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The Carnegie Award 2024: the books, the winners and my reviews

The Carnegie Award 2024: Cover Images Of The Winner And Shortlisted Books

The Carnegie Award 2024: poetry and music

This year I decided to read all eight of the books shortlisted for the 2024 Carnegie Award. It was a lovely experience to immerse myself in such impressive and immensely readable books, and also to detect the similarities. Playing with language, verse and poetry is a powerful element of many of the books – from a poetry sequence (Choose Love), a novel in poetry (The Boy Lost in the Maze), two verse novels (Crossing the Line, The Door of No Return), rap (Steady for This), language as physical words (Away with Words), and song maps created by First Nation people (The Song Walker).

Other themes are missing or absent parents, extreme poverty, and loss of identity. There are others, of course – courage, friendship, danger, and all books without exception deal with the development of character, the recognition of self.

In what seems like a lifetime ago I was thrilled to receive the Carnegie medal for two of my own books: Granny was a Buffer Girl (1986) and Dear Nobody (1991). I felt extremely honoured to have received the awards, and I know just how delighted this year’s winners and shortlisted authors will be.

Carnegie Award 2024 winner: The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho

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Published by Otter-Barry Books, 2022. Available from Amazon.

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Joseph Coelho: The Boy Lost in the Maze
Joseph Coelho, Children’s Laureate 2022–204
The British Library, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The winning book, The Boy Lost in the Maze by Jospeh Coelho and illustrated by Kate Milner, is a beautiful example of the increasingly popular verse novel. This is a poignant novel about a boy’s search for his natural father, inspired by the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. Coelho is a skilled storyteller, and what’s more, a fine poet, and his language lifts the sometimes erratic form of ‘verse novel’ onto a higher level, well worthy of being distinguished by a major award.

You will find my review of the book in my earlier blog post 3 riveting October reads for children, and I also wrote a post about Joseph Coelho and his work as Children’s Laureate.

Carnegie Shadowers’ award 2024 winner: Crossing the Line by Tia Fisher

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Published by Hot Key Books, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Crossing the Line by Tia Fisher

The Carnegie Shadowers’ award goes to a verse novel, Crossing the Line, by Tia Fisher. This is a debut novel. The author attributes her love of the verse form to other major Carnegie medal winners Manjeet Mann, Joseph Coelho, and Jason Reynolds. In her novel she uses the short, broken sentence form to dramatic effect in her heart-breaking story of a boy trapped in a world of crime.

Erik is 14, and his father has died, His mother has been deserted by her new partner, left pregnant with twins, and the family is facing poverty. Erik is groomed into the world of county lines, being a child carrier of drugs.

This dangerous activity earns him the money the family so desperately needs, but costs him anguish and fear, and finally puts him and his family in terrible danger. His friend Ravi, whom he has deserted, is unbelievably understanding, and helps him to devise a plan to get out of the awful situation. It is breathtakingly gripping, a fast, memorable read in short punchy prose, and horrifyingly accurate.

Tia Fisher wrote this novel because she knew a family in that situation and because there was very little literature on the subject. Crossing the Line is a stark reminder that no child should ever find themselves in this agonising situation, but that there is help if they seek it. It is certainly a book that adults should read.

The author and publishers have provided many links to help, advise and support readers in the UK who are affected, including the Children’s Society and Childline.

The book I personally could not put down.

Elliot, Open Book – the shadowers from Hope Valley College

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

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Published by Andersen Press, 2022. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of The Door of no Return by Kwame Alexander

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander is written in the short, rapid lines of the verse form and is lyrical and mesmeric.

In striking visually descriptive language the novel tells of Kofi Offin, a boy who lives in a divided village in West Africa in the 19th century. It is a powerful story of childhood in a rural African community, where black history is told in the safety of home by family story-tellers. Blood loyalties and rivalries exist within the community, between cousins and childhood friends and are accepted as being as much part of natural life as love and friendship. Yet as the story develops it segues into a desperate tale of brutality, terror, capture and bondage: the trafficking of humans, the bestial behaviour of captors. No reader will forget this powerful story.

Kwame Alexander is a highly acclaimed American author, a New York Times bestseller, winner of the Newbery award with Crossover, and shortlisted for the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Carnegie for his novel Rebound.

I loved this book and will definitely read more from this author.

Gwilym, Open Book – the shadowers from Hope Valley College

Choose Love by Nicola Davies

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Published by Graffeg, 2022. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Choose Love by Nicola Davies

Choose Love is a poetry sequence written by the prolific and popular author Nicola Davies and is strikingly illustrated by Petr Horáček. This beautiful book will be an invaluable asset for all classrooms. The simple, stark poems, each accompanied by gravely stated illustrations, are divided into three sections charting what it is to be a refugee and asylum seeker, the horror of war and loss, the danger of escape, the hope of help and new beginnings.

The poems highlight the problems of whole nations, and highlight individuals. One of the most affecting poems is Five Minutes. Five minutes to salvage a fragment of your past and take it into your future. Imagine.

Choose Love sends a strong message to everyone in the world – to see, to understand, to empathise, and to love.

This beautiful and moving book is deserving of many awards.

Harriet, Open Book – the shadowers from Hope Valley College

Away with Words by Sophie Cameron

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Published by Little Tiger, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Away With Words by Sophie Cameron

One of the most engaging of the shortlisted books is Away with Words by Sophie Cameron. This is a delightful and imaginative story about language and communication, alienation and friendship. Gala, a Catalan speaker who has been uprooted from her home in Spain to live with her father and his boyfriend in Scotland, is literally at a loss for words, coping with the frustration and confusion of having to learn a new language. She befriends Natalie, who has chosen not to speak at all when she’s at school.

