I feel the Carnegie Award has become a follower and no longer a leader in the magical realm (or rather unreal world) that is children’s books publishing. Back in 1995 Philip Pullman won with Northern Lights, Part 1 of his magnificent Dark Materials trilogy while Patrick Ness had to wait till Monsters of Men Part 3 of his Chaos Walking series to be similarly acknowledged last year. What has happened?
And how about those “sorry we think we missed the boat” titles that have won in the last few years – like Just in Case by Meg Rosoff (2007) because the library community failed to find How I live Now (the Guardian Children’s Prize winner 2004) or Siobhan Dowd who won for Bog Child in 2009 when A Swift Pure Cry (awarded the Branford Boase in 2007) was the one that got away? Or Philip Reeve who was rewarded for Here Lies Arthur(2008) when he clearly should have got it for Mortal Engines (Smarties Prize winner 2002)?
The press release for this years shortlist makes much of the fact there are four first novels on the list – the subtext is clearly that we’ve wised up to the fact we’re no longer cutting edge and are trying to be different. However, on digging a little deeper, it becomes obvious that these titles are hardly “newly discovered” gems but, dare I say it, have been manoeuvred into position by their publishers – three of the four were published first in hardback (a luxury which surely means they were packaged for adult buyers and aimed at the award market). Nina Douglas from Orion has just been shortlisted in the Publicity Campaign of the Year category of The Bookseller Awards for Annabel Pitcher’s My sister lives on the Mantlepiece which is revealing (it costs money to conduct a publicity campaign and few first novelists get that kind of help without an ulterior motive). I am also not surprised to find two of the other authors are high profile in the media (Lissa Evans is A BAFTA award winning TV producer and author of 3 previous adult novels and Ruta Sepetys has her own marketing company). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these books aren’t good but I’m pondering whether there might be better titles out there.
So how can CILIP members go about really finding the best book of the year? And whose best book is it anyway?
Surely we need to restructure the way the titles are discovered for the shortlist. Getting young people themselves involved in choosing the longlist might help. And how about making the “shadowing” site the real thing – let children choose the winner!
But in the meantime ..Andy Mulligan who has already hit the media headlines with Trash (which was withdrawn from the Blue Peter Book Awards for containing seriously “bad language”) and, most helpfully, won the the Guardian Children’s Prize last year for another title Return to Ripplestrop is waiting in the wings.