1st black winner of Carnegie Medal
1st time both the Carnegie and Greenaway winning titles have been written in verse
1st time Shadowers’ Choice has been presented as a separate award and first time they have _both_ been in sync with the adult judging panel
By 11:45 invited guests were crowding into the British Library Knowledge Theatre and sinking into the plush soft green seats ready for the midday announcement.
There was David Roberts in a bright pink suit; there was Jake Hope in a bright orange shirt; there was me all in black, with the gruff voice of Klaus Flugge behind me, reserved seats for the Shadowing groups in front.
In the gangway to my left the tall figure of Kwame Alexander was being introduced to a schoolgirl fan (and fellow writer)… “As soon as I started Rebound I couldn’t stop…”
I was wondering if I’d bump into either Charlotte Eyre or Fiona Noble, with whom I’d had a (very mini) Twitter debate while on the train en route to the venue – concerning the mindset in children’s books that says, Only positive reviews allowed because space is so limited.
Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, came striding in at the very last minute, in tightly buttoned light grey summer jacket. The female event photographer had two full-size bodies both with telephoto lenses and flashhead around her neck. Two umbrella stands were at the side ready for formal shots later on.
At 11:58 the stage lights went on, and the doors closed. Librarians keep things tight. The event was being livestreamed online.
Nick Poole, chief exec of CILIP, looking a lot like Labour deputy leader Tom Watson before he went on his diet, acknowledged the “fantastic expectant hush”.
“Our aim is to build a nation of readers,” he declared, before lamenting that in the last eight years 10% of libraries and almost a quarter of librarians had been lost.
There was a big round of applause (of course) when he said that a librarian should be at the heart of every school and community. Anne Fine, talking to me later, said (as a general observation, not apropos of any particular speaker) there was a danger, at events of this kind, of speakers repeating similar sentiments, preaching to the converted.
There were huge heartfelt cheers when Joy Court was given a public thank you for all her work.
The official MC was Konnie Huq, longest serving female Blue Peter presenter 1997 -2008 and soon-to-be children’s author herself, having signed a 3 book deal for a children’s series with Piccadilly Press, the first title of which, Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World, is due in February next year. Huq was co-writer of the second instalment of the Channel 4 series Black Mirror.
After a short speech from 17-year-old Serena Jemmett, youth activist for Amnesty, on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we were shown two videos created by Shadowing Students and their schools. There was some particularly impressive artwork inspired by the Greenaway shortlisted books. The short film was a vivid illustration of how inspired teaching can make use of picture books as a springboard for creativity.
2019 chair of judges Alison Brumwell thanked her (very) predominantly female judging team, and included tributes to the recently departed John Burningham and Judith Kerr.
For the first time this year the Shadowers Choices in both categories were publicly announced and presented. The Shadowers’ Choice Award is a new award that has evolved out of CILIP’s recent Diversity Review, which identified opportunities to empower and celebrate the young people involved in the Medals through the shadowing scheme by giving them a more significant voice and visible presence in the process and prize giving.
First up was the Shadowers’ Greenaway Choice, which went to Jackie Morris for Lost Words.
The actual Greenaway Medal was also awarded to Jackie Morris.
“We had the most amazing publisher, Simon Prosser at Hamish Hamilton,” she said. He saw the message value in the book. “Too often with books it’s the marketing department that comes in too early,” she added.
She also praised the book’s “most brilliant designer” Alison O’Toole.
Jackie Morris grew up in the Vale of Evesham and studied at Hereford College of Arts and at Bath Academy. She has illustrated for the New Statesman, Independent and Guardian, has collaborated with Ted Hughes, and has written & illustrated over forty books children’s including beloved classics such as Song of the Golden Hare, Tell Me A Dragon, East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Wild Swans. Jackie Morris lives in a cottage on the cliffs of Pembrokeshire.
The Shadowers Carnegie Choice was Elizabeth Acevedo for The Poet X, and lo and behold the same author had been chosen by the main judging group.
It is the first time in the Medals history that both winning titles have been written in verse: in The Poet X, in verse influenced by slam poetry; in The Lost Words, in the form of spells. Only one verse novel has previously won the Carnegie Medal: Sarah Crossan’s One, in 2016.
Receiving the Carnegie Medal 2019, Acevedo said, “I was not sure this story was going to have a global reach. I taught 8th grade literature in a school; that was 78% latino American. They had never had someone from the same cultural background teaching them. They had 6th grade reading levels, two years behind.
“I was 22 yrs old and didn’t know how to teach them to read.”
She mentioned one student, a girl with a quick tongue. “I could not affirm that slick mouth and would have to say to her ‘that’s really inappropriate’ whilst at the same time thinking ‘you’re so witty and if I was your age I would be your best friend.'”
When she asked this girl why she wasn’t reading, she was told “The books just ain’t about us.”
So Acevedo selected as many books as she could find that the girl would be able to identify with. She read them all, one after the other, and asked for more. “I said that’s my whole teacher budget.” In fact, she’d used up all the books she could think of.
Elizabeth Acevedo is the first black (Afro-Dominican) writer to have won the Carnegie Medal. She was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her city’s tough grit. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over twelve years of performance experience, Acevedo has been a featured performer on BET and Mun2, as well as delivered several TED Talks. She has performed internationally, and she has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Elle, HuffPost and Teen Vogue. Acevedo is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C, where she lives and works.