But the girls have a unique way of communication – they collect words. They see them as physical objects that they can hold, collect, and use to their advantage. Together they create poems out of their collected words, and give them as presents to other children in their class, as a way of extending friendship. But then things go wrong, and enemies emerge.

Sophie Cameron was also nominated for the Carnegie novel in 2019 with her debut novel Out of the Blue.

Steady for This by Nathanael Lessore

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Published by Hot Key Books, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Steady for This by Nathanael Lessore

Of all the children represented in these books, it is Growls who is my favourite. He is the protagonist in Steady for This, a debut novel by Nathanael Lessore. Growls, alias Shaun, lives with his mother and brother. Their poverty means that they are close to eviction. He and his best friend, his ‘O.G.’ Shanks, are inseparable. Together they create rap songs, and make a disastrous and shaming video of themselves which goes viral in their community.

Overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment, Shanks goes into hiding and ends up seriously ill. Growls feels dismembered without Shanks, but is befriended by ELLA, a strange girl who has her own mysterious troubles, but guides Growls through his. With her help, his self-confidence grows. He also has a teacher who takes an interest in him, and a therapist, Karen. Cushioned by all this support, Growls finds a way of coping without Shanks, and decides to go ahead as a solo rapper and enter a major competition.

Growls is funny, lively, and his jokey, quick narration is irresistible; his personality shines through and helps you identify with this individual character whose situation of one-parent poverty is a recurring theme in children’s literature. This should become a very popular book, quick and enjoyable to read.

Nathanael Lessore is one of eight children, and Steady for This is his debut novel. I’m sure it will be one of many popular books.

I’ve never read something so witty and humorous.

Arthur, Open Book – the shadowers from Hope Valley College

Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan

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Published by Andersen Press, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan

Another irresistible character in a very moving story is Safiyyah, a young Muslim girl who lives with her family in the Grand Mosque in Paris. She is beautifully drawn as a genuinely open-hearted and empathetic child who offers herself unreservedly to the cause of helping others.

Her story is set in wartime Paris during the German occupation and the persecution of the Jews. There are secrets in her family that are not being told to Safiyyah, but her innate curiosity leads her to discover that they are involved in a dangerous Resistance movement to hide Jews from the Nazis and to help them to escape. Because she knows her way round Paris so well her parents unwillingly allow her to become involved as a taker and bringer of messages.

I recently befriended an elderly French woman who had done exactly this as a child, innocently cycling round Paris following covert instructions and delivering messages. In her case she was unaware of how dangerous her work was, but Safiyyah does know, and is all the more determined to help families whose lives are in even greater danger than her own. ‘You can’t help everybody, but if you can help one person you can make a difference.’ As the novel reaches its climax it is thrillingly exciting. It would make a wonderful movie.

Hiba Noor Khan is a political activist and writer, author of The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai. Among many other things she has worked for the Children’s Society as a refugee advocate.

If you enjoy history and unexpected heroism you will love this book.

Imogen, Open Book – the shadowers from Hope Valley College

The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell

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Published by Usborne, 2023. Available from Amazon.

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Cover of The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell

Every now and again a novel shines out for me because the writer has taken a huge chance and has pulled it off. This is the case with The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell.

A girl wakes up in a place she doesn’t know. She has no idea how she got there, who she is or where she is from. Another girl appears and saves her from a poisonous snake. They are in the Australian outback, and the girl who saved her life is a First Nation child called Tarni. Together they cross the desert in the scorching heat, with nothing to keep them alive but Tarni’s bag of slingshot and her knowledge of the land, and the ancient songs of her ancestors that reveal the way across it. Bit by bit the lost girl’s story comes back to her, and bit by bit Tarni understands how her own sorrow will be healed.

There is a powerful sense of magic realism in the outcome of this story, a poetic mirage which shimmers with magic and music. The sense of place and the careful unravelling of plot make this a standout novel which will haunt many a reader.

Zillah Bethell’s novel The Shark Caller, 2022, won the Edward Stanford Children’s Travel Book Award in 2022.

The journey of reading

Yes, it was an absorbing journey, reading these eight exceptional books. I have learned a lot, including how to write for the informed, caring and socially aware young readers of today. I congratulate all the authors on their achievements, and wish them all well with these and all their future books.

Open Book’s choice (the Shadowers of Hope Valley College)

We were surprised by the choice of The Boy Lost in the Maze as overall winner – though we mostly quite enjoyed it. Our choice was The Song Walker, with Safiyyah’s War a close second. We approved of the choice of Crossing the Line as Shadowers’ Choice – a lot of us found that very affecting.

Sarah and Imogen, two of the Hope Valley College Open Book Carnegie Shadowers, 2024
Sarah and Imogen, two of the Hope Valley College Open Book Carnegie Shadowers.

Berlie Doherty

Berlie Doherty is the author of the best-selling novel, Street Child, and over 60 more books for children, teenagers and adults, and has written many plays for radio, theatre and television. She has been translated into over twenty languages and has won many awards, including the Carnegie medal for both Granny Was a Buffer Girl and Dear Nobody, and the Writers’ Guild Award for both Daughter of the Sea and the theatre version of Dear Nobody. She has three children and seven grandchildren, and lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with Alan James Brown. Her new picture book The Seamaiden’s Odyssey, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell, will be published by UCLan on 5 September 2024. See the About me page for more information.

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