The winners of this year’s Library Association Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the most prestigious children’s book awards in the UK, have been announced. Did the right books win? Rosemary Stones investigates.
The big hitters on this year’s Carnegie shortlist were Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, Adèle Geras’s Troy, Jamila Gavin’s Coram Boy and Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth. That two of these books were published by David Fickling reminds us yet again that good fiction (in Fickling’s case initially published in handsome hardback editions) does not happen without editors who are committed to long-term investment in authors and to high literary standards.
Some trilogies or series tail away after the first volume – cf the awarding in 1956 of the Carnegie Medal to C S Lewis’s lacklustre The Last Battle rather than to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first volume in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. However, Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ trilogy or John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series demonstrate that subsequent titles can actually improve or grow. Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy has in The Amber Spyglass a grippingly triumphant finale, a book whose scope is both unpredictably ambitious and challenging.
The relatively recent rekindling of interest in historical fiction which was so brilliantly marked a couple of years ago by Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake (not, regrettably, a Carnegie Medal winner although it did win the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award) is ably abetted here by Jamila Gavin’s very convincing Coram Boy. Set in the eighteenth century, it is a powerful, many-layered family saga set against a brutal underworld where abandoned children are left to die or sold into servitude. Adèle Geras’s atmospheric Troy is historical fiction of a different kind as both domestic and Olympian dramas are played out against the bloody backdrop of that ten-year siege.
And so to this year’s Carnegie Medal winner – Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth, a novel about asylum seekers that focuses, as ever in Naidoo’s writing, on the perspective and internal world of a young person involved in terrifying external events over which they can have no control. Naidoo’s impassioned novel is highly topical, not least given the recent murder of a Kurdish asylum seeker ‘dispersed’ to a run down housing estate in Scotland. It is her ability to engage her young readers empathically with people whose experience is not their own that makes this book a powerful counter to the sustained and vitriolic tabloid campaign against asylum seekers. Gaye Hiçyilmaz’s Girl in Red (Dolphin) and Bernard Ashley’s Little Soldier (Orchard Books), which was shortlisted for last year’s Carnegie Medal, are evidence of other children’s writers’ wish to get behind asylum seeker hysteria to our common humanity.
In this year’s crowded Carnegie field, where there is no like to compare with like, it cannot be said that The Other Side of Truth is a greater literary work than the Pullman, Gavin or Geras. It is, however, a most deserving winner.
Of the remaining four shortlisted titles, Melvin Burgess’s The Ghost Behind the Wall is a tedious story (endless climbing in and out of a ventilation shaft) featuring a troubled 12-year-old boy who thinks about stealing a woman neighbour’s knickers and bra and spying on her with her boyfriend. This theme is not further explored. A therapist might speculate that David’s anger with women could be linked to the fact that his mother has deserted him, but Burgess allows this unmediated anxiety to hang unsatisfactorily in the air.
In Sharon Creech’s The Wanderer, 13-year-old Sophie sails across the Atlantic from Connecticut to Ireland with her uncles and cousins and the voyage affords a journey into her traumatic past which she has cut off from consciousness. This is an agreeable if not tremendously gripping novel – too much boat, perhaps. David Almond’s Heaven Eyes is an intensely written novel in the magic realism style in which abandoned children set about finding their personal treasures. It is a touching book which suffers from some bathos at the end as though Almond had a failure of nerve and could not quite trust the reader. Gibbons’ Shadow of the Minotaur is a pacily written drama with a subplot about bullying in which the hero’s father devises a new computer game based on Greek legends but the legend begins to take over. It is well and grippingly done, but not, perhaps, original enough to stay long in the mind.
Seven books were shortlisted for the Greenaway Medal for illustration this year of which Lauren Child’s I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato was the clear winner and which, mirabile dictu, actually did win. Both author and illustrator, Child pitches her funny, unruly picture books at the very young whilst having tremendous fun with sophisticated jokes and dramatically zany illustration. Of her two books on the shortlist (the other was Beware of the Storybook Wolves), Tomato has the edge although Storybook Wolves’s Cinderella with her yellow washing-up gloves is not to be missed.
No Greenaway shortlist would be complete, it seems, without an Anthony Browne. Librarians are rightly in love with his brilliance and originality but Willy’s Pictures is less of an original picture book and more of a Glen Baxter for children with its jokes (not always successful) about (well selected) famous paintings. What children will make of it is not certain but Browne’s comments about ‘the pictures that inspired Willy’ at the back of the book (eg Winslow Homer’s The Herring Net and Goya’s The Straw Mannequin) are direct, friendly and informative – just the thing to inspire gallery visits.
