Hello Darkness My Old Friend: is the Carnegie Medal becoming too Bleak?

There is a growing sense of disquiet among spectators of the CILIP Carnegie& Kate Greenaway Awards that the Carnegie has a growing darkness in its heart. There is the possibility that the judges vie to find a book that was darker than previous titles and have the author crowned as the next recipient of the award.

Each year after the winners have been announced there has been a vocal group of observers that shout that some of the titles are not suitable for younger readers, the subject matters are too dark for children to understand.

We are living in a golden age of publishing for young readers, the volume of quality titles that are published each year is still growing and the number of titles nominated for the award grows apace.

Authors are not content to write about safe subjects and retread ground that writers before them have covered, they may retell or reimagine old stories but often update them (in style if not content) and give them relevance to a modern audience.

Writing for slightly older audience gives writers more freedom in tackling contentious issues that they would have difficulty with if they were writing for younger readers.

I feel that the accusations that the winning titles are too bleak for younger readers are specious. Books are perfect for tabling discussions about what is happening in the world today. Children and adults enter schools with guns and innocents die, often for reasons that make little or no sense. Violence, war and death are routinely shown on news programmes; young girls are kidnapped or murdered for the crime of wanting an education.

Straying into fiction, EastEnders has shown murder, rape, kidnapping, arson and jaywalking although I think they do display the Samaritans number at the end of particular episodes for anyone who wanted to talk about what they have seen.

The veil of fiction can make it easier for readers to confront and discuss issues that affect them in real life. When talking to a parent, guardian, teacher or librarian about it is often easier to refer to pages that may have upset or confused a young reader than chatting about what they saw on the television or have experienced. Books can also help readers understand what others go through better than watching a film or television show.

I do not believe that children need to be cosseted or protected from the big bad world, the argument has already been made about children self-censoring anything they feel they are not ready for.

Is The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks bleak and unremitting? Yes it is. Does it tie everything up in a neat dénouement at the end? No it does not. Is it suitable for each and every reader that may pick it up? Maybe not but that is for the reader to decide!

Have previous titles that were selected been bleak, dark and troubled? Yes they have but the subject is almost irrelevant as the main point when considering a title for the Carnegie is:

The book that wins the Carnegie Medal should be a book of outstanding literary quality. The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.

There have been years where no winner has been chosen as the criteria against which the books are measured are so strict.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children and the judges choice on the matter is final. People will always disagree this is what makes for such rousing discussions about the shortlisted titles and winners but to accuse the judges of spiralling down to ever darker and nastier titles can be dismissed immediately.

A few years ago there was the accusation that only ‘worthy’ literary titles were chosen instead of more populist books.
When it comes to the Carnegie there is no pattern, judges cannot refuse a book just because a similar title or author won the previous year. The winning title is one that best matches the criteria which are freely available to view here:

The joy of reading is that you are free to read any book you want and put it down if it does not appeal. Not every story will fit every reader; there is diversity in choice and that is what makes it so wonderful!

Moths are drawn to the light and young minds can be attracted to the darkness in some books, but if they find it too dark they can choose to close the covers and move on to another title.

I do not believe that the awards are becoming too dark, the judges change every two years and new blood brings with it a fresh perspective and opinion on what the best book for a particular year is.

The darkness in fiction can be dispelled by closing the covers and waiting until you are ready to face it.

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