Two verse books that shine light on forgotten voices and words win UK’s oldest book awards for children and young people
Debut novel from Dominican-American author and slam poetry champion Elizabeth Acevedo clinches CILIP Carnegie Medal
British illustrator Jackie Morris earns first CILIP Kate Greenaway win with ‘cultural phenomenon’ The Lost Words
Acevedo and Morris also take home the first ever Shadowers’ Choice Awards, chosen by thousands of schoolchildren
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The winners of the prestigious CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest book awards for children and young people, have today (Tuesday 18th June 2019) been revealed at a ceremony at The British Library, hosted by broadcaster and writer Konnie Huq.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Electric Monkey) scoops the Carnegie Medal for writing, whilst The Lost Words illustrated by Jackie Morris and written by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton) takes the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. They have been chosen by 14 volunteer Youth Librarians, from over 254 nominations this year, as the very best in children’s writing and illustration published in the UK.
This is the first time both Acevedo and Morris have won a prestigious Medal in either category. The Poet X is Acevedo’s debut novel. Morris has previously been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2016 for Something About a Bear. The winners will each receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize.
It is the first time in the Medals history that both winning titles have been written in verse: in The Poet X, in verse influenced by slam poetry; in The Lost Words, in the form of spells. Only one verse novel has previously won the Carnegie Medal: Sarah Crossan’s One, in 2016.
In both cases, the books use verse to create space for forgotten or marginalised voices and words. Acevedo conceived The Poet X whilst working as an English teacher at a secondary school in Maryland, USA. The daughter of Dominican immigrants, she realised that most of the books she had been teaching didn’t contain characters of colour that reflected the pupils she worked with, and that this feeling of being unseen consequently led to a marked disinterest in reading.
In her speech, Elizabeth Acevedo paid credit to a particular student who inspired her to write the book: “I felt like this student had given me a challenge, or at least permission to grab the baton. She gave me permission to write a story about young people who take up space, who do not make themselves small, who learn the power of their own words.” Closing her speech with an empowering poem celebrating girls of colour, Acevedo said: “I think we should have poetry in every room as much as possible, and because I fundamentally believe in Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s words that children’s literature should be a mirror and a window.”
The Lost Words was born in response to the removal of everyday nature words, such as ‘acorn’, ‘bluebell’, ‘kingfisher’ and ‘wren’, from a widely used children’s dictionary on the basis that they were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. Since its publication in 2017, The Lost Words has gone on to become a ‘cultural phenomenon’ (Guardian) and adopted by environmental activists, most recently during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, with actress Dame Emma Thompson reading one of the poems to crowds alongside Morris’s composition, ‘Letter to the Earth’. A proportion of the proceeds from each book are donated to youth charity, Action for Conservation.
In her speech, Jackie Morris, said: “The times ahead are challenging. It seems to me that artists, writers, musicians have one job at the moment – to help to tell the truth about what is happening to this small and fragile world we inhabit, to re-engage with the natural world, to inspire and to imagine better ways to live. Because there is no Planet B and we are at a turning point. And because in order to make anything happen it first needs to be imagined. And as writers and illustrators for children we grow the readers and thinkers of the future.
“I’m learning so much as I watch our young people call politicians to account. Together we can make a change. And we must. While politicians nod and pretend to listen to Greta Thunberg, declare Climate Emergencies, then continue with ‘business as usual’ finding money always for bombs and seldom for books we need to stand beside these children and hold our deceitful leaders to account.”
In a speech that paid tribute to the recently departed John Burningham and Judith Kerr, Chair of judges Alison Brumwell praised the immeasurable, lasting impact children’s books and illustration have on our minds, both as young people and later as adults.
“2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to an education and to be able to read are fundamentals. We know how much power a book holds between its covers. This year’s two Medals winners are a case in point, each offering a rich, layered reading experience and an enduring power to inspire.
“Carnegie Medal winner The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo offers a searing, unflinching exploration of culture, family and faith within a truly innovative verse structure. We follow the emotional odyssey of its heroine, Xiomara, as she rails, cries, laughs, loves, prays, writes, raps and, ultimately, offers hope. Xiomara comes to life on every page and shows the reader how girls and women can learn to inhabit, and love, their own skin. This is a powerful novel on every level: its vivid evocation of a Harlem neighbourhood, the challenges, disappointments and often misdirected love of motherhood and intimate glimpses of a young woman’s interior life are laid bare for the reader. The novel’s inventive use of language celebrates life and Dominican heritage.
“In Kate Greenaway winner The Lost Words, illustrated by Jackie Morris, life cycles of the natural world are celebrated in vivid detail. Every tiny movement and variegated fleck of colour is rendered exquisitely and gives vibrance to author Robert Macfarlane’s spells. The illustrations test our acuity and make us all think on a much deeper level about scale, colour and proportion; also, about representations of loss and absence. We are invited to “read” on more than one level and to reflect upon a world in which change can mean irreparable loss, impoverishing both language and the environment. This is an astonishing book, which deserves the highest accolades.”
In a first for the Medals, the winners of The Shadowers’ Choice Award – voted for and awarded by members of the 4,500 school reading groups who shadow the Medals – were also announced at the ceremony. The shadowing groups’ choices matched those of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judging panel. Jackie Morris and Elizabeth Acevedo took home the Shadowers’ Choice Award for the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie categories respectively.
This new award has evolved out of CILIP’s recent Diversity Review, which identified opportunities to empower and celebrate the young people involved in the Medals through the shadowing scheme by giving them a more significant voice and visible presence in the process and prize giving.
