21 April 2007

Bunches of Carnegie and Greenaway Medals

Last month I wrote: “In 1993, the Booker organization in the UK designated a special award for the best Booker Prize-winner of the previous twenty-five years. That went to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, winner in 1981. . . . Would the same process work for Newberys? Of all the Medalists (and Honor Books, if one chooses) from 1983 through this year, which shows the most quality, influence, and staying-power? If you had to choose one title as the Newbery of Newberys in this period, could you do it?”

Unknown to me, the judges of the CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Medals in Britain were working on a similar question, selecting the top ten winners of each medal over the past seventy or fifty years, respectively.

I can't help noting some patterns in the selection of some medal-winners for extra praise. The Greenaway Medal has been given for fifty years, yet half of the specially-honored titles come from one decade in that half-century: 1976-1985. There's no title chosen from the next ten years. Was that a golden age of picture-book art in Britain, followed by a period of scarcity?

In contrast, the Carnegie Medal choices lean toward recent years, with four of the ten nominated titles published since 1995. Otherwise, they’re spread out almost evenly across the decades. Does that reflect an increase in literary quality, or the influence of recent tastes?

The final selection process for the "Carnegie of Carnegies" and "Greenaway of Greenaways" seems to rest on an odd combination of professional judgment and popularity. Both the original awards and these shortlists were chosen by CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, professionals applying their ideas of literary and artistic excellence. The British children's-publishing industry has other awards based on popularity, which is where we find the name "Rowling."

Yet the final choice of this process is open to anyone. With a click of a mouse I could vote without being British, without having read all of the books, in fact without having read any of the books. That sort of process seems to cast aside all the careful reading and evaluation that has led up to these shortlists. It's almost as if these lists were nothing but (gasp!) publicity efforts.

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