One of the drawbacks of a bi-monthly magazine like ours is that some book-ish happenings fall between editions so it’s hard to give them the attention they deserve. A good example is National Library Week, 1st-7th November. For this September’s BfK was too early but this issue is too late. Turn at once, though, to page 23 for a retrospective reminder of why libraries matter. This comes courtesy of Gerry Peach and Linda Smith, Kirklees librarians, who had the bright idea of circulating current children’s writers for their opinions.
Of course, some would say such interested parties are sure to be library enthusiasts… but shouldn’t we all be interested parties when it comes to resourcing the nation’s reading habits? The glib counter-argument, advanced all too often by those who are offended by any form of public service or provision, is that ‘there’s much less need for library facilities nowadays when so many people can afford to buy books’. Only the terminally complacent or the ideologically brain-bound could possibly advance such a daft proposition. The truth is that today we need public libraries more than ever before:
1) because, in an increasingly complex society, unrestricted access to information, to argument and to that form of wisdom we call Literature isn’t an option for either rich or poor but a condition of freedom for all.
2) because a properly set up library offers far more than a freely available stock of books. Just as vital, especially for inexperienced readers like children, is the expertise of librarians themselves, trained pilots in negotiating a flood of words that can be deep, rough and scary.
3) because libraries preserve books – an increasingly important function in an age when publishers’ backlists and print-runs get shorter and shorter.
But why go on? Already I’m in danger of winning a Basil Fawlty Award for Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious.
VAT on BfK?
… and on this subject too, perhaps. The prospect of a 17% tax on reading is another little item that’s loomed larger and larger since our last issue. It could apply to all printed matter – newspapers and magazines as well as books – adding, at a stroke, more than £2.00 to the annual subscription for your favourite magazine, for instance. Need we say more? Probably not, but you could.
Write to your local MP, to K Clarke at the Treasury, to J Major himself, even. For more guidance, if this helps, contact the Books Add Value Campaign at 272 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1BA, before it’s too late, because by Budget Day it might be.
Fantasy and SF
After all this, why not escape to another world or worlds? According to C S Lewis, the crucial consideration here is not escapism in itself but the quality of what we’re escaping to…
Enjoy the issue!
Contemplating Carnegie (Continued)
Sue Greenfield writes:
I read ‘Contemplating Carnegie’ in the September Books for Keeps with particular interest and, as National Chair of the Youth Libraries Group, would like to join with Margaret Bell, Carnegie/Greenaway Co-ordinator, in responding to your challenging editorial.
The Library Association Carnegie Medal is awarded ‘annually for an outstanding book written in English published in the preceding year in the UK’. Nominations for the Medal are open to any individual member of the Youth Libraries Group (YLG), any of the 11 YLG Branches around the UK and to individual members of The Library Association.
Whether a nominated title has been written by a previous Medal winner is irrelevant to the outcome of the selection panel’s debate – the question is whether the title meets the criteria set down for the Award (and the criteria are reviewed). Track records do not count. New authors do appear amongst the nominations e.g. Gloria Hatrick (Masks) and Linda Kempton (The Naming of William Rutherford). If a newcomer’s work meets the criteria, is judged to be outstanding, then it will win.
To restrict winning the Medal to a one-off event would remove the very purpose for which it was established, i.e. to recognise the very best in children’s writing each year. The Carnegie judges are not interested in how many times an author has won the Medal. Their brief is to judge each book against the criteria for the Award.
Few people would disagree, we suspect, with the premise that there has been an increase in good writing for children over recent years. And, yes it does get harder each year to separate the best titles. But come on, ‘loss of critical nerve’? An unfair criticism. YLG judges are all experienced children’s librarians well used to making evaluative judgements on the merits of books.
Does the track record of the Carnegie Medal suggest ‘a near-irresistible temptation to play safe’? We think not. Look at the controversy surrounding Westall’s The Machine Gunners or last year’s winner, Dear Nobody.
Nor is the Medal sponsorship – or publicity-driven. If the selection panel judge that no book is sufficiently outstanding to merit the Award, then it is withheld – and withheld for this reason alone.
Keeping the sponsor or PR person happy is not part of the judges’ brief!
And talking of briefs – the criteria for Carnegie are not as biased as you would have readers believe. How then would The Suitcase Kid or The Angel of Nitshill Road have achieved this year’s shortlist? Or Rosa’s Singing Grandfather (shortlisted 1991), The Story of Tracy Beaker (Highly Commended 1991) and The Real Tiny Bean (Commended 1991)?
There is no need to trade up to win the Carnegie Medal. If a nominated book meets the criteria, regardless of its age group, it will win ‘The Big One’ as did Storm.
But we would join with the 1993 Smarties Book Prize Selection Panel in urging ‘authors to think more sensitively about the needs of younger children who, when just beginning to tackle long narratives, have such a hunger for strong vigorously told stories’.
Sorry Chris, the LA Carnegie Medal is still ‘The Big One’, is vigorously alive and well – the one Award chosen solely by children’s librarians who read, use and enjoy books with children every day of their working lives.
I’m most grateful to Sue and Margaret for this prompt and sparky defence of the Status Quo Carnegie… but feel their rejoiner glides past the issues I raised without actually getting to grips with them. Before I respond in detail, though, what do other BfK readers think?