Saturday, 7 May 2016

Liars, Lives, Loves and Losses. A look at the Carnegie Award shortlist by Dawn Finch

I love the Carnegie Award. I make no bones about it, this is my favourite award of the year and not just because of my links to CILIP. The Carnegie backlist represents some of the finest books ever written for young people. There will always be controversy about the books chosen for the list, and I’m sure that this year will be no exception. I have written about this issuebefore, and about the history of the award and its origins, and I know that it will always tread on toes. For me that’s part of the charm. Love it or hate it you can always guarantee one thing – the Carnegie gets people talking about children’s books.

This year (2016) the Carnegie Greenaway Award has an extra award rolled in; the Amnesty CILIP Honour. This honour will be awarded to two books (one from the Carnegie shortlist and one from the Kate Greenaway shortlist) that that “most distinctively illuminate, communicate, or celebrate our personal rights and freedoms.”

As CILIP President I will be hosting the award ceremony and announcement on June 20th at the British Library alongside a flock of outstanding authors and special guests from the world of children’s literature and human rights. The ceremony will be live streamed via the CKG website and you can find out more details on the website. I am very glad that I don’t have to have a say in who wins as I could not possibly decide. The lists this year are stunning and I would hate to be the one who had to pick between them.

I have already written a round-up of the Kate GreenawayAward shortlist, and as a companion to that here is a very brief write-up of the Carnegie books. Like everyone else, I’m excited to find out the contents of the golden envelope on June 20th!
Note – titles in alphabetical order of author’s surname.

Crossan, Sarah – One

Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins. And their lives are about to change. No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world - a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love? But what neither Grace nor Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined.
Written in free-verse, One is a remarkable and beautiful story and one that makes me, as a writer, suddenly realise that there are too many words in my own writing. Crossan uses verse to drive home a deeply complex storyline in swift and precise strokes. This is enviably good writing and the reader is lifted and swept along with the elegant precision of the storytelling.

Hardinge, Frances – The Lie Tree
Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances. As she searches through his belongings for clues, she discovers a strange tree which only bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the bigger the truth that is uncovered. The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father's murder. She begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter...
This Gothic tale speaks of science, history and the crushing position of girls in Victorian society. As a reader we quickly bond with Faith and feel her sense of helplessness as she is caught up in the tapestry of lies that her father has created. With powerfully believable characters, authentic language and vividly described settings it is not surprising that this book has caused a stir and has won so many awards.

Lake, Nick – There Will Be Lies
When Shelby gets knocked down by a car, it's not just her leg that's broken: Shelby's world is shattered. Her mother turns up to collect her and drives off into the night, like it's the beginning of a road trip, like two criminals on the run. And somehow, everywhere she looks, there's a coyote watching her, talking to her, telling her not to believe. Who is Shelby Jane Cooper? If the person who keeps you safe also tells you lies, who can you trust?
This is a brilliantly solid thriller written for young adults. The central character, Shelby, is instantly likeable and identifiable. There are almost two novels here as throughout the rollercoaster adventure of Shelby and her mother’s flight across the country, we are also taken into The Dreaming and a world of Native American symbolism and myth. A gripping adventure that is very hard to put down.

Ness, Patrick – The Rest Of Us Just Live Here
What if you weren't the Chosen One? The one who's supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week's end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions...
Okay, cards on the table, I LOVE this book. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered about the other kids in shows like Buffy, the ones who just live there, and how they cope with things like the Hellmouth opening. Ness tells us what it’s like for the regular kids, the ones with problems that are more real and tangible than glowing blue lights and reanimated corpses. There are two stories here; one told in the chapter introductions, and the other (the real novel) in the larger body of text. I loved all of the characters and they are real, complicated and very very human. The only problem with this book is that I didn’t want it to end.

Saunders, Kate – Five Children on the Western Front
The five children have grown up and the First World War will change their lives for ever. Cyril is off to fight, Anthea is at art college, Robert is a Cambridge scholar and Jane is at high school. The Lamb is the grown up age of 11, and he has a little sister, Edith, in tow. The sand fairy has become a creature of stories... until he suddenly reappears. The siblings are pleased to have something to take their minds off the war, but this time the Psammead is here for a reason, and his magic might have a more serious purpose. Before this last adventure ends, all will be changed and the war's impact will be felt right at the heart of their family.
Skillful storytelling weaves magic through a book that has its roots in one of the most brutal events of twentieth century history. Saunders takes the classic E Nesbit novel onwards to the First World War and shows us, through the unfolding lives of the original five children, how deeply it affected all levels of society. Growing up is never easy, and growing up wrapped in the brutality of war even less so, and sometimes a little magic can be a lifesaver.

Sedgwick, Marcus – Ghosts of Heaven
The spiral has existed as long as time has existed. Follow the ways of infinity to discover its meaning. It's there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant green dale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. There on the other side of the world, where a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors they hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny. Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so their journeys begin...
Ghosts of Heaven is actually four novellas in one volume linked by the common theme of the spiral. In the introduction Sedgwick tells us that we can read the four sections of the book in any order, and so I took this advice and read 4,2,3,1 and was stunned to find that they do indeed intertwine and bond with each other. The four sections are distinctly different from each other and all are written with Sedgwick’s trademark elegance and skill. A very beautiful book and one that I will return to many times.

Talley, Robin – The Lies We Tell Ourselves
It's 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it's Sarah's first day of school as one of the first black students at previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students - especially Linda, daughter of the town's most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda are supposed to despise each other. But the more time they spend together, the less their differences matter. And both girls start to feel something they've never felt before. Something they're determined to ignore. Because it's one thing to stand up to an unjust world - but another to be terrified of what's in your own heart.
The novel swings back and forth between the two main characters, Sarah and Linda, as both of their lives unfold in the first wave of integrated high schools in the southern states of America. The book is not always a comfortable read as Talley bravely uses the often offensive language of the day and this jars with our modern sensibilities and drives home the futility of the segregationist’s arguments. The feelings of Sarah and Linda tear us apart and the often casual brutality they both witness is chilling. An important novel that shows us a solid look into a world of tragic and complex prejudices - a world we have often only had a tiny view into.

Valentine, Jenny – Fire Colour One

Iris's father, Ernest, is at the end of his life and she hasn't even met him. Her best friend, Thurston, is somewhere on the other side of the world. Everything she thought she knew is up in flames. Now her mother has declared war and means to get her hands on Ernest's priceless art collection. But Ernest has other ideas. There are things he wants Iris to know after he's gone and the truth has more than one way of coming to light.
This slim novel carries a lot of punch and manages to deliver some big plotlines without overwhelming us with waffle. The plot is well carried by characters who are vivid and believable, and we are drip-fed the story with elegance and style. As a reader we feel like a family member in a story that uses art and literature to say so much more about life and death.

For more information about the CILIP Carnegie Greenaway Award, visit the CKG website. Follow me @dawnafinch and #ckg16 for the most up to date information on the award.

Dawn Finch
President, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
CWIG Committee member
Children’s writer and librarian

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like a wonderful lot - how do the judges plan to choose? I've only read the Patrick Ness book and I agree, it's wonderful. And there are definite cheeky references to Buffy, such as the high school burning down ... Again!