Two ‘extraordinary’ books exploring survival and our relationship with nature through short stories win UK’s most prestigious book awards for children and young people

  • Third time lucky for British author Anthony McGowan, who clinches the CILIP Carnegie Medal with the fourth book in his series of short novellas
  • Academy Award-winning artist, writer and film maker Shaun Tan is the first illustrator of colour to win the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal / #CKG20 / #bestchildrensbooks

Today (Wednesday 17th June 2020), the winners of the prestigious CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest book awards for children and young people, are revealed.

Lark by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke) scoops the Carnegie Medal for writing, whilst Tales from the Inner City written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Walker Books) takes the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. The winning books were chosen by 14 volunteer Youth Librarians, from a total of 162 nominations this year, as the very best in children’s writing and illustration published in the UK. The winners will each receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize.

This is the first time both McGowan and Tan have won a Medal in either category. British author McGowan has previously been longlisted and shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal with three out of the four books from this novella series Truth of Things (Brock, Pike and Rook). The last book in a series to win a Carnegie Medal was Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness in 2011, the final book in his Chaos Walking trilogy.

Australian author and illustrator Tan, who is of Australian, Chinese and Malay heritage, is the first illustrator of colour to win the Kate Greenaway Medal. Tales from the Inner City is a sister volume to Tan’s 2008 anthology, Tales from Outer Suburbia.  He has worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for animated films including Pixar’s WALL-E and directed the Academy Award-winning short film, The Lost Thing in 2011. In the same year, Tan received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honouring his contribution to international children’s literature.

This is the first Medal win for small independent publisher, Barrington Stoke, while 35 years later, Tales from the Inner City marks Walker Books’ 12th Kate Greenaway Medal since its first win in 1985.

Both books use captivating words and images to explore humankind’s relationship with nature, alongside themes of survival. Lark tells the story of two brothers, Nicky and Kenny, who set out for an adventure in the North Yorkshire Moors only to be caught in a precarious blizzard when weather conditions take a turn. Throughout the book, the brothers display a deep respect and understanding of nature, which ultimately grants them consolation as they wait to be rescued. McGowan’s prose paints nature as a source of wonder and joy, but also peril.

Tales from the Inner City, a collection of 25 illustrated stories, was borne out of Tan’s life-long love of animals and deals with the separation and tension between the natural and artificial world. Tan believes that many of the problems we face today may have something to do with the distance from nature in a post-colonial and post-industrial world, especially within urban spaces. Throughout the book, Tan reminds readers that we are all interconnected with nature.

Anthony McGowan said:

“Every writer for young people dreams of winning the Carnegie Medal. Its incredible history, the rollcall of the great writers who have won it and the rigour of the selection process, makes this the greatest book prize in the world. It is also a magnificent way of connecting with readers. The hundreds of shadowing groups in schools and libraries around the country provide that one thing that writers cannot do without: a living, arguing, debating, biscuit-munching population of brilliant readers!

“On one level, Lark is a simple adventure story. Two woefully ill-equipped teenage boys, and their old Jack Russell terrier go for a walk on the North Yorkshire Moors. A blizzard descends and their fun day out, their ‘lark’ turns into a desperate battle for survival. On another level, the book is about the unshakable love between two brothers, one of them with special needs, after enduring family break-up, poverty, bullying and cruelty. Lark is also a story about the power of stories and the way they weave through our lives. The book ends with the words ‘Tell me a story,’ and with those words we are led back again to the beginning.”

Shaun Tan said:

“I am surprised, delighted and then deeply honoured – what a wonderful thing to be! I am especially thrilled to receive the Kate Greenaway Medal in the fine company of so many brilliant artists and authors, many of whom inspired my own love of illustrated stories as a young West Australian scribbler.

“Tales from the Inner City is a strange book for strange times, suggesting that human frailty might well find expression in dreams of tigers, bears, frogs and lungfish reclaiming our cities. To know that I am not alone in enjoying such speculation – maybe even a bit too much – is no small thing. It is profoundly consoling, to feel part of a larger conversation about our relationship to this planet, particularly with younger readers, in whose imagination the future is already taking shape.”

