

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castles illustrated by Kate Leiper and published by Edinburgh’s Floris Books is possibly my pick of the rest.  I love Kate’s style and use of colour and the way her illustrations work so well with Theresa Breslin’s text.  (And she’s a Lossiemouth quine too! (Kate, that is.)

I had the pleasure of working with Emma Shoard at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which makes me even happier to see her nominated for Good Boy published by Edinburgh-based Barrington Stoke and written by the late and lamented Mal Peet.  Not even Emma or Mal’s wife Elspeth was quite sure how to read Good Boy (that’s one of its joys) so Emma was faced with having to interpret it in an open way.  And she has succeeded stunningly.

And there’s The Dam by Levi Pinfold.  His illustrations are so evocative that you almost don’t need David Almond’s words.  But if you didn’t have them you’d be missing utter brilliance.  They absolutely can’t be separated from each other, a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

There are plenty of other great books on the list and you can see them here: https://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/press.php?release=pres_2020_nominations_greenaway.html

You have until June to decide what decision you think the judges should make.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff and Alan Lee

Following on from yesterday’s piece about the Carnegie Medal I’d like to draw your attention to a book that won its sister Medal.  The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for excellence in illustration and in 1993 it was won by Alan Lee for Black Ships Before Troy, a retelling of Homer’s Iliad.  It is just about to be republished by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

It’s a beautifully written, illustrated and designed book as one would expect from Frances Lincoln.  The text by Rosemary Sutcliff is as well written as you would suppose from a Carnegie Medal winner.  It is written as prose but keeps enough rhythm and pace to remind the reader that it is in fact a poem that is being translated and paraphrased.  And it’s a complex read, reminding us that the Kate Greenaway Medal is not only given to illustrators of books for very young children.

The illustrations are also complex and diverse.  Alan Lee worked in film and in 2004 won an Oscar for his work as conceptual artist on The Lord of the Rings.  Here he brings atmosphere and detail to his watercolours (I think!) of ancient Greece.  The soft tones belie the aggressive nature of much of the story but they are dynamic and engaging.  The overall design is clever, ensuring that the text and pictures work together with neither outshining or overwhelming the other.

The Blog’s Name

I expect that some of you recognise the allusion in the title of my blog.  It’s to Lewis Carroll, of course, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

       ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’

I’ve always liked this quote and I do agree with Alice.  I think she’s right both literally and metaphorically.

Judging for the Kate Greenaway Medal opened a whole new world of books for me.  Up until then I hadn’t paid all that much attention to picture books.  I’d bought them for the library and occasionally for the children of friends but I hadn’t really studied them.  Some of my fellow judges were real experts on the subject and I learnt so much from them about how illustration (not just in picture books but in any book) enhances the reading experience.  I love the way the words and pictures in a book can tell different stories as in Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell.  And I am enchanted by the 1920s’ style used by Shirley Hughes in Ella’s Big Chance.

My enjoyment of a novel is definitely affected by the dialogue.  I don’t necessarily like a novel because it has lots of conversations but I do struggle if there are few.  I think that the reader learns so much about characters from the conversations they have and is more easily drawn into their world.  The opening lines of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women is a classic case in point.

But the ‘pictures and conversations’ thing is true too metaphorically.  Good books paint pictures in the mind.  As a child, I was steeped in the Chalet School books of Elinor Brent-Dyer, especially those set in Austria.  I was in my late twenties before I ever went to the Achensee, the real-life setting of the early books in the series, but I had a remarkably accurate idea of what the lake and its surrounding villages looked like.  Equally, I have never visited Vienna but, having read The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, I feel as though I have!  I can see, too, Anne Shirley cracking her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head in the Avonlea school (and I could before ever I saw either the BBC’s excellent adaptation of LM Montgomery’s book or Kevin Sullivan’s equally brilliant offering).

And a book with any lasting impact will always engage me in a debate – often with myself but sometimes with others!  It might be about the plot or characters or it could cause me to ponder the themes and issues raised.  One such book was The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird which had a huge impact on me when I first read it.  Set in modern Ethiopia, it contrasts (but, oh, so subtly) the lives of two boys from opposite ends of the social scale.  It stayed in my head for ages afterwards.  I’ve even been known to debate books with their authors.  As a teenager, I wrote to Joan Lingard (and received a reply) to remonstrate with her about the way she ended her Maggie quartet.  And whenever I see Linda Newbery I try, with no real hope of success, to persuade her to write a sequel to the excellent Sisterland  because I so much want to know what happens to all the characters.

So, yes, for me there is no use of a book without pictures and conversations.