Geraldine Brennan looks at the books shortlisted for the Carnegie and Kate Greenway Medals - and some casualties
t's all a question of belief, the CILIP Carnegie Medal judges argued this year. Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness, the top contender this year from a short and high quality Carnegie shortlist, requires the reader's commitment to her 14-year-old adventurer Sym's imaginary relationship with doomed explorer Lawrence "Titus" Oates, who sustains her on a voyage to the South Pole at the mercy of her truly wicked "uncle".
"The only possible stumbling block is difficulty in believing," said one of the panel of 12 librarians who selected the shortlists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, to be presented in July to the top children's novel and picture book of 2005. "But a lot of care is taken to set up the world of the novel, and the plot builds slowly until you are ready for the very internal journey of Sym and Oates."
A suspension of disbelief is needed too for David Almond's Clay, which shares with The White Darkness a concern with children's vulnerability.
While Sym is manipulated mentally and physically by Uncle Victor, Clay introduces two average Tyneside lads led by a more knowing and troubled boy into the confusing territory of weighing good against evil and contemplating creation.
"It's a powerful and resonant story," said the judges. "The ordinary world is so believable that the extraordinary is made plausible. It's about children at the age when reality and possibility is less determined. The deceptively simple style pulls in the younger reader."
The judges had no difficulty in believing in the animation of David Almond's clay creature, but some of them "couldn't get on with the fairies"
in other books under consideration. Sally Gardner's I, Coriander suffered most from a lukewarm response to a magical parallel fairy kingdom that some felt detracted from a good historical novel.
Aidan Chambers's This is All also narrowly missed a place on the shortlist (a decision that was taken before the panel discovered that his heroine Cordelia disliked public libraries). The complex 800-page Pillow Book of Cordelia Hern was, they decided "accomplished, skilful and an intensely emotional experience for the reader" but "not consistently written for a children's audience" with Cordelia an unconvincing contemporary teenager ("She never goes to Top Shop or HMV, it's all about her sex life") .
"It's ambitious, it's playing on a bigger field so the flaws are bigger,"
said one judge regretfully after This is All had waited in vain on the "maybe" pile, where Julie Hearn's The Merrybegot was another late casualty.
Some judges couldn't cope with her 17th-century heroine referring to Charles II as "drop dead gorgeous".
While the Carnegie shortlist consisted of unanimously admired books, all but one written by previous medal winners, the longer list for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal (no previous winners, with newcomers alongside well established names) reflected more polarised views.
Two much-appreciated illustrated classics, Nicola Bayley's The Jungle Book and Helen Oxenbury's Alice Through the Looking Glass (both Walker Books), lost out after long debate. Picture book design (which is not always influenced by the artists) was a key preoccupation: this year the discussion frequently turned to appropriate typography and good use of white space (as in Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers). Debate also centred on emotional engagement. One judge said of Lauren Child and Polly Borland's deliberately static stage-set representation of The Princess and the Pea "I admired it but it didn't engage me".
Books that failed to capture expression were not popular while Mini Grey's Traction Man was applauded for giving expression to inanimate objects ("Even the scrubbing brush is an interesting character") and developing minor figures such as the knitting-obsessed granny. Traction Man, Lost and Found, Rob Scotton's Russell the Sheep and Emily Gravett's Wolves were unanimous shortlist choices. In Wolves, Gravett's first picture book ("an exciting page-turner with a real story"), a reckless rabbit is so engrossed in his library book about wolves that he fails to notice the real wolf poised to devour book and reader.
Wolves seems front runner for the Greenaway medal this year. One librarian thought of another reason for the collective frisson of horror when the bunny bites the dust: "The fine on that book is going to be enormous."
Carnegie medal for authors
Clay by David Almond (Hodder). In Almond's familiar territory of the North East in the 1960s, troubled Catholic boys find sanctuary in the Jewish legend of the Golem of Prague. Almond has won one previous medal.
Framed! by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Macmillan). Will this art-theft morality-tale thriller make it a double for the author of last year's winner, Millions?
Turbulence by Jan Mark (Hodder): a "beautifully observed, sparely written"
tragicomedy of suburban manners introducing another manipulative adult and a waspish but admirable teenage narrator. This would be the third Carnegie Medal for Jan Mark, who died in January.
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (Oxford University Press): "A driving narrative, wonderful language, an exciting, terrifying environment and a totally believable relationship" in the story of Sym's journey to Antarctica. McCaughrean has also previously won the Carnegie.
Tamar by Mal Peet (Walker Books): "Such a delicate touch, nothing clunky or heavy-handed, with so many strands that come together" in this tale of love and deception rooted in the Second World War but reaching into the present.
Kate Greenaway medal for illustrators
Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You by Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon and Schuster, text by Holly Black): this large-format celebration of the world of the Spiderwick Chronicles series is "A quality production with a feel of age and warmth. It looks like the work of a Victorian renaissance man cataloguing a world of pixies and mythical creatures."
Wolves by Emily Gravett (Macmillan): too late, an unwary rabbit reads about the nature of the beast. "Attention, love and imagination have been poured into this."
Traction Man is Here by Mini Grey (Jonathan Cape): "A whole-book experience" in an action toy's heroic feats. "We are constantly drawn into the child's perspective."
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins): "A dot and a line say so much" in the "emotionally challenging" story about a penguin who finds that home is where his friend is.
Mirrormask by Dave McKean (Bloomsbury, text by Neil Gaiman). Line drawing, photography, film stills and painting in an "immensely powerful" tale of shifting reality for older readers, from the team that created The Sandman.
Jinnie Ghost by Jane Ray (Frances Lincoln, text by Berlie Doherty): "Drama, movement and freshness" in the "rich and rewarding"
depiction of Jinnie the "dreambringer" and the adventures she offers the sleeping children. "There is Jane Ray's usual exquisite detail, but also the big picture."
Little Red by David Roberts (Chrysalis Children's Books, text by Jane Roberts). A "refreshing" take on Little Red Riding Hood set in the newly independent US. She's a boy, for a start, and the real grandma is almost as bizarre as the wolfish one. "It looks strange, but it's good strange."
Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton (HarperCollins): this bedtime story of an insomniac is "a book that makes friends... It creates a consistent mood and the simple story will engage older children too."
lSee www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk for details of the schools' shadowing scheme for the medals. More news of the awards, and the books that got away, on www.tes.co.ukblogsblog.aspx?path=Bookmarks