1980s Medal Winners
Carnegie Medal Winners
1980 Peter Dickinson: City of Gold | 1981 Robert Westall: The Scarecrows | 1982 Margaret Mahy: The Haunting | 1983 Jan Mark: Handles | 1984 Margaret Mahy: The Changeover | 1985 Kevin Crossley-Holland: Storm | 1986 Berlie Doherty: Granny was a Buffer Girl | 1987 Susan Price: The Ghost Drum | 1988 Geraldine McCaughrean: A Pack of Lies | 1989 Anne Fine: Goggle-Eyes
Kate Greenaway Medal Winners
1980 Quentin Blake: Mr Magnolia | 1981 Charles Keeping: The Highwayman (Alfred Noyes) | 1982 Michael Foreman: Long Neck and Thunder Foot (Helen Piers) / Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales | 1983 Anthony Browne: Gorilla | 1984 Errol Le Cain: Hiawatha's Childhood (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) | 1985 Juan Wijngaard: Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (retold by Selena Hastings) | 1986 Fiona French: Snow White in New York | 1987 Adrienne Kennaway: Craft Chameleon (Mwenye Hadithi) | 1988 Barbara Firth: Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? (Martin Waddell) | 1989 Michael Foreman: War Boy: A Country Childhood
To my astonishment, I realised that I had both met, and liked, every single one of the writers who won the Carnegie Medal in this decade. They always say that people who write for children are a good deal nicer than many who write for adults - especially poets: Auberon Waugh wouldn't even let any of those into his Academy Club. Perhaps there's nothing like a child to keep your feet on the ground...
So I admit that I'm embarking on this decade with as much enthusiasm for the authors as for the books.
Peter Dickinson was the first author to win the Carnegie twice. (Early in the award's history, this was not allowed, but that rule was changed.) City of Gold (1980) is a retelling of thirty three Old Testament Bible stories. No-one questioned its literary merit, but there was some discussion about whether or not this book would appeal to the average child reader. Peter Dickinson himself said "a lot of my reviews contain the dreaded word 'demanding'. City of Gold is an extreme example, so there was a good deal of grumbling about it winning the medal, which I had some sympathy with, but not enough to refuse the medal."
The following year, Robert Westall was the second author to take the award for the second time. The Scarecrows is a psychological novel with supernatural overtones. (Simon's a very angry boy, and those scarecrows are creepy.) The US Library of Congress puts the novel under the subtitles of remarriage, stepfathers and horror stories, and they've got it right there. If you're in a bad mood with either of your parents for dating someone you dislike, you should definitely give this one a go.
Another year, another chilling story: Margaret Mahy's The Haunting. Poor Barney feels himself taken over by the spirit of a previous namesake. This book is, it must be admitted, deeply odd. But as the Kirkus review pointed out, "Mahy's deftly penetrating and delightfully phrased observations of the family don't slacken" and make it well worth the reading.
We're back to realism with the 1983 winner, Jan Mark's Handles. (She's the third person to win the award twice.) Erica's a city girl, bored stiff on holiday in Norfolk until she comes across a most unusual motorcycle repair shop. Unlike a lot of Jan Mark's work, this is a merry and hopeful book about finding yourself, and pursuing your real interests even though these might turn out to be a little surprising.
1984, and it's Margaret Mahy again, this time with The Changeover - partly a supernatural story, but also a most convincing teenage novel dealing with school and sibling relationships, loyalty and courage. It's set in Mahy's New Zealand home city, Christchurch (where on my day off in a book tour I once went to the cinema three times in one day, then burnt an expensive blouse, mesmerized while ironing by the most graphic telly road safety advert I've ever seen). The book's written in an effectively rich and impressive style. It's always best to read a book before watching the film, so get moving. The film's supposed to be out some time within the coming year.
Kevin Crossley-Holland won in 1985 with Storm. It caused a bit of one, too, because it was the first book for very young readers (6 or thereabouts) to win an award that had always, till then, been given to books for more mature readers. On a wild night, Annie is offered a ride across the marsh by a silent horseman and overcomes her fear of the ghost to go for the help she needs. The book's language is deceptively simple and the effect, as with all Crossley-Holland's work, is both poetic and effective. He's a renowned folklore scholar, here illuminating one of the legends of his own East Anglian countryside in a short 'easy reader' for very young people.
In 1986, Berlie Doherty's Granny was a Buffer Girl was the winning novel. I can't argue that it's an enticing title, and it's not even very accurate, since the book follows the fortunes of several generations of a family from industrial Sheffield. (Sheffield is known for steel, and buffer girls had the somewhat mucky job of using the equipment that brought up the necessary shine.) But Berlie Doherty is a clear and engaging writer, and most readers both enjoy the book and learn a very great deal about social changes over the years between the 1930s and the time it was written.
The Ghost Drum, by Susan Price, won the award the following year. It has one of those plots that, set down coldly as a precis, sounds entirely unhinged. Not to mention the fact that a cat is telling the story. Everyone reading these round-ups must by now have realised that fantasy is not my bag. But Susan Price is a superb writer, and if you're out of the other box, and like this sort of stuff, be sure not to miss this colourful and brutal tale, the first in the Ghost World trilogy.
Geraldine McCaughrean is a children's writer I unreservedly admire. Her range is stupendous, her skills pretty well unmatched. She's a real reader's writer, that's for sure. Her 1988 winner, A Pack of Lies, is a frame novel set in a family antique shop. The strange new employee has a tale to tell prospective customers for each item he's trying to sell. Truth? Lies? You'll become so enmeshed in his wide range of stories that you won't even care.
Time for Mrs Boastie to step in! I won the medal myself in 1989, with Goggle-Eyes, the story of how Kitty comes to terms with her mother's bespectacled and conservative new male friend. After a traumatic trip to Greenham Common - (look it up) - I wanted to rehearse for young readers the arguments for and against nuclear disarmament. (It's still a massive issue that comes up in most elections.) I do think you can't read the book without learning a good deal more about all that, but I admit most people remember the book for the emotional development of all the characters. (I'm proud to say that, like Geraldine's A Pack of Lies above, this book also won the Guardian Award in the same year.)
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And now to the Kate Greenaway Awards, and for that I'm choosing to highlight only two absolute and lasting favourites. Quentin Blake's Mr Magnolia was the 1980 winner. Mr Magnolia is an eccentric, free-spirited man with only one boot and a trumpet. An explosion of colours and of Blake's trademark postures of lively poise (just look at his book plates for us on this very site) bring the character to life, and the details illustrate further all aspects of Mr Magnolia's personality. The rhyming text and the astonishing sense of movement and energy make this book a perennial delight.
Some parents of insomniac children feel that they know my second choice only too well! It's Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?, Barbara Firth's winner of 1988. This reassuring tale of a baby bear who's struggling to get to sleep uses watercolours and an organic palette, which gives a homely quality to the cave where Big Bear and Little Bear live. There's a beautiful balance between the stars and expansiveness of the world outside the cave, and the comforting environment within, where a host of visual details and clues offer the strongest possible sense of the world these bears inhabit.
I've met and liked all the winners of the 1990s, too. (I'm clearly a good deal more sociable than I ever thought.)