1940s Medal Winners
1940 Kitty Barne: Visitors from London | 1941 Mary Treadgold: We Couldn't Leave Dinah | 1942 BB (D. J. Watkins-Pitchford): The Little Grey Men | 1943 No prize awarded | 1944 Eric Linklater: The Wind on the Moon | 1945 No prize awarded | 1946 Elizabeth Goudge: The Little White Horse | 1947 Walter de la Mare: Collected Stories for Children | 1948 Richard Armstrong: Sea Change | 1949 Agnes Allen: The Story of Your Home
The decade of the 1940s was astonishing for books. If you don't believe me, look at this photo of Holland House library in London on 28th September, 1940. The photo might have been staged for war purposes, but an entire nation could easily believe that, in a library like this that had been bombed to bits in a massive air raid, with beams down and no roof, readers could still be standing so calmly in the rubble, choosing what to read next.
A huge amount of reading went on. For the first half of the decade, the country was at war. For soldiers, war is largely a matter of hanging around waiting, with occasional bursts of hard action. Few phones (and no mobiles or computers) so just about everybody spent masses of time with their noses in magazines, newspapers and novels.
But all sorts of things were rationed, and paper was one of them. That meant that children's publishers tended to stick to the tried and tested. And who was that? Why, Enid Blyton, of course. Book after book after book after book. And we're still reading some of them.
But she never won the Carnegie. Who did? Here's the list for the decade, and the first thing you'll notice is that in both 1943 and 1945, no prize was awarded. The judges gave the reason that no book was suitable, but those in the know say that really meant no book published in either of those two years was good enough. (This was a most prestigious prize, judged by serious people.)
Naturally, issues to do with wartime surfaced in many of the winning books of the decade. Kitty Barne's Visitors from London took a fictional inside look at Operation Pied Piper, the very real plan that sent city children away from the heaviest bombing to the safety of the countryside. (An old friend of mine remembers a crowd of small evacuees sitting on the grassy slope in front of where she lives now, eating the sandwiches they'd been given and waiting for local people to come and 'choose one or two'.)
Mary Treadgold won with We Couldn't Leave Dinah, describing the invasion of an imaginary Channel Island. (I should tell you that Dinah's a horse, otherwise I'm sure they wouldn't have dreamed of leaving her for a moment.)
In The Little Grey Men, 'B.B.' tells the story of three gnomes who set off to rescue their friend in a book that captured all the beauty and wonder of the countryside that so many people at the time felt they were fighting to save.
There was always a copy of Eric Linklater's The Wind on the Moon on the shelf beside my bed. It's such a creepy title that I never dared read it. Or maybe I did once start, because I remember that Dinah and Dorinda's father warns them before he goes off to fight (yes, everyone's still at war) that "When there is wind on the moon you must be very careful how you behave. Because if it is an ill wind and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come."
Maybe I had my reasons for staying away from that book!
War creates orphans, and there were plenty about by 1946. In Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse, orphan Maria Merryweather finds herself in a world out of time at Moonacre Manor. (The Little White Horse is actually a unicorn.)
In 1947 (the year I was born) the winner was Walter de la Mare. His was a collection of 17 old stories. Some people adored his poetic style and others didn't. One critic claimed it swept some readers "away into the true lands of enchantment" and "bored others to distraction". You could try tracking down a copy to see what you think.
Richard Armstrong won the prize in 1948 with Sea Change - described as 'a book for boys'. (He wouldn't get away with that sort of pigeon-holing now!) It's an adventure story that explores in great detail and with enormous accuracy the life of an apprentice seaman on board ship.
And then, right at the end of the decade, when all around there were still giant gaps where bombed out houses waited to be rebuilt, and endless flattened sites on which the government planned to put new housing estates, Agnes Allen was the first non-fiction winner of the Carnegie Medal with a book called The Story of Your Home. She described them all, from cave dwellings, through medieval manor houses to the most modern blocks of flats.
The 1950s were on their way. So let's have a look at the books that won in those years.