The Kate Greenaway Award 2013

First established in 1955 and named in honour of the 19th Century illustrator, the annual Kate Greenaway Medal is the UK's most prestigious prize for children's book illustration. Presented by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), which also administers the Carnegie Medal, a list of past winners of the Greenaway is a pantheon of some of the most iconic names in British children's illustration. 
Bridget Strevens-Marzo considers this years shortlist.

The Kate Greenaway Award 2013 will be announced on June 19, 2013.

Jim Kay, winner of the 2012 CILIP Kate Greenaway Award, for his illustrations to A Monster Calls writes in his blog

"For me, illustration is all about making mistakes work for you. An illustration will never be ‘right’, but you do the best you can in the time you are given – a work of art is often a a continuous string of little accidents and problems that you fix as best you can. I beat myself up a lot about things going wrong while I’m working, it’s not necessarily an enjoyable process, but one that is still exciting because it is so unpredictable... Anyway, the important thing is to have a go, and not worry too much when things go wrong.” 

I think this is a great quote to set against the struggle we all have to ‘succeed’ at least in our own terms, if not in terms of a career, other people or a market. And talking of success, there’s the common quibble that the same names come up again and again in awards, and many haven’t had the recognition they deserved. I think it’s important to distinguish illustration contests (particularly where illustrators are asked to do unpaid on spec work), with awards for book illustration like the Kate Greenaway which selects one “book of outstanding artistic quality” rather than an illustrator or a style.

“The whole work should provide pleasure from a stimulating and satisfying visual experience.” 

See all the criteria here.

The judging process of both Carnegie and Kate Greenaway is a long serious business, explained in more detail in Nicki Schmidt’s informative W&P interview with Ferelith Hordon, Chair of the Carnegie Kate Greenaway (CKG) Judging Panel in 2011.  

What I hadn’t realize that the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards have some other important functions. They are getting kids all over the UK looking into the whole process of children’s books. This is thanks to its accompanying shadowing scheme, described by 2012's CILIP Carnegie Medal winner, Patrick Ness as:

"one of the very best things in the entire book world." 

Stanchester Community School Shadowing Group Fiesta en la Biblioteca Reading Club

Each year thousands of children and young people “shadow” the judging process, forming groups to read the shortlisted books, write reviews and debate which they think should win. In 2012 over 90,000 children took part. You can read reviews by kids of all ages across the UK here. A couple of kids' responses to illustrations caught my eye: 

“I thought the illustrations in this book were well worked on and all of the little details using paintbrushes were carefully drawn. Some frames were added by paint. The author made his pictures, the introduction and the conclusion stand out.” 

“the (younger) children thought that the book had been scribbled in, as the illustrations did not represent the animals...I didn't think that the drawing of the wolf was good as it represented a porcupine more than a wolf!" 

And there are illustrations too by children inspired by the books in the Greenaway Gallery. Giving troubled kids and reluctant readers the power to voice an opinion, away from the classroom and playground, is helping to get them into libraries, as these videos testify. 

Now to the Kate Greenaway 2013 shortlist itself:  If you’ve not had a chance to delve as deeply into the books as kids across the UK, you can cheat! Each shortlisted illustrator explains what their book is about here along with fascinating glimpses into their processes. Only Jon Klassen is missing, perhaps because he’s US based, but there's plenty about him on the internet. The “little string of accidents” is a common theme among them, as is the importance of drawing. 

Chris Haughton for example advises to keep drawing what you’re really interested in, and in his case it was “accidents”. That and the question ‘what if...’ is what led to Oh No George

In Emily Gravett’s case, she blew paint down a straw to create dragon flames, and burnt holes in paper as painting flames and holes didn’t work. 

Chris Mould prefers ball point pen to pencil, uses Tipp Ex pens and any cheap material at hand, even spray-paint for cars for get an even tone for example. 

Helen Oxenbury reverted to a style she’d used in the 1970s, watercolour and cross-hatching, says she uses different mediums – different styles – from one book to the next, as “it stops you getting bored”.  

Levi Pinfold starts off by making 10-30 thumbnails in a morning, say, which he’ll turn into a mini dummy. Only after he’s had proper feedback from his publisher , will he work on his final carefully-layered tempera paintings, and reminds himself when flagging that yes, all that work does matter because the final picture book might actually change somebody’s life in some way.  

Salvatore Rubbiano drew ducks from life in his sketchbook throughout the making of his book. Drawing he says helps to slow time – it’s visual food that feeds the imagination. Draw and ideas will happen. For the more complex compositions, he painted his watercolours over a lightbox with the layout in pencil underneath. Like Haughton and Gravett, he tweaked his final paintings on computer when necessary. 

All are worth looking at especially if you need reminding that you are not alone in your corner, struggling to convert your imagination into the materials and marks on paper. 

I’ll end with a comment from one of the judges in the CKG blog - yes, you can “peek inside the minds and musings of the Judges” themselves! 

“Apples and oranges there may be, but in the end we can still only pick one most outstanding apple or orange!” 

Let’s wish them luck! And if you want to make your own choice or have any author-illustorly comments about the shortlist, please fire away! 
Bridget Strevens-Marzo


  1. Bridget, this is fabulous post about some fabulous books!
    I love the children's involvement with these award.

    I also love the association of creativity and accident so reminds me of what Helen was saying about not being in control last week.

  2. Thanks Jan!
    Four more days before the winning book is announced. Anyone brave enough to guess which will win? It's so hard to choose between them...

  3. Bridget this is a brilliant post - so detailed and so interesting. I am intrigued by Chris Mould's use of spray paint for cars and wondering how Salvatore Rubbiano can get such a lovely watercolour effect when working on a lightbox, the paint must dry out so quickly!

  4. Thanks Bridget, it's an interesting list.

  5. I love the look of Black Dog - will that be a winner, I wonder?
    Fascinating post, Bridget. Thank you

  6. Belated thanks though somehow Rebecca Cobb's book LUNCHTME got missed of this list - ouch and apologies to that illustrator. Gillian your speculation turned winner!

  7. thanks, Bridget - it's great to read about each artist discovering new ways of working - at last, I have had the courage to experiment and the results are so liberating


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