1990s Medal Winners
Carnegie Medal Winners
1990 Gillian Cross: Wolf | 1991 Berlie Doherty: Dear Nobody | 1992 Anne Fine: Flour Babies | 1993 Robert Swindells: Stone Cold | 1994 Theresa Breslin: Whispers in the Graveyard | 1995 Philip Pullman: Northern Lights | 1996 Melvin Burgess: Junk | 1997 Tim Bowler: River Boy | 1998 David Almond: Skellig | 1999 Aidan Chambers: Postcards from No Man's Land
Kate Greenaway Medal Winners
1990 Gary Blythe: The Whale's Song (Dyan Sheldon) | 1991 Janet Ahlberg: The Jolly Christmas Postman (Allan Ahlberg) | 1992 Anthony Browne: Zoo | 1993 Alan Lee: Black Ships Before Troy | 1994 Gregory Rogers: Way Home (Libby Hathorn) | 1995 P J Lynch: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (Susan Wojciechowski) | 1996 Helen Cooper: The Baby Who Wouldn't Go to Bed | 1997 P J Lynch: When Jessie Came Across the Sea (Amy Hest) | 1998 Helen Cooper: Pumpkin Soup | 1999 Helen Oxenbury: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
I remember the 1990s with a good deal of professional pleasure. Both my daughters were well into secondary school or university, so for the first time ever I had masses of time to work. I was also freer to give and attend events, and it was a pleasure to get to know almost all the winners of this decade.
First came Gillian Cross, with Wolf. The book's hard to describe - a girl from a fractured family haunted in ways that echo the old tale of Red Riding Hood with its threatening wolf. The Kirkus reviewer summed it up best: "Weaving memorably offbeat yet believable characters, extraordinary events, and contemporary issues, Cross once again confronts classic verities in a stunningly original, splendidly crafted story."
In 1991, Berlie Doherty illuminated the changing attitudes towards teenage pregnancy with Dear Nobody. Helen gets pregnant while still at school but baulks at the planned abortion. Her letters to 'Dear Nobody' - the as yet unborn Amy - depict her feelings. The novel memorably illuminates how the back stories of family members can colour their opinions on other people's choices.
I said I'd had more time to work in this decade. In 1992 I won the Carnegie for the second time with Flour Babies. I thought I was simply putting fictional flesh on the newspaper story of a school that gave pupils bags of flour to care for to teach them something of the realities of parenting. I started it just as my youngest went away to university. What I didn't realise till I saw it in print was that I'd poured a heap of my own feelings into the story. Simon's growing interest in and passion for his 'baby' mirrors what I felt for both of mine. So did his frustrations. It's been one of the most successful of my books, and is, many readers claim, still their favourite of all my novels.
Stone Cold won next, a grim tale of homelessness, and a psychotic serial killer who has decided to rid the streets of those he considers of no value. It caused a stir, with many querying not simply the subject matter but the actual quality of the book - the first time in my memory that people outspokenly suspected the judges of opting for a winner that would bring publicity rather than taking into account only the book's merit. But, as with all of Robert Swindells' work, the straightforward language, and short chapters make the book easy to romp through. So read it and see what you think.
In 1994 the winner was Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin, a creepy story about a bullied lad from an unhappy background who hides in a graveyard that is being disturbed for planning purposes, and has to tangle with evil presences from the far past. It's the first novel most people had read back then that showed any real understanding of children with dyslexia, and the optimistic ending is an added bonus.
The following year, the first book in Philip Pullman's epic trilogy, His Dark Materials burst on the world. (The title comes from Milton's great poem, Paradise Lost.) The book was called Northern Lights in the UK and The Golden Compass in America, where it was frequently criticised for its negative views on religion. It's been the most enormous success, but if, like me, you're not the greatest fantasy buff, try his wonderful Victorian Sally Lockhart Mystery series. The first was The Ruby in the Smoke.
The next winner caused outrage. It's Junk, by Melvin Burgess. I can remember sticking up for it on a radio programme on which the people phoning in were all but frothing at the mouth. Melvin knows only too well, from the experience of friends, the hard realities of addiction, and the work is an eye-opener for anyone who likes to think it's easy to give up drugs. It's still a realistic and powerful - and warning - read.
In 1997, the winner was Tim Bowler, with the atmospheric River Boy. Jess is a swimmer and loves her cantankerous and eccentric grandfather. His approaching death sets off a series of strange events to do with the river, an unfinished painting and the grandfather's past.
Skellig was a wonderful start for its author, David Almond. In 1998 the book won both the Carnegie and Whitbread Awards, and has been adapted into a play, an opera and a film. Michael comes across a strange, ill-fed creature he takes to be a homeless man and, in befriending him, is instrumental in the saving of his sick baby sister. It's a compellingly weird book, and the image of the residually-winged Skellig sticks in the mind of readers.
The decade was rounded off by Aidan Chambers, who won with Postcards from No Man's Land. It interlinks two stories set in Amsterdam, but fifty years apart. Chambers is a sophisticated and intellectually challenging author. (That means he's never dumbed his work down.) He's well worth reading but don't start on this too young. American Librarians gave it a major prize as well, but reckon it's for the older teenage range.
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On to two favourite Kate Greenaway winners from the decade!
Who's forgotten The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet Ahlberg?
(Answer: No one. It's read all year, every year.)
A jolly postman delivers cards to well-known characters like the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and the Three Bears - real cards, too: you can take them out of their envelopes to read them separately. The watercolour illustrations splendidly evoke the atmosphere of the Christmas season, and children love to pounce on the many references within both illustration and text to nursery rhymes, fairy-tales, and other works by the Ahlbergs.
My other choice would have to be The Baby Who Wouldn't Go to Bed by Helen Cooper. Everyone loves the lush, richly colourful illustration, and it's a story that toddlers find both compelling and mesmeric. Parents are thankful for the way everything gradually winds down until the child in the bed is as sleepy as the child in the book. (Helen Cooper won the medal again, two years later, with the equally lavishly illustrated Pumpkin Soup.)
I'll be back again next month for a trawl through what the Americans call the 'aughts' and what we end up calling the first decade of the new century.