By Sara-Filipa Da Silva
On a warm summer night at Manchester Met’s Number 70 Oxford Road, a room full of illustrators, authors and librarians gathered, keen to learn more about what goes on in the background towards the prestigious Kate Greenway and Carnegie awards for children’s books.
The event was supported by the Youth Libraries Group North West, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, who teamed up to present an interesting and open discussion around the awards.
With the awards celebrating their anniversary next year, this rare evening allowed for the attendees to learn find out more about how the awards run, their place in the history of children’s books and the ongoing role they contribute to libraries and children’s reading.
The panel was made up of authors Melvin Burgess, Candy Gourlay and Gabrielle Wood, librarian and past judge Lizzie Ryder, librarian and current judge Jill Connelly and Jake Hope member of Youth Libraries Group North West and past judge.
Jake Hope, organizer of this event, explained that both awards are very well known in the UK but both the public and individuals who work closely with it still have questions that haven’t been answered. Jake added,
“This night is a platform for these people interested to ask these questions to a selected panel who have experience with the awards and who could shed some light on the grey areas of the awards.”
The Carnegie award is awarded for outstanding literary quality with the criteria of judging focusing of style and plot. Holders of the medal include Terry Pratchett and C.S. Lewis amongst others. The Kate Greenway award is awarded to solely reward outstanding illustration in a children’s book. This award is all about the visual journey in which the illustrations or the images within the book allow the readers to take. One of the main criteria for the book is about the relationship of these illustration and the text within the book.
The judges involved in the process of picking the award winners say that it’s a year around process. They are given boxes of books and they have to be on the look out for titles to be considered for the awards. All nominations are read by all the judges so from a long list of nominations the list starts to get smaller and eventually it becomes the shortlist. The judges have certain criteria they have to think about while reading, and their personal feeling cannot interfere with the nominations however judges can sometimes get attached to certain books and characters as mentioned by Jill Connelly and Lizzie Ryder.
Jake Hope posed questions to the authors in the panel, asking, “How important are awards/medals?” Burgess mentions how he got recognized for his literary works when he won the Carnegie Medal for his book Junk. He added that the medals/awards make no difference and his publishers think so to. However, it is the public knowledge of the awards that make the difference with his work receiving more public recognition after winning.
Candy Gourlay spoke about the importance of using the name of the medal, saying, “I always mention being nominated, shortlisting is good.” Her book Tall Story was nominated for Carnegie Award as well as 12 other prizes.
Candy Gourlay revealed how she started as a children’s book author, explaining that as a young child she was always interested in writing but it was hard in the Philippines. There weren’t many opportunities to write so she settled for a job as a journalist. After working as a journalist for many years, she met her husband during the Philippine revolution and had children which prompted her to start her career.
The panel mentioned how less and less children and reading and engaging with books and stories so we asked Gourlay if she had any advice for someone that is interested in becoming an author. Gourlay answered, “Read! Make sure you read and you pay attention to the story unfolding in front of you. Try to understand why it works and what has the power to capture you. This will help you to speed learn about writing. But most importantly write! Keep writing! And, no matter what it is, just write!”
Both Jake Hope and Kaye Tew, Festival Firector for Manchester Children’s Book Festival, commented on the success of the evening. Everyone involved in the evening mentioned how they learnt a lot about the awards and how they work.
It was great to be in a room full of people enthusiastic about children’s books and about the future of the children that we are teaching about these books.
The Manchester Children’s Book Festival runs 24th June until 3rd July. Download the full Festival programme here.