Will Philip Ridley (very much established) or Malorie Blackman (a rising star) ever win the Carnegie Medal, Britain’s premier Award for a children’s author? Unless members of the Youth Libraries Group choose to buck the trend of recent years, neither has a chance. Their tendency is to write for pre-teens.
Indeed, even authors who do specialise in fiction for older readers, which nowadays has virtually taken the Medal over, are less likely than ever to win The Big One. Despite the massive increase in the number of children’s books published in the last 20 years, no less than six preferred authors have won the Carnegie twice – a feat quite unknown in the first 40 years of the Award’s existence.
Our editorial in BfK 82 (September 1993) drew attention to both facts and queried what lay behind them – to which Susan Greenfield and Margaret Bell, current co-ordinators of Carnegie/ Greenaway, responded in the November 1993 issue.
Below, though, we print a selection of letters from other readers on the subject – abbreviated in some cases but pretty representative of the opinions we’ve gathered by post, by `phone and from face-to-face meetings. Clearly the debate isn’t yet over. Think on, YLG!
Liz Attenborough of Puffin writes:
CONGRATULATIONS on a great piece about the Carnegie Medal – I do so agree, and will be very interested in the response. (You might also be interested to know that during some recent cover research we did, book-buying people took no notice of award-winning stickers and thought the Carnegie mention indicated it was an American book …)
Robert Leeson writes:
Sue Greenfield and Margaret Bell suggest that writers `must think more sensitively about the needs of younger children’.
I will leave aside the rebuke implied to all of us who do write for the younger age groups and always give of our best.
For some years now writing for young children has attracted all the famous names, including the Carnegie winners. Are we to understand that they are taking a rest and not producing good enough writing to win `The Big One’. Or is it possible (a thought reinforced by the Carnegie Panel’s habit of returning to the same writers) that the judges’ perceptions work from the top down? Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Storm is a few years away now. But I recall one judge describing it as `perfect piece of miniaturisation’. Does that not suggest a certain fixed, if implicit, notion of what a prize winner looks like?
Is the message really: we have chosen the best book, no other choice is possible.
If that is so, what is wrong with having another age category? (With the Greenaway we already have two; why not three?) And if it is not the best, what is wrong with following the Guardian’s rule of once-only prize winners?
Should the judges wish to make a general point about excellence, why not an occasional `Body of Work’ award for a distinguished author?
There’s nothing new in any of these proposals. I have made them from time to time at YLG meetings. Up to now I always had the impression the librarians were listening.
Sally Christie of Walker Books writes:
The Purpose of this letter is very straightforward. Simply I wanted to write and say, Yes! Well said! to your Piece about the Carnegie in the BfK September issue. It can’t be right – and my literary judgement, such as it is, tells me it definitely isn’t – for there to emerge such a beast as a Carnegie winner veteran. The phenomenon smacks not so much of the herd as the flock instinct.
Peter Sheldon of Peters Library Service writes:
I’m sure the Youth Libraries Group will respond to your very FINE – if I may use that author’s name -‘Contemplating Carnegie’ editorial. But the mention of publicity and sponsorship has me lunging for my pen for, together with the awards, we are really doing tremendous things in promoting and marketing the Carnegie/Kate Greenaway shortlist through special posters mailed to 12,500 schools and libraries nationally. Now, if next year provides us with a full list of easy readers and young fiction, great, no problem; and then if the award was withheld, what a publicity coup!
But only for one year, YLG please note.
Philippa Milnes-Smith of Viking Children’s Books writes:
While both poetry and non-fiction are eligible for the Carnegie Medal, fiction pretty well always wins and the Carnegie has now become known as a fiction prize. If this is the case should not other, separate awards, be available for non-fiction or poetry? I have never even seen any poetry on the long, long shortlist for the Carnegie. Do librarians feel unable to evaluate poetry? Do they not rate it at all?
Sonia Benster of the Children’s Bookshop in Huddersfield writes:
As a recent Smarties judge, I’ve read the `Contemplating Carnegie’ exchange of views with heightened interest. If previous winners of any particular prize are precluded from winning a second time, will their publishers be prepared to submit books of merit when the farthest they can go will be the Shortlist, resulting in an unrepresentative selection of books.
True, less famous, but equally deserving authors, could have an increased chance of winning – but can such a restriction result in a prize which truly reflects the best of the books published in a given year?
It is the responsibility of the judges to evaluate each and every book submitted, using identical criteria, regardless of the author’s track record. Judges can be very opinionated and subjective and, with a less than perfect system of assessment, sadly, the merit of some outstanding authors will not be acknowledged.
Adele Geras writes:
Three Points about the Carnegie Medal:
1 The choosing process seems to be very thorough and democratic BUT it is a pity that the prize has to pit the teenage novel against the shorter book for much younger children. I reckon the younger the child is, the harder it is to write a real masterpiece, but would something like The Sign on Rosie’s Door ever win the Carnegie? Shame we couldn’t have three the age-groups. Does a picture book text ever win?
2.It’s part of the Carnegie rubric that the winningbook should be IMPROVING in some way. This rules out a hell of a lot of good stuff! I reckon there should be a ‘pure pleasure’ prize for books (thrillers, SF, fantasy, etc., plus many others) that do you no good at all.
3.As to the vexed question of winning more than once: I don’t think it’s a good idea now, but if I were a two-time winner I’d think it was a terrific notion!