With relatable stories that show children a range of perspectives and lived experiences, the 2020 Medal winners reflect the Awards’ mission ‘to celebrate and represent a diverse range of experiences’.

Julia Hale, Chair, CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals judging panel, commented:

“During challenging times, librarians believe books for children and young people are more important than ever. The best books provide adventure, solace, inspiration, comfort, escape, rich experiences and sheer enjoyment; they are a port in a storm, a reflective mirror and an entry to new worlds. In an unprecedented year for all of us, we are delighted to reveal the two extraordinary winners of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals that highlight our connection and co-dependency with the natural world.”

“Carnegie Medal winner Lark, by Anthony McGowan is a powerful standalone novella that brings the exemplary Truth of Things series to an emotional ending. Lark picks up the story of the close relationship between Nicky and elder brother Kenny, who after surviving trauma and poverty in their past, must now endure the extremes of nature at its cruellest. This novella was admired for its clear, simple storytelling; combining authentic characters and realistic situations in pared down prose with blunt humour, genuine tension and moments of pure poetry as fleeting and transcendent as birdsong. It is incredible that such a rich reading experience is in no way impeded by its short and accessible form, indeed it is a strength.  The book leaves the reader with hope for the future; that through the bonds of love from friends and family things can and will get better.”

“Every detail of the Kate Greenaway Medal winning Tales from the Inner City mark it as a masterwork of illustration that generates an outstanding experience for the reader in every detail. In a collection of 25 surreal short stories set in a semi-dystopian dreamscape where the boundaries between urban and wildlife are close to collapse, Shaun Tan conveys the tangled, intimate relationship between humans and animals with breath-taking technique and awe-inspiring invention. Double page spreads of oil on canvas give pause for necessary reflection and contemplation. Never have the bonds between us and the beautiful creatures we share the earth with been so exquisitely rendered with such prescience. The judging panel were moved, amused and astonished by the artistry and imagination of a stunning book that should be widely shared and celebrated.”

CILIP will celebrate the conclusion of the Shadowing Scheme by announcing the winners of the Shadowers’ Choice Award – voted for and awarded by the children and young people who shadow the Medals – on 9th October 2020, during National Libraries Week.


CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020: Lark by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke)

When Nicky and Kenny head for a trek across the moors to take their minds off of everything, a series of unforeseen circumstances leaves the brothers in a vulnerable and very dangerous position. There might even be a chance that this time they won’t all make it out alive.

Anthony McGowan is the author of many critically acclaimed YA novels and won the 2006 BookTrust Teenage Prize, the 2007 Catalyst Award and has been shortlisted for a raft of other major children’s literature prizes, including the Carnegie Medal for Rook in 2018. McGowan was born in Manchester, attended school in Leeds and now lives in London.

“A painful though uplifting conclusion. The moment at which Nicky … hears the “mad, ecstatic music” of a lark’s song is especially transporting” Imogen Russell Williams, Guardian

CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2020: Tales from the Inner City written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Walker Books)

A young girl’s cat brightens the lives of everyone in the neighbourhood. A woman and her dog are separated by time and space, awaiting the day they will be reunited. A race of fish build a society parallel to our own. And a bunch of office managers suddenly turn into frogs but find that their new lives aren’t so bad.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth and works as an artist, writer and filmmaker in Melbourne, best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through dream-like imagery. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for Pixar and won an Academy Award for the short animated film The Lost Thing.

“When it comes to originality and genius, Tan is in a league of his own. This collection of stories and poems with an animal-in-the-city theme are intriguing, thought-provoking and at times baffling, asking as many questions as they answer, and the illustrations are sublime. One for quirky teens (or adults) who love art.” The Irish Independent

Black Lives Matter. It is not just a hashtag

This post is taken from our latest issue of The Riot Culture Drop. Sign up for further newsletters below. 
Over the past few days, following the horrific murder of George Floyd, I have been troubled by various companies readily using #blacklivesmatter on social media as a sign of ‘solidarity’. In some cases, this is justified, after all brands are powerful, can sway opinion and frankly last longer than world leaders. Step forward Nike, who have longed championed athletes of colour and publicly spoken out on the issue many times before; or Glossier, who have responded with compassion and openly admitted they could do better, backing their talk with serious money – they are donating $500k to black-owned beauty brands and a further $500k to a range of organisations fighting racial injustice.

