Thursday, 7 April 2016

Bears, beasts, blossoms and books. A look at the Kate Greenaway Award shortlist by Dawn Finch

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955 by the Library Association (now known as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals – CILIP) and is awarded for a a book described as having "outstanding illustration for children". The list of former winners is crammed full of the most extraordinary titles, and the longlists make up an archive of the very best illustrators. On June 20th the winner will take home the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal at a ceremony that I will host at the British Library. Thankfully I only have to enjoy the books and then hand the envelope to someone. I am very glad that I do not have a hand in picking the winner as I don’t think I could choose.
You can find the full details of the criteria here, but in short the judges are looking at the shortlisted books for artistic style, synergy of illustration and text, and the overall visual experience

Here is a very brief look at the shortlist for 2016, in alphabetical order of the illustrator’s surname

Anthony Browne – Willy’s Stories
Pub - Walker Books
isbn -9781406360899
Through an ordinary set of doors lies a series of wonderful adventures, and Browne’s delightful ape, Willy, leads us on this journey. Browne’s style is instantly recognisable and this book takes us on a rollicking yarn of an adventure through his rich illustrations. The book is laid out with a large single page of illustration that draws the eye, and a page of text inspired by a classic work of fiction. The format is particularly good for reading aloud and I can see this being used a lot l in the classroom.

Ross Collins – There’s a Bear on my Chair
Pub - Nosy Crow
isbn - 978-857633934
I’ll be upfront about this – Bear made me laugh out loud from the first page. Well, I say that Bear made me laugh but actually it was Mouse who made me laugh, and he continued to do so as he tried to get Bear out of his chair. A joyful book about patience, persistence and being a general pain in the bum. The illustrations are full of life and movement and Collins uses the space to great effect. Bear seems free of all cares, and poor Mouse does everything he can to get his chair back.

Oliver Jeffers – Once Upon an Alphabet
Pub - Harper Collins
isbn - 9780007514274
We know there are letters for each story, but what if each letter had a story of its very own? Jeffers book takes us through the stories of the alphabet in twenty-six short and beautifully constructed stories that wind and link their way from A to Z. The connections keep the bond with the story as a whole, and make the book work. The illustrations are classic Jeffers with his usual wit and wisdom. Big pages carry both big illustrations, and tiny ones full of detail. It is a book to sit in a lap and flick back and forth time and time again.

Jon Klassen – Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Pub - Walker Books
isbn - 9781406360981
Sam and Dave dig, and dig, and dig….and then change their minds and dig in another direction. Klassen has given us a book that is essentially about persistence and having faith in yourself and your plan. The illustrations are deceptively simple, but allow the reader to speculate as to other possible outcomes, and about what treasure really is. The fun here is that we can see where Sam and Dave are going long before they can – lots of potential for “behind you!” type moments when sharing this book aloud.

Jackie Morris – Something About a Bear
Pub - Frances Lincoln
isbn - 9781847805164
Morris has given us something quite wonderful; a gloriously illustrated fact-based picture book about different kinds of bear. The watercolour spreads of each double page layout make the reader feel up close and personal with the bears. Each illustration is accompanied by a short passage of text that gives the reader a tiny and tempting insight into the life of the bear on the page, and more can be found out in the final pages. Every spread is like a beautiful window into another place and you can’t help but run your fingers over the bears. This book is a beauty from start to finish, and I’m particularly fond of the end-papers and the paws pressed as if against glass.

Helen Oxenbury – Captain Jack and the Pirates
Pub - Puffin Books
isbn 9780723269281
Oxenbury’s illustrations are instantly familiar to most parents, and Captain Jack will be another one to add to the bookshelf. Three children play on a beach and their stories come to life around them in their imaginings. A wonderful depiction of childhood innocence and the joy of play and discovery. The charming rhymes (written by Peter Bently) engage readers and will allow children to quickly memorise the text and share it. The watercolour illustrations, and Oxenbury’s familiar style, allow us to tumble into a world of carefree sunny days.

Chris Riddell – The Sleeper and the Spindle
Pub - Bloomsbury
isbn - 97814088569643
A young queen throws aside her wedding gown, puts on her armour, and sets off to rescue a princess from a cursed enchantment. Does she really need rescuing?
Riddell is an extraordinary illustrator, and in Sleeper he has used pen and ink to take us on a Gothic journey through a wild landscape. We are guided through this landscape by both Riddell and writer, Neil Gaiman, and are left with a book that is a beautiful whole. The fine quality of the illustrations are typical Riddell, and gorgeous as always. With just a hint of gold flowing through the ink, they feel both detailed and lavish. An excellent book to read aloud as the complexity of the illustrations will keep the eye on the page whilst you read.

Sydney Smith – Footpath Flowers
Pub - Walker Books
isbn - 9781406362084
A wordless book by a poet has to be one of the more unusual books to appear on the lists for a while. Poet JonArno Lawson has constructed a story that has been illustrated with skill and elegance by Sydney Smith. A little girl collects flowers that grow wild in the streets, pushing their way through the cracks in the pavement, or clinging to buildings. Each one she gives as a gift, and each one changes the recipient, adding colour as the story progresses. The child passes on this colour in a mundane world that her distracted father barely sees. The colour seems to leak out from both the child and the flowers, and both guide the story and bring it to life.

I love the Kate Greenaway medal and every year I’m excited to see what’s on the shortlist. Illustrations are so important to the reading process and the acquisition of reading skills, as well as establishing a reading habit that can last a child for life. Wonderful book illustrations allow a child to do all sorts of boring but essential things like contextualise, infer, and deduce – but they do far more than that. Beautifully illustrated books are like a diving board from which we can leap off and immerse ourselves in another world. Every child (even the quite grown up ones) needs a moment when they can just let go and dive in, and set their imaginations free.

Dawn Finch
President Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)
Children's writer and librarian


Sue Purkiss said...

That pirate book's going to find a home with my grandson in very short order - brilliant! Thank you, Dawn!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for this Greenaway shortlist, Dawn, and for the showing and telling us about the "insides" too. Better than a list of titles and covers.

Dawn Finch said...

I also wanted to make sure I took photos that couldn't be robbed and reused without permissions. Pictures mean business!

Sue Bursztynski said...

The only one I have seen is the Gaiman/Riddell one. Gorgeous book! I got it for reviewing and can't part with it.

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Sharon Tregenza said...

Great post, Dawn. I'm interested in the trends in PBs and a particular fan of Oliver Jeffers.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Looks like you have a couple of spam comments here. (See the two above Sharon's comment)