Welcome to our Anniversary Blog by resident blogger Jake Hope. Jake will be reading and reviewing all of the past CILIP Carnegie Medal winning books during the anniversary year. We are also asking shadowers to "Adopt a Book" and join in reading and discussing the anniversary titles in their shadowing groups.
"When she came down the next morning, the kitchen had swept, a fire was dancing up the chimney, her mug and plate and spoon had been laid on the table, and a smoking bowl of milk-porridge was warming itself on the hearth."
The winner of the 1947 CILIP Carnegie Medal, Collected Stories for Children, was unusual in the history of the award in that the anthology of seventeen fairy tales and short stories was the first book of previously published material to be honoured with the award. Some seventy years on from its publication, many of the stories have an arcane quality that do not immediately sit comfortably with modern audiences and sensibilities.
Featuring fairies, giants, dwarves and all manner of enchanted and beguiling characters and settings, these stories occupy the nether-world between wakefulness and slumber when the lines between reality and fiction can often feel blurred. They are stories whose meaning or morals are not always readily apparent, but that, together with the stately quality of the prose, make a lasting impression on their audiences nonetheless.
Underpinning many of the stories are ideals that would be there for children growing to adulthood – ideals around nurture, sustenance, self-awareness and growth. The passage of time, however, does mean that some of the stories that make up the collection lack some sensitivities that contemporary readers might expect. Reference to the black ‘Mlango-Nlago tribe’ in The Old Lion is one example, or more notably the eponymous Sambo in Sambo and the Snow Montains who longs to be white and seeks all manner of remedies in attempts to achieve this. The motive lying behind this is to bring to an end the types of prejudice that William, apprentice to Mr Tooth the dentist, levies at him. Parts of this feel distasteful: ‘Yah ! tar-face! Yah! you little grinning bandy-legged monkey-jibbed lump of ebony! Off the streets with you! Streets is for white men!’ The bile is plain and although there is a sense in which the text does establish this as being repugnant, nonetheless the suggestion that Sambo should be left feeling it is his skin colour that prevents others from recognising his true nature or character and that he needs to attempt to rectify this is problematic.
This leaves an important question, what should the approach of professionals and practitioners be in encountering historic texts that present bigoted ideologies? In a text for adults the sanctity of the text itself would probably take priority – assuming there was a perceived sense of social value or worth to justify its continued consideration. With texts whose primary audience is children and young people is this different because of the formative developmental stages of the audience and because ideas of social modelling likely carry greater significance at this age? Perhaps, in instances like these, outdated viewpoints can best serve as an indicator of the types of progress needed and why. Whether that should be considered more an issue confined to academia is moot and probably largely depends on the nature through which discussion is framed, contextualised and mediated if attempted.