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Feature #25: Carnegie Shadowing in a school library

Our upcoming chat is on Book Groups and Book Awards. Join us on Tuesday 2nd June between 18.30-20.30 UK time (BST) to discuss the questions in our agenda document – there’s still time to add your questions too!

This month we are very pleased to welcome Nicky Adkins as the author of our feature article. Nicky is Librarian at Roundwood Park School, Harpenden.


In my first year of being a school librarian I learnt a lot; new students flooded in and older ones embraced the changes. The energy in the library built up, but needed channeling into something real. Cue the Carnegie award and its wonderful shadowing process.

PrintMost of you will know about the CILIP Carnegie medal, awarded each year to a children’s/young adult book, judged by a rigorous panel of specialist librarians. That year, 2010, was the first year we’d taken part, so we signed up on the Shadowing site and launched ourselves into the process. Our group was known as the Book Ninjas and were an enthusiastic group of twelve Year 7 students who took absolute delight in their new position. They had a box of books that no one else could borrow. They had a website where they could post their reviews. And they were allowed (drum roll, please) to bring their lunch into the library and eat it there. AND there were biscuits. Woah.

The Ninjas devoured the shortlist like I’d never seen before. They weren’t all the strongest readers, but even the weakest pushed themselves to read the whole set. Some had already decided on a favourite genre and seldom read outside it, but still had the courage to pick up something entirely new. Together they were freaked out by The Graveyard Book, ran for books about American history after reading Chains, and decided as a group that as The Ask and the Answer was a sequel, that they would all read the first one in the series too. That was when I realised that something really special was happening. The Chaos Walking books are big. For the majority of the group, these were by far the longest books they’d ever read and they swallowed them whole before absorbing the rest of the list. Then they talked about them. Endlessly. In depth. They discussed morality, mourning, fear, war, terrorism, the Holocaust, love, family, prejudice, and I forgot that they were twelve years old.

2015 Carnegie shortlist.  Image from http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shadowingsite/

2015 Carnegie shortlist. Image from http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shadowingsite/

Using the judging criteria, they pulled each book apart and looked at its bones, for the first time looking at more than just whether they liked it or not. Though they had their favourites early on, there was an appreciation of each plot, each protagonist, the language, the style. They became critics. And when the award was over, when the winner had been selected, they were still bonded by the experience of reading those books together. They’re now in Year 12 and still friends, still readers. Then it happened again the next year, but with a larger group. Then the next, then the next, etc. It’s still going and the shortlist this year is amazing. We’ve had students creating book trailers and posting them online, talking to the authors of their favourite books on Twitter, writing letters, meeting writers, weeping in the corners of the library, raging about hated endings and championing reading through the school.

We now shadow the Man Booker prize with some of our advanced readers too, and though there isn’t the same opportunity for them to nominate a winner, there is still the same sense of achievement and an opening of their eyes to literature that they might otherwise side step completely.

Shadowing an award (particularly the Carnegie) brings a focus and a purpose to reading that is difficult to replicate. It makes it about more than just an individual picking out a book to read, but about a community of readers, and one that stretches a great deal further than the year group, or the school, bringing in every positive that reading can deliver. With a time frame and judging criteria there’s a sense of energy that pulls readers together.

Any downsides? Only that there isn’t always enough time to do the books justice! There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the suitability of some of the books for younger readers and it has been an opportunity to talk to students about reader autonomy, self-censorship, their rights as readers, and the unique ways that reading can challenge you. Every year they emerge from the process as critics, judges, Readers with a capital R. If you’ve ever thought of shadowing, there is so much advice online about how to engage with the process, but the most important thing I’ve learnt is to let the students lead it. Tell them that they’re their books, written for them, and they’ll take that power and do something great with it. Just make sure you have enough biscuits…

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This entry was posted on May 28, 2015 by in Feature and tagged , , , , .

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