From a girl’s exploration of her Taiwanese heritage following her mother’s suicide to the story of two young carers whose mother is terminally ill, the 2019 longlist for the Carnegie medal rides a wave of children’s books about marginalisation and isolation, poverty and bereavement.
First won by Arthur Ransome for one of his Swallows and Amazons adventure novels in 1936, the UK’s most prestigious award for children’s books this year encompasses a range topics including depression, assisted dying and gun violence. Novels in the running include The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily XR Pan and Brian Conaghan’s The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, which both deal with the death of a mother; Onjali Q Raúf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class, about a Syrian refugee living in the UK; Emily Thomas’s Mud, about a girl living on a Thames sailing barge with an alcoholic father; and Candy Gourlay’s Bone Talk, which follows a Filipino boy whose tribe is at risk from a US invasion in 1899.
After reading 254 novels to come up with the lineup, chair of judges Alison Brumwell pointed to a “theme of dealing with being marginalised and isolated”, as well as poverty and bereavement, in children’s fiction over the last year. “These were very strong narrative themes, regardless of the structure the writers employed,” she said.
This year’s longlist also features a high proportion of poetry: four verse novels make the 20-strong lineup, including three Americans – Kwame Alexander’s coming-of-age tale, Rebound; Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Downand Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut The Poet X, about a Dominican-American growing up in Harlem – in addition to former winner Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise, about a teenager’s visit to his older brother on death row.
“[The theme is] across all settings and a range of narratives – it must be a response to what is happening in the world around us; understanding that we’re leaving this legacy for children,” said Brumwell. “Fiction is one of the ways children can come to grips with what might be frightening or alienating for them.”
The longlist, chosen by a panel of librarians, also features novels from a host of former Carnegie medallists including David Almond, Crossan, Sally Gardner and Philip Reeve. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words, a poetry collection celebrating the natural world, makes the longlist for both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway medal for an illustrated book, as does Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jeffrey Alan Love’s Norse Myths.
“The authors and illustrators recognised this year for their outstanding achievements have produced works which entertain, challenge, inspire, and even outrage,” said Brumwell. “The 40 books selected by judges offer intimate insights into family life, superb world-building and thoughtful, incisive explorations of complex themes and issues. Young readers have the opportunity to encounter characters in a diverse range of narratives who both reflect their own experiences and build empathy for different ways of living.”
Last year CILIP, the librarians’ association that manages the prizes each year, welcomed the findings of an independent diversity review, which was prompted by outrage at the all-white longlist in 2017. The prize has never been won by a black, Asian or minority ethnic writer.
The winners of the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway awards will receive £5,000 each, plus £500 of books to donate to their local library and a gold medal. The shortlists will be announced on 19 March and the winners on 18 June.