The oldest and most prestigious children's book prize in Britain was won on Wednesday by Sally Gardner, a dyslexic writer who was written off at school as "unteachable". Her novel Maggot Moon (Hot Key Books, £6.99), a story about a dyslexic boy who stands up against the oppressive "monstrous Motherland", has won the CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Carnegie Medal, awarded by children's librarians for an outstanding book for children and young people. The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for outstanding illustration in a children's book, and was won by Black Dog, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Templar, £6.99).
In her acceptance speech, Gardner became the second high-profile children's writer in a couple of weeks to have a go at the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. His new curriculum plan, she said, "excludes rather than embraces those like me, and millions of others, with a different way of seeing and thinking … Politicians need to get out of schools and let teachers do what they do best – teach." She added that dyslexic children are being "tested into depression and worthlessness – that's how I felt at school" and called for an end to standardised tests which "crush" rather than "nurture" imagination. Her outspokenness echoes that of Malorie Blackman, who was appointed as the new Children's Laureate earlier this month, and immediately criticised Gove for his "prescriptive" curriculum, and this Government for presiding over the closure of libraries. But hey, what would a bunch of award-winning children's writers who felt excluded from reading when they were children know, eh?
The Carnegie shortlist included A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle who, had he won, would have become only the second author to claim both the Booker and Carnegie Prizes. (Penelope Lively remains the only one.)
The Carnegie Medal was established in 1936, in memory of the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Scotland but made his fortune in steel in the USA. When he was a child, he vowed that "if ever wealth came to me that it should be used to establish free libraries", and he eventually set up 2,800 libraries all over the world. (Anyone would start to think that there was something in this idea of providing all children with free access to books.) The winner of the prize receives a gold medal and £500 worth of books to donate to any library.
The first ever winner of the Carnegie Medal was Arthur Ransome, for Pigeon Post. Since him, winners have included CS Lewis, Alan Garner, Anne Fine (see today's interview, on page 55), Terry Pratchett and Meg Rosoff. JK Rowling has never won.
Patrick Ness, who won in 2011 and 2012, was particularly impressed by the prize's shadowing scheme, which has tens of thousands of children and young people reading the shortlisted books in groups, writing reviews, and debating their favourites. He called it "one of the very best things in the entire book world". Reviews of Maggot Moon by this year's shadowing panel include: "This is a story about friendship love and courage in a terrible world"; "I absolutely loved this book and think it would make a great movie. Spielberg, I'm waiting ..."; and "Maggot Moon was the WORST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ. Not only did it have a disgusting title but the book was AWFUL. I am outraged that it won."