But there are those who would do better to first examine their own boardrooms, workforce, ethnicity pay gaps, product ranges, and marketing campaigns before self-proclaiming as allies.

The conversation around race and privilege is thorny and uncomfortable. But it is nothing in comparison to being on the receiving end of discrimination. It is upon every one of us to take responsibility and educate ourselves. To that end, our team has created a list of cultural recommendations that we have found helpful, since culture can help us open our minds. Over to you…

Stay safe,

Preena Gadher, Co-founder and MD, Riot Communications

Rabbit Proof Fence 
In 1931, three Aboriginal girls escape after being plucked from their homes to be trained as domestic staff and set off on a trek across the Outback. Based on a true story, this film examines Australia’s tragic ‘stolen generation’.

Noughts and Crosses
Malorie Blackman’s seminal novel is often cited by people of colour as the first time they saw themselves in a book. Aimed at young adults, the story of racial role reversal is now also a beautifully made series for the BBC by our client  Mammoth Screen.

Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution – adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime – this 2016 Netflix documentary, directed by Ava DuVernay, explores the criminalisation of African-Americans and the US prison boom.

A House Through Time, series 3, episode 1
Examining Britain’s role in the slave trade, historian David Olusoga opens the door to Number 10 Guinea Street in Bristol. Built in 1718 when Bristol was fast becoming the UK’s premier slaving port, it uncovers the history of its owners and the money used to build the family home.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
Black women’s anger has long been caricatured as an ugly and destructive force. Cooper shows readers that black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player, why Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate and why Michelle Obama is an icon.

Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi
Recent Cambridge graduates Chelsea and Ore explain what it’s like being a minority in an institution like Cambridge, examining the lack of diversity in education, issues of access, activism and mental health.

Out of Bounds by Beverley Naidoo 
From Carnegie Medal-winning writer, Beverley Naidoo, this is a powerful collection of short stories from young people’s perspectives set during and after apartheid in South Africa. Especially good for younger readers.

Natives by Akala
Musician and political commentator, Akala, uses his own personal experiences to explore how race and class intersect in contemporary British society in this insightful, hard-hitting memoir / history book.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
An exceptionally articulate book on race explaining with clarity what people of colour go through on a daily basis, providing clear actions for would-be allies.

Stephen Lawrence: 25 years on: what happened and was this really a murder that changed a nation?
The Independent gives a summary of the events surrounding Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the ground-breaking Macpherson report and considers racism in the British police more recently.

Grounded with Louis Theroux: Lenny Henry
In this episode of Theroux’s lockdown podcast, he speaks to Lenny Henry, who discusses his upbringing in the West Midlands, the frequent racism he experienced and how his talent for mimicry came from a need to ‘fit in’.

Lecker – Museumand, series 3, episode 2
‘The power of a good meal’ is the theme of this podcast and this episode features The National Caribbean History Museum – a ‘museum without walls’ – set up by Catherine Ross and her daughter Lynda-Louise Burrell. The travelling museum houses exhibitions based around subjects such as black representation in the doll industry and the Edible Exhibition, which took place in a takeaway and saw thousands of visitors being served dishes that slaves originally ate in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Trio of “striking, intimate” coming -of-age stories make Desmond Elliott Prize shortlist

The National Centre for Writing has today (Tuesday 2nd June) announced the three titles shortlisted for the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu and That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu are all in the running to win the £10,000 prize and be named the year’s best debut novel from across the UK and Ireland.

For the first time this year, the Desmond Elliott Prize is being run by NCW as the flagship in its Early Career Awards portfolio, a new year-round platform of support and mentorship, alongside financial assistance for exceptional early career writers.

