Eighty years of children's books: the best Carnegie medal winners

Julia Eccleshare looks back at the incredible roll-call of past Carnegie medal winners since the children’s book prize began in 1936, and wonders if any have been unjustly forgotten

  • This year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals will be announced on Monday 20 June

We have been shadowing the Carnegie medal and are eagerly waiting to hear who has won. We’ve been looking back at previous winners to help us guess the result. Are there any winners from previous years which are unjustly forgotten today?

The announcement of the CILIP Carnegie medal (which will happen on Monday 20 June 2016 just after midday) is an important moment in the publishing year. All prizes make a difference and the heritage of the Carnegie and the fact that it is selected by librarians add to its distinction and prestige.

First awarded in 1936 to Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post it reads like a roll-call of the greatest children’s writers for the best part of 100 years. Frequently, authors have won for their most enduring title; occasionally it can seem as if they were recognised for a later title to make up for having been passed over at the right moment.

Highlights of the impressive list include: The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett, 1937; The Little Grey Men by B.B (real name Denys Watkins-Pitchford), 1942; The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, 1946; The Borrowers by Mary Norton, 1952; The Last Battle by CS Lewis 1956; Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, 1958; The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, 1959; A Stranger at Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston, 1961; The Owl Service by Alan Garner, 1967; The Edge of the Cloud by Kathleen Peyton, 1969; Watership Down by Richard Adams, 1972; Thunder and Lightnings by Jan Mark, 1976; The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp, 1977; Tulku by Peter Dickinson, 1979; The Haunting by Margaret Mahy, 1982; Storm by Kevin Crossley-Holland, 1985; Granny was a Buffer-Girl by Berlie Doherty, 1986; A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean, 1988; Goggle-Eyes by Anne Fine; 1989; Wolf by Gillian Cross, 1990; Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, 1995; Junk by Melvin Burgess, 1996; Skellig by David Almond, 1998; The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo, 2000; Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce, 2004; Tamar by Mal Peet, 2005; Just In Case by Meg Rosoff, 2007; Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve, 2008; Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd, 2009; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 2010; Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, 2011, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, 2012; Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, 2013; The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks, 2014; Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman, 2015.

It is such a distinguished roll-call of titles that have remained in print and continue to be read and enjoyed.

Whether those books would always have been regarded as classics or whether winning the Carnegie turned them into classics is unknowable. But what of the titles not included in this list? The few narrative non-fiction titles such as The Radium Woman by Eleanor Doorly, 1939, a biography for children about the life of Marie Curie, The Story of your Home by Agnes Allen, 1949, an historical survey of UK domestic architecture from early man living in case to modern blocks of flats and The Making of Man by IW Cornwall, 1960, a book about evolution. All have all been superseded by newer titles.

In fiction, the Carnegie lists reflects changing patterns and, in general, higher expectations of readers by writers. Richard Armstrong’s Sea Change, 1948, a bustling sea faring adventure aimed squarely at boy readers, now feels old fashioned in both content and style while The Exeter Blitz by David Rees, 1978, a gently exciting story about the bombing of Exeter in the second world war, just seems rather too tame for today’s readers. While historical fiction, so successful and popular in the 1950s and 1960s and represented by titles such as The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett, 1951, Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch, 1954 and Time of Trial by Hester Burton, 1963 has struggled to keep its place in the market; fantasy has mostly fared much better.

But even within fantasy there are exceptions. The Twelve and the Genii by Pauline Clarke, 1962, is a clever and gripping fantasy which centres on the set of toy soldiers belonging to the Bronte children which, when rediscovered by modern children, lead to an adventure which blurs contemporary life with the world of the Bronte children. Attempts to bring the title back by republishing have been only marginally successful.

The God Beneath the Sea, 1970, by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen is a stunning collection of retellings of the Greek myths illustrated by Charles Keeping. It is timeless in all ways but as more retellings of the same myths come along it is no longer the title to have on the shelf. While all prize lists also have anomalies within them, the Carnegie medal list is a valuable guide to some of the best books from the past and to the ways in which fashions of reading change.

We’ll be announcing the winner of the 2016 CILIP Carnegie medal, as well as the Kate Greenaway medal winner, on Monday 20 June 2016, just after midday. Find out who is in line for the prize in our shortlist blog.


Julia Eccleshare

The GuardianTramp