Tale of Dutch resistance wins Carnegie Medal

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The Independent Culture

The author Mal Peet criticised the lack of "literacy" of Western leaders as he was awarded the 2005 Carnegie Medal for his children's novel Tamar. The award had to be cancelled last year due to the London bombings.

Peet, 58, whose book explores the importance of "joining up" the present to past events, said it was regrettable that Tony Blair and George Bush had forgotten the lessons learnt in Vietnam in relation to today's conflict in Iraq.

The writer won against a shortlist of four former Carnegie winners including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jan Mark and Geraldine McCaughrean. The medal is awarded by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to the writer of an outstanding children's book.

Tamar, an exploration of history and its effect on the present, focuses on the resistance movement in the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War. The teenage heroine is left a box of clues by her "secret agent" grandfather after his death, and begins to piece together events in the Netherlands under occupation, unravelling dark family secrets along the way.

Peet said the significance of history is a central theme, and criticised politicians' lack of historical wisdom. "Tamar was a story I particularly wanted to tell," he said. "I believe it's so important for young people to grasp the connections between their own lives and the past. Our understanding of history is in danger of becoming partial and fragmented; the sense of continuity, cause and effect, is in danger of getting lost. If young people don't make those connections, what hope is there for us to learn from our mistakes?

"How can they [Bush and Blair] have forgotten history, and forgotten Vietnam? How can Bush be so illiterate and unlearned? I think the opposite of learning is literary amnesia, in its wider sense, and I worry we are suffering from this on a large scale at the moment."

His acceptance statement spoke of reading as being not only fundamental, but anti-fundamentalist.