The Carnegie of Carnegies: 80 years of the best children’s literature

October 27, 2016

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by Gail Irvine, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust


Last week the nominations for the 2017 CILIP-Carnegie and Kate Greenaway’s children’s book awards were unveiled. And so begins the countdown to name the next modern classic of children’s literature. The CILIP-Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to a writer of an outstanding children’s book. The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for the most impressive book in terms of illustration. Together these accolades, uniquely judged by expert librarians, are seen as the gold standard in children’s literature, often described by authors and illustrators as ‘the one they want to win’. It is reasonable to assume, that with a record 200 plus entries on the nominations paper, the 2017 awards are going to be bigger and better than ever. And so they should be – 2017 is, remarkably, the Carnegie Medal’s 80th anniversary.

The Carnegie UK Trust has had a long and proud involvement in the award since its inception in 1936. Indeed, for many people, the Carnegie name is synonymous with a love of reading and learning. Between 1883 and 1929, over 2,500 libraries were built across the world with money donated by Andrew Carnegie and his foundations. For 80 years the Carnegie Medal has recognized modern classics of children’s literature which have gone on to be read, re-read, and loved by millions – including some of my own childhood favourites like Watership Down by Richard Adams, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

The importance of the Carnegie Medal on children’s literature, and on the lives of children themselves, is pronounced, and the evidence is compelling. The award doesn’t only signpost children already gripped by a love of reading to the best children’s books annually. Its shadowing scheme supports reading groups in schools and communities to ‘read along’ with the shortlisted titles. This meant that last year, 89% of participating children and young people felt they had been introduced to books they might otherwise not have read; 88% of participants said they read in their spare time for pleasure; and – perhaps most impressively – 70% felt that reading great books inspired them to write their own stories.

Nearly 10 years ago, a nationwide poll named Northern Lights as the ‘Carnegie of Carnegies,’ – the public’s favourite Carnegie winner of the past 70 years. We are just at the beginning of the 2017 awards cycle. Over the next 8 months, the judging panel will be reading their way down and narrowing the 2017 nomination list– a weight of responsibility  ‘exciting and terrifying’ in equal measures according to Scotland judge Jennifer Horan. We are at a momentous point in the history of these important awards. We are delighted to put our name to the Carnegie Medal and to be involved in this key part of the Carnegie heritage. We look forward to supporting CILIP share the pleasure of reading through honouring the highest quality of children’s literature in this special anniversary year. Who knows, the winner who gets announced in June 2017 may be the nation’s future favourite ‘Carnegie of Carnegie’s’.