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.

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"Yes, there was another game. He was lying in a trench with Cem and Carrot-juice. The black machine-gun was in his hands, leaping, vibrating, spraying out orange fire at the black bombers. And he was hitting them every time. They were blowing up, it was their crews who were screaming now, being blown in half... one, two, three, four, five, six, seven... oh, this was a good game... try as they might, the bombers could not reach him. He got there first, swept them away on the blast of the big black gun, sent them down into hell to burn..."

The Machine Gunners

Carnegie winner: 1975
Author: Robert Westall

Growing up in war torn, Garmouth, Chas McGill and his friends – Clogger, Carrot-juice, Clogger, Audrey and Ben - are used to the many sights, sounds and scrimmages of conflict.  So pervasive is the culture of the ensuing Second World War, that it permeates their dreams and play.  The novel explores the darker, more vicious aspects of children’s play when make-believe is substituted for reality and Chas and his gang stumble upon a fallen German Fighter plane with its machine gun intact.


After much effort, the children remove the damaged non-working gun and install it in Fortress Caporetto, the group’s hideout.  During their play the children encounter Rudi, the rear-gunner for the fallen plane.  They take him hostage and, in exchange for his mending the gun, agree that they will allow his freedom and not reveal his whereabouts to the authorities. 

The Machine Gunners is notable for its realistic depiction of working class life, for its uncompromising language - ‘Dead in their bed of sin they was’ - and its willingness to show some of the more cruel aspects of childhood, play and torment…  There’s a clever and sophisticated interplay between adult and child worlds and a stylish quality in its character, settings and their interplay.  

A remarkably assured novel that makes astute and lasting comments on the more malevolent and darker aspects of childhood imagination, play and friendship. Gripping and taut in its telling, this is an unforgettable story with a strong sense of place.