US poet Elizabeth Acevedo has won this year’s CILIP Carnegie Medal for her verse novel, The Poet X (Egmont/Electric Monkey), while Jackie Morris scooped the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for The Lost Words (Hamish Hamilton).
Chair of judges Alison Brumwell said both books offer a “rich, layered reading experience” and an “enduring power to inspire”.
The Poet X is about Xiomara, a girl of Dominican heritage whose parents want her to have no contact with boys until marriage. She begins to question what it is like to be a teenage girl when she becomes attracted to Aman in science class and, at the same time, starts expressing her poetry when she joins a slam poetry club at school.
Brumwell described the book as a “powerful novel on every level: its vivid evocation of a Harlem neighbourhood, the challenges, disappointments and often misdirected love of motherhood and intimate glimpses of a young woman’s interior life are laid bare for the reader”.
She also praised the novel’s inventive use of language, saying Acevedo “celebrates life and Dominican heritage”.
In the The Lost Words, Morris’ illustrations, paired with Robert Macfarlane’s ‘spell’s, celebrate the natural world in vivid detail, said Brumwell, adding: “The illustrations test our acuity and make us all think on a much deeper level about scale, colour and proportion; also, about representations of loss and absence. We are invited to “read” on more than one level and to reflect upon a world in which change can mean irreparable loss, impoverishing both language and the environment. This is an astonishing book, which deserves the highest accolades.”
The winners were chosen by 14 youth librarians from 254 nominations and each receive each receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize.
Acevedo and Morris were also chosen as the winners of the first Shadowers’ Choice Award, voted for by 4,500 reading groups across the country.
In her speech, Acevedo, who is the first woman of colour to win the Carnegie, paid credit to a particular student who inspired her to write the book: She said: “I felt like this student had given me a challenge, or at least permission to grab the baton. She gave me permission to write a story about young people who take up space, who do not make themselves small, who learn the power of their own words.”
Morris said artists, writers and musicians must tell the truth about the natural world and climate change. She said: “There is no Planet B and we are at a turning point,” she said. “And because in order to make anything happen it first needs to be imagined. And as writers and illustrators for children we grow the readers and thinkers of the future.”
Winners Jackie Morris and Elizabeth Acevedo (credit: Katariina Jarvinen)