All three titles on the shortlist grapple with questions of identity and belonging as their young protagonists navigate the maze of modern-day life. Each of these coming-of-age stories also shares an interest in explorations of class difference, faith versus secular life, and the creation of new forms of family, among other major contemporary themes.

Chairing the panel of judges for 2020 is writer, academic and former Desmond Elliott Prize winner Preti Taneja, who is joined by Chief Lead Writer at The Observer Sonia Sodha and writer Sinéad Gleeson. Collectively the three judges are tasked with finding the novel they believe is most deserving of being designated the best debut novel of the last 12 months.

Of the shortlist, Preti Taneja said: “These three outstanding debuts approach narrative form in very different and exhilarating prose, each mining the possibilities of language to give exceptional voice to unforgettable characters. From Ghanaian story myths to Nigerian patriarchy; from the violence within Cambridge’s ivory towers to the bonds of London’s streets and the longed for liberation of a night out in Manchester’s gay village, each writer pays careful attention to the nuances of speech between people of different generations, cultures and class and succeeds in making worlds we do not want to leave. These novels are striking, intimate studies of bodies in flux and transit through our linked histories; they show us how to seek new families and ways of being whole. They stand as powerful testimonials to individual and collective survival against institutional violence, and the current deprivations of our world.”

The protagonist of Abi Daré’s debut novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice, is 14-year-old Adunni, a Nigerian girl who is relentless in her quest to attain an education, the one thing her mother once told her would give her a voice. As a yielding daughter, a subservient wife, and a powerless servant, Adunni is repeatedly told that she is nothing. But armed with the courage, strength and determination to overcome adversity, Adunni has a plan to escape. About the novel, Preti Taneja said: “The Girl with the Louding Voice is a virtuosic study of female loss, determination, and of the subversive potential of words: it magnificently reveals how language constructs us as humans. With immense skill, Daré creates an irresistible energy and powerfully sustains it on every page.”

In The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney Okechukwu Nzelu tells the story of a half-Nigerian teenager, Nnenna, living in modern-day Manchester with her mother Joanie. As Nnenna approaches womanhood she begins to question her identity; in particular her feelings about being black and brought up by her white single mother. As Nnenna tries to connect with her Igbo-Nigerian identity, her once close and tender relationship with her mother becomes strained. Preti Taneja said: “The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney offers the rare gift of writing that is both poignant and very funny. From race to religion to sexuality, nothing is off-limits in this nuanced celebration of contemporary families, told with great compassion and verve.”

Rounding off the shortlist is That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu, a vivid and semi-autobiographical tale of a boy called K, who is fostered as a very young child and grows up in the countryside. At age 11, K is suddenly returned to his birth family and to the very different context of working-class British Ghanaian life in 1990s Tottenham. Preti Taneja said: “The traumatised fragments of That Reminds Me weave myth with taught observation, juxtaposing violent reality and profound love in moving, surprising sentences. A groundbreaking work of sheer grace and raw honesty that demands – and rewards concentration.”

The Early Career Awards portfolio also includes the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award, worth £4,000, for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction, and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship, also worth £4,000, to recognise an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances. The shortlistees for the UEA New Forms Award are Taylor Beidler, Michael Salu and James Smart. The shortlistees for the Laura Kinsella Fellowship are Salli Hansell, K Patrick and Michelle Perkins.

Peggy Hughes, Programme Director at the National Centre for Writing, said: “We’re delighted to reveal the shortlisted names for the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Laura Kinsella Fellowship and the UEA New Forms Award: a hugely talented, innovative and exciting set of writers. Alongside our suite of Early Career Awards, thanks to the support of Arts Council England we are creating packages of resources designed to help anybody embarking on the thrilling and consuming act of writing fiction. Advice and camaraderie are priceless and vital to writers on their journey to publication and recognition, and we hope and expect that these resources will help pave the path for future prize-winners.”

The winners of all three awards will be announced on 2nd July, and all will benefit from a tailored programme of support from the National Centre for Writing, supported by Arts Council England.