An update on this project

Back in April, in the throes of Lockdown I, I started this project with the intention of reading my way through the Carnegie winners in a chronological manner and blog about it along the way. In my naivety, I thought I’d probably be done sometime in the Autumn. After all, since I can read a book in a day or two and write a couple of pages in as much time, how long could it take? As it turned out, quite a while because no, I wouldn’t have absolutely masses of time now everything was cancelled, and yes, I was right that homeschooling is for people with a more saintly disposition than me. The result was predictable, and, currently, I’ve only covered the first 21 years. 

So what have I learnt about the project so far? While it can take me a day or two to read a great book (sometimes stretching the concept of ‘day’ past evening and night into the early morning hours), I am also capable of procrastinating endlessly by reading other books instead if the subject of a particular Carnegie Medal winner does not grab me. I have confirmed (to myself, if nobody else) that short stories are not my bag (sorry Walter de la Mare and Eleanor Farjeon) and that Romantic fiction whether disguised as fantasy or not, is definitely not my bag either (sorry Elizabeth Goudge and Elfrida Vipont). On the other hand, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some excellent family stories (thank you Eve Garnett and Kitty Barne) and some riveting action (Knight Crusader, for instance) and those books I have sprinted through. 

However, the writing of the blog always takes me by surprise. Firstly, it can take quite a while to do the research, but I have learnt so much about the critical issues around the novels in writing these post, but the most surprising aspect is how much I have learnt about how I feel about any of the books. I am one of these people who often have to ‘talk’ around a subject to realise how I feel about it, and apparently writing serves the same purpose; opinions and issues held in my unconscious flow onto the screen, much to my own surprise. 

Simultaneously with reading for the blog I’ve been reading for my Carnegie book group which I set up for and with some of my fellow students. We meet every three weeks and discuss a book we’ve jointly chosen. So far, we’ve chosen one book each decade, often choosing one of the “Carnegies of Carnegies” if appropriate. We are coming into the last decade of books, and though we’ve slightly dodged this discussion by choosing two books from the ‘noughties’ (a term I hate, btw), we will soon have to discuss what’s next. We want to keep going; now we just need to find some selection criteria to identify our next reads.

The fact that my fellows students are also new to many of these books have come as a surprise. I am Danish, so I had not read many of the Carnegie winners before. The Danish children’s literature canon is made up mainly of books from Scandinavia and British / American novels in translation. Many of the Carnegie winners have probably not been translated in Danish and would therefore not have been part of my childhood reading. And when I moved here as a young adult, I picked up either the standard ‘classic’ books like The Wind in the Willows or contemporary books that were recommended to me one way or another. This was the starting point for the project: I wanted to explore British children’s literature in some sort of historical perspective (I am, after all, doing a Masters in Children’s Literature so this is exactly the kind of thing that floats my boat) and I wanted to discover great authors who were new to me. The fact that my fellow MA students had not read that many of the winners either has had the fortunate effect, for me, that the Carnegie reading has become more of a joint discovery than I had anticipated. It also raises questions about how the ‘canon’ of children’s literature is formed, but more about that another time.

One of the results of the procrastination caused by not knowing how to tackle the subject of William Mayne (now resolved, see the previous blog post) was that I managed to read the two Carnegie Winners I do not own (due to their expense) at the British Library and blog about them, so now my chronological attempt is a bit muddled. I don’t know if I should continue with my chronological blogging (the next would be 1958, Tom’s Midnight Garden) or whether it is more ‘true’ to my experience to blog about the book we read in the book group though these are, of course, scattered across 85 years. If anyone has read this far and have an opinion, either way, I’d be very grateful for the feedback!

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