13 June 2012

Carnegie 2012 Summary

This year there were eight books on the Carnegie shortlist, the UK children's book prize that celebrates outstanding writing for children. Overall, I thought this was an exceptionally strong shortlist, there was only one book that I didn't really see the appeal of and I thought the other seven were all incredibly strong. For me, there was a clear top three, with one just edging above it but I would be content to see most of these win. Whilst they are all fairly varied, all of them except for Small Change for Stuart featured a close relative who had died or dies during the novel so it is quite a heavy shortlist and five out of eight had me in tears. Nonetheless, if you are looking for exceptional modern writing for children, this shortlist would be a good place to start.

Here is my countdown, I found it difficult to sort the top seven out into an order but this is what I've come up with. These are my personal preferences, not based on which I think will win or the reaction from children. I am hoping to do another summary tomorrow, based on the ratings that my student shadowing group gave, to give a teenage perspective. Click on the title of the book to go to the full review (opens in a new window).

8. Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis

The story of Danny and his family in Australia as they face family problems and the annual cattle muster. I felt that this doesn't really stand up to the extremely high quality of the other seven shortlisted novels. Well written and thought provoking, it is just too slow paced and lacks heart. Too many descriptions of animals and food and not enough focus on any characters other than the protagonist.

7. Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

This is the story of Stuart, who is forced to move town by his eccentric parents and ends up unearthing a family mystery. I really liked this a lot but I don't think it has been shortlisted for the right award, I could see this doing very well in the middle readers section of the Red House Book award, which was won by Liz Pichon for Tom Gates this year. This is charming, magical and fun but for much younger readers than any of the other shortlisted novels so it is difficult to compare and perhaps not quite in the same league as the heavy-hitters.

6. Trash by Andy Mulligan

A story of three dumpsite boys who find something that was supposed to stay lost and end in the middle od a dangerous mystery. Superbly paced with appealing characters and a great, very tense, mystery at its centre. Easy to read but with real depth and lots to discuss. For me it could have been a bit longer with a bit more time devoted to exploring some more of the issues and giving the boys more time to explore some of the clues they discover.

5. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This is the upsetting and harrowing story of Lina and her family who are deported from Lithuania by the Soviets and ensure horrendous circumstances in Siberian labour camps. It brings a little known mass deportation to light. The family relationships are beautifull created and extremely moving and the horrors of the farms and prison camps are evocatively rendered. But, if I dare say it, I'm not sure this is really outstanding writing and the story itself carries the majority of the weight, rather than Sepetys' writing.

4. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

The moving story of Jamie, whose family has fallen apart after his sister was killed in a terrorist bomb blast in London. Pitcher has created a wonderful character and voice in Jamie, as well as two superb secondary characters in his other sister and the Muslim girl he befriends at school. Pitcher has a way with story and characters and I couldn't put this down. It made me laugh and it made me cry, it made me angry and it made me hopeful.

3. The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

This top three was a clear top three for me and I struggled to put them in order but this beautiful story just slipped down because it took me a few chapters to get into it. But once I did I was blown away by the beauty of Hartnett's writing and the wonderful story of two brothers and the abandoned zoo they found. A section near the end in particular absolutely broke my heart with its soaring words and bittersweet story. 

2. My Name is Mina by David Almond

A very close second, I found this uplifting and marvellous. I absolutely adored Mina as a character and narrator and could have read pages and pages more of his diary. I loved the creativity of the words but also of the book itself with its 'extraordinary activity' boxes and pages packed with words or with just one in the centre. Working in a school myself, it inspired me to make sure my library is a creative and inspiring place, the cage that Mina sees school to be. This book is wonderful in every way. 

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

So my pick for the win would be Patrick Ness, for the second year in a row after he won last year for Monsters of Men. As with My Name is Mina and The Midnight Zoo, Ness manages to fuse beautiful language with an entrancing story and characters. The story of Conor as he deals with his mother's cancer, through the yew tree monster that visits him at night is incredibly moving and filled with beauty, tragedy, love and things which are not as they seem. The wonderful illustrations by Jim Kay elevate this even more with gasp-inducing black and white illustrations that really up the atmospheric darkness of the books.

In terms of which book I think will win, I think Between Shades of Gray is in with a very strong chance as it ticks a lot of the boxes I think Carnegie goes for with its very heavy theme, with Ness, Almond and Harnett in serious contention. I must admit I would be surprised to see any of the others take it although I have a soft spot for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece because Annabel Pitcher is so lovely and it's an exciting debut.

I am incredibly excited to say that I have managed to get hold of some tickets for this awards ceremony and will be attending on Thursday with four of my students who have been reading the shortlist. I will be tweeting at @acaseforbooks on the day and will post some photos and thoughts at the weekend. So exciting!

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