Winges about the predominance of picture books on Greenaway shortlists usually result in the inclusion of a gift book of some kind to keep the critics at bay. This year it is Jane Ray’s Fairy Tales in which many of the spreads with their gold leaf and decorative patterns, look like expensive wrapping paper. Perhaps Ray was overwhelmed by her task but there is a distinct lack of dramatic tension or wonder in these illustrations – it is rare for the lethargic characters to be looking at what is happening, let alone at you, the reader. Her silhouettes do have some spark to them – less is more, perhaps?
Ted Dewan’s Crispin, the Pig Who Had it All is a delightfully told picture book story spoilt by the unevenness of his illustrative style – Dewan can draw very well (cf the sequence of pictures of Crispin in his cardboard box) but his palette swiftly becomes out of control leading to Wagnerian excesses with undifferentiated colour and tasteless characterisation that make it hard, on occasion, to see what is happening. This book is also not helped by its awful, insistent typography. Ron Brooks’s Fox, on the other hand, is drowning in good taste, its poetic text vying with his poetic and painterly gouged out artworks in which the drama is not as intensely maintained as it could be. And why do publishers inflict lumberingly intrusive logos on illustrated books? The Cat’s Whiskers logo on my paperback edition of Fox is ghastly.
Ruth Brown’s Snail Trail with its stiff card pages is aimed at the very young with its story of a snail’s journey with objects seen from the snail’s eye view. It’s a lovely idea but Brown’s warm, earthy colours and consistently painterly textures confuse in relation to identifications in this story which perhaps require a clearer, simpler style.
THE BEST OF THE REST
This year’s YLG Carnegie and Greenaway leaflets (ordering details in BfK’s Briefing section) now include a ‘The Best of the Rest’ section which lists 27 and 26, respectively, titles which were also nominated for these Medals. What a very good idea. It is intriguing (and exasperating) to discover that, eg, Celia Rees’s Witch Child and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Seeing Stone did not make the Carnegie shortlist and that Emma Chichester Clark’s Where Are You, Blue Kangeroo? and Neal Layton’s Nothing Scares Us did not make the Greenaway shortlist. And what was missed altogether? Where are Emma Chichester Clark’s Elf Hill (Frances Lincoln), Gaye Hiçyilmaz’s Girl in Red (Dolphin), John Burningham’s Husherbye (Cape)? Was there really nothing from Angela Barrett? Why oh why oh why? The debate goes on…
The Carnegie Medal winner and shortlist
The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo, Puffin (0 14 130476 6, £4.99 pbk)
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, Scholastic David Fickling Books (0 590 54244 3, £14.99 hbk; 0 439 99358 X, £6.99 pbk)
Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin, Mammoth (0 7497 3268 7, £5.99 pbk)
Troy by Adèle Geras, Scholastic David Fickling Books (0 439 01409 3, £14.99 hbk; 0 439 99220 6, £5.99 pbk)
The Ghost Behind the Wall by Melvin Burgess, Andersen Press (0 86264 492 5, £9.99 hbk)
The Wanderer by Sharon Creech, Macmillan Children’s Books (0 330 39292 1, £4.99 pbk)
Heaven Eyes by David Almond, Hodder Children’s Books (0 340 76481 3, £10.00 hbk; 0 340 74368 9, £4.99 pbk)
Shadow of the Minotaur by Alan Gibbons, Orion (1 85881 721 8, £4.99 pbk)
The Kate Greenaway Medal winner and shortlist
I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child, Orchard Books (1 84121 397 7, £10.99 hbk; 1 84121 602 X, £4.99 pbk)
Beware of the Storybook Wolves by Lauren Child, Hodder Children’s Books (0 340 77915 2, £9.99 hbk; 0 340 77916 0, £5.99 pbk)
Willy’s Pictures by Anthony Browne, Walker Books (0 7445 6165 5, £10.99 hbk; 0 7445 8240 7, £5.99 pbk)
Fairy Tales by Berlie Doherty, ill. Jane Ray, Walker Books (0 7445 6115 9, £14.99 hbk)
Crispin, the Pig Who Had it All by Ted Dewan, Doubleday (0 385 41074 3, £9.99 hbk; 0 552 54627 5, £4.99 pbk)
Fox by Margaret Wild, ill. Ron Brooks, Cat’s Whiskers (1 903012 13 9, £6.99 pbk)
Snail Trail by Ruth Brown, Andersen Press (0 86264 949 8, £5.99 hbk)
Rosemary Stones is Editor of Books for Keeps