In recognition of the 30th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 17-year-old Serena Jemmett, a youth activist for Amnesty International UK, also spoke at the ceremony about the importance of young people’s right to a voice. Amnesty International UK continues to support the Medals in partnership with CILIP, providing educational resources and training to raise awareness and understanding of the power of children’s books to explore human rights, encourage empathy and empower young people to stand up and make a difference.
CILIP Carnegie Medal 2019: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Electric Monkey)
The Poet X explores themes of identity, freedom, first love and finding your own voice. A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother's religion and her own relationship to the world. “I fell in love at slam poetry. This one will stay with you a long time.” – Angie Thomas, author of the bestselling The Hate You Give.
Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit. Acevedo is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington D.C, USA, where she lives and works.
CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2019: The Lost Words illustrated by Jackie Morris, written by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
The Lost Words is a spell book that seeks to conjure the near-lost magic, beauty and strangeness of the nature that surrounds us, for readers both young and old. Taking the form of twenty ‘lost’ words, each word becomes a spell which summons the image and the word back into being, making this a book of enchantment in more than one sense.
Jackie Morris grew up in the Vale of Evesham and studied at Hereford College of Arts and at Bath Academy. She has illustrated for the New Statesman, Independent and Guardian, has collaborated with Ted Hughes, and has written and illustrated over 40 books children’s books. She lives in Pembrokeshire, UK.
For further information about the history of the Medals visit www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk
For media requests, please contact Katy MacMillan-Scott or Hephzibah Kwakye-Saka at Riot Communications: 020 3174 0118
Notes to editors
· About the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals
The Carnegie Medal, awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children, was established in 1936 in memory of the Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). A self-made industrialist who made his fortune in steel in the USA, Carnegie’s experience of using a library as a child led him to resolve that “If ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries.” 2019 marks the centenary of Carnegie’s death, in his lifetime he set up more than 2,800 libraries across the English-speaking world and by the time of his death over half the library authorities in Great Britain had Carnegie libraries.
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955 for distinguished illustration in a book for children. Named after the popular nineteenth century artist, known for her beautiful children's illustrations and designs, the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people.
The full list of past winners of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals can be found here.
· The 2019 CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals shortlists
CILIP Carnegie Medal:
1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Electric Monkey)
2. Rebound by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile (Andersen Press)
3. The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli (Usborne Books)
4. Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay (David Fickling Books)
5. A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children's Books)
6. Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press)
7. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Chris Priestley (Faber & Faber)
8. The Land of Neverendings by Kate Saunders (Faber & Faber)
CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal:
1. The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (Walker Books)
2. Ocean Meets Sky written and illustrated by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Lincoln Children’s Books)
3. Beyond the Fence written and illustrated by Maria Gulemetova (Child's Play Library)
4. The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)
5. Julian is a Mermaid written and illustrated by Jessica Love (Walker Books)
6. You're Safe With Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (Lantana Publishing)
7. The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton)
8. Suffragette: The Battle for Equality written and illustrated by David Roberts (Two Hoots)
· About the Awards Shadowing Scheme
Each year thousands of reading groups in schools and libraries in the UK and overseas get involved in the Awards, with children and young people ‘shadowing’ the judging process. They read, discuss and review the books on the shortlists and get involved in reading related activity in groups and online. Free shadowing educational resources include visual literacy teaching notes, talking points, teaching notes from CLPE and EMC and human rights discussion points produced by Amnesty as well as activity ideas and video interviews with the shortlisted authors and illustrators.
· About CILIP, the library and information association
CILIP is the leading voice for the information, knowledge management and library profession. Our goal is to put information and library skills and professional values at the heart of a democratic, equal and prosperous society. CILIP is a registered charity, no. 313014. The Youth Libraries Group (YLG) of CILIP works in a ‘pressure group’ role to preserve and influence the provision of quality literature and library services for children and young people, both in public libraries and school library services.
YLG has 12 regional committees covering all of the UK and each committee advertises and democratically elects a YLG judge to represent them on the panel of judges. Each judge serves a two-year term and each year the panel is a unique mix of new and experienced judges led by the Chair of Judges. Following the independent diversity review of the Awards, CILIP introduced a co-opting procedure so that if this recruitment process does not result in a sufficiently diverse and representative judging panel, up to two judges will be co-opted to join the panel.
In 2019, the judging panel includes 14 volunteer judges from CILIP’s Youth Libraries Group. Find out more about this year’s judges here.
· About the CILIP Equality and Diversity Action Plan
An independent Diversity Review, chaired by Margaret Casely-Hayford, took place throughout the 2018 Medals cycle. CILIP announced the review of Medals – as part of the organisation’s wider Equality and Diversity Action Plan – following concerns raised about the lack of BAME representation on the 2017 Carnegie Medal longlist. The Review informed the annual evaluation process and long-term planning around the Awards and accompanying shadowing scheme. The full final report can be found here.
As part of CILIP’s action plan for the Awards, 2019 has seen the introduction of an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel, who have worked alongside this year’s judges to help ensure diversity and inclusion are embedded throughout the Awards process. The expert panel, chaired by Jake Hope (children’s book consultant and YLG National Chair), includes: Darren Chetty (academic and writer); Nyandavoh Foday (poet); Pete Kalu (writer and Co-Director of Commonword); Melanie Ramdarshan Bold (academic and writer); Karen Sands-O’Connor (academic and writer) and Megan Quibell (blogger and Inclusive Minds Ambassador).
· About Amnesty International UK
Amnesty International is the world’s leading human rights organisation with more than seven million supporters worldwide.