Loss and identity explored in CKG longlist

This point in the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal judging cycle is always an exciting one. As chair, the interim period between longlisting and the final judging sessions allows me the opportunity to step back and reflect on the key themes which emerged from this year's selected titles, books we've highlighted as outstanding in writing and illustration for children and young people.

I am struck by the way in which 2019 longlisted authors and illustrators each employ varied narrative structures and a wide range of media to explore common themes. Particularly resonant are those related to loss, identity and the helplessness of being marginalised. The 20 superbly illustrated texts which appear on the Kate Greenaway Medal longlist prompted me to dig out a treasured touchstone, published more than 50 years ago.

What is remarkable to me about Timothy’s Song, by American author William J. Lederer, isn’t the text but the illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. Ardizzone won the inaugural Kate Greenaway Medal in 1956 for Tim All Alone and his beautifully-crafted line drawings in this lesser-known work bring Timothy’s painful, lonely journey to life with warmth and compassion. Coping with disability and a profound, aching loneliness, and struggling to find one’s voice are etched across each page. Ardizzone gives us the anguish of an eleven-year-old boy, but also his hope for acceptance and a home. 

So many of the themes explored visually this year by Kate Greenaway Medal longlistees harken back to the craftsmanship exemplified by Edward Ardizzone: the child gazing longingly into a classroom in Rebecca Cobb’s simple illustration in The Day War Came; the perilous, unrelenting journey Ebo takes in Illegal; the intimate poignancy of a child’s grief in A Stone for Sascha; the bowed head of Piggy waiting in vain for Wild Pig to return in Beyond the Fence. They are all on a physical and emotional journey that is difficult, yet ultimately joyous. Jackie Morris’s glorious illustrations in The Lost Words invite readers to contemplate loss of a different sort: the absence of language and our natural world. The wren, the adder, the fern. Then, there is the sheer abandon of Tiny Cat as he cavorts across each white page and Julian’s pride as he poses in his curtain mermaid’s tail and plant pot turban. Both characters and visual narratives celebrate individuality and the right children should have to safety and freedom of expression.

Which leads me on to highlighting why the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal shadowing initiatives are so valuable. Each year thousands of children across the UK—and abroad—take part through registered groups. They engage with the longlisted and shortlisted texts, debate them, explore each artistically and share their views with peers, parents, librarians and teachers. The benefits in terms of developing critical thinking skills, embedding a love of reading both text and visual narratives across all genres and styles and building empathy is immeasurable. I am therefore proud that we are introducing in 2019 the first annual Shadowers’ Choice Awards, which will be voted for from the shortlisted books solely by shadowing groups. These will be announced alongside the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals at the awards ceremony at the British Library on 18 June 2019.

Alison Brumwell is the chair of judges for the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals, celebrating the best in children’s writing and illustration. The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 19th March.