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Carnegie and Greenaway: A Double Win for “A Monster Calls”

It’s the first time ever that the same book has been awarded both the Carnegie Medal (for excellence in writing for children) and the Kate Greenaway Medal (for excellence in illustration for children). Each prize is conferred upon the winner by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and consists of a gold medal, plus £500 worth of books to be donated to a library of the winner’s choosing. In 2000, Colin Mears, an accountant and collector of children’s books, also created the Colin Mears Award, which stipulates that every winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal also receive £5000 cash.

The book worth all that attention and acclaim? A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay. The original idea for the story came from Siobhan Dowd, author of A Swift Pure Cry, who died at age 47 of breast cancer. She began the book, which tells the story of a yong boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s lengthy and terminal illness, but sadly did not have the time to finish it. Ness took over the story, and with his skill and talent for dark, emotionally relatable storytelling (his Chaos Walking trilogy is tremendously popular with young adults) and the dark, skillfully frightening illustrations of Jim Kay, the story lived to tell itself and touches everyone who reads it.

The titular monster is of course, the cancer that is slowly stealing young Conor O’Malley’s mother, but manifests itself physically for the little boy, as real and terrifying and baffling as any nightmare monster any of us could conjure. The story perfectly communicates the sorrow, rage and helplessness of the loss of a loved one, in language anyone can understand and feel, and the illustrations complete the package. Ness and Kay (and Dowd, posthumously) are to be congratulated for creating such a moving and memorable story. And it’s certainly no small feat to be the first book ever to win both the Carnegie Medal AND the Greenaway Medal – the prizes were established in 1936 and 1955 respectively, and this is a first.

Kate Greenaway was a fixture in Victorian-era children’s illustrations, though her drawings hearkened back to the Regency era – watch the video to learn more about her influence on the culture and fashion of the time.

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