The winners of this year’s Library Association Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the most prestigious children’s book awards in the UK, will be announced on 14 July. The shortlists have been published and I am wondering why my heart sinks when I read them.
Last year the panel made some bizarre choices – the Carnegie Medal went to Tim Bowler’sRiver Boy, a pleasant but not particularly original or accomplished novel. The Greenaway went to When Jessie Came Across the Sea illustrated by P J Lynch, a fine illustrator indeed but one who had already won the Greenaway only two years before. Thus the outstanding book on the Carnegie shortlist (Henrietta Branford’sFire, Bed and Bone) did not win and in the case of the Greenaway, the outstanding book on the list from an illustrator who has never won the Greenaway (Bob Graham’s Queenie the Bantam)did not win.
The Carnegie/Greenaway Panel continues to move in mysterious ways. This is known, according to my librarian informants, as ‘being true to the criteria’. This year, then, we have a novel from American Robert Cormier on the shortlist of the UK’s premier children’s literature award. Cormier is not only American but no Spring chicken – he published his finest book, The Chocolate War, in 1975. Doesn’t US children’s fiction have plenty of prestigious awards of its own? Am I alone in thinking his Carnegie inclusion a curious way to promote excellence in children’s publishing in the UK? (And shouldn’t this be a Carnegie concern if it is not a Carnegie criterion?)
We also have novels on the shortlist of five from two writers who have previously won the Carnegie – Susan Price and Peter Dickinson.
As for the Greenaway… Four of the seven illustrators listed are previous Medal winners – Shirley Hughes, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne and Helen Cooper. Anthony Browne and Helen Cooper (1996) are recent winners and Browne has even won twice (in 1983 and 1992). Does it matter? Yes it does when there are so many fine illustrators around who have never been winners. What about Louise Brierley, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins, John Lawrence, Patrick Benson, Ian Beck, Chris Riddell and the previously mentioned Bob Graham. At least Christian Birmingham, Jane Simmons and Emma Chichester Clark have made it to the shortlist despite the enormous, as it seems, handicap of not being previous winners. All are fine artists but my vote goes to Chichester Clark whose witty, accomplished, beautiful work may get even better but it is hard to see how.
Could the Youth Libraries Group stop being ‘true to the criteria’? Or at least overhaul them? When there has been a long and distinguished career such as those of Shirley Hughes, Peter Dickinson, Quentin Blake and Susan Price, allowing previous winners to win again could be more clearly justified by making them ineligible for, say, five years after their first win and then by stringently determining whether the work can be seen to have grown in some way or taken new directions.
The Youth Libraries Group should act soon to tidy up these anomalies and ensure the continuing credibility of its Medals.
The first Children’s Laureate is Quentin Blake (hurrah!) who will not have to produce a picture book to commemorate the birth of Edward and Sophie’s first child (Phew!). In fact he will be making the laureateship very much his own thing which will mean an emphasis on the importance of illustration to children. We look forward to it.