Carnegie Shortlist 2014 – Books About Important Things?

The criteria for the Carnegie Award starts off as follows:

‘The book that wins the Carnegie Medal should be a book of outstanding literary quality. The whole work should provide pleasure, not merely from the surface enjoyment of a good read, but also the deeper subconscious satisfaction of having gone through a vicarious, but at the time of reading, a real experience that is retained afterwards.’

On the basis of this, any book shortlisted should therefore be a GBAIT – see previous post – and not a Patrick Ness CBAIT. Is this the case in 2014?

The shortlisted books have all been read and reviewed by BT&M here. All eight books cover important subjects:

liarLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead: bullying, change in family fortunes, sickness, friendship

truthAll the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry: judgemental attitudes to disabilities

elephantThe Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnstone: looking after orphaned wild animals, elephant behaviour, village life in Africa, child soldiers

ghostGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper: Indian populations in America before and after the arrival of the White Man, prejudice, beliefs

bloodBlood Family by Anne Fine: adoption, nature or nurture, living rough

roofRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell: love versus convention,

wallThe Wall by William Sutcliffe: prejudice and mistrust, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

bunkerThe Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks: human nature

Some points about the books:

  • In every one of these books there is an absent parent (through abandonment or death or sickness), or a broken marriage or a dead parent or parents. This absence of a stable family unit enable the young protagonist to deal with difficult emotions (Blood Family), to make tough decisions about their own future (All the Truth That’s In Me) or to question adult decisions (The Wall).
  • Of the eight books, five are set solely outside the UK and of these three look at current or historical issues in foreign countries: The Child’s Elephant (based on the situation in Uganda), The Wall (the West Bank) and Ghost Hawk (the arrival of the White Man in America). These three books are informative and educational and any reader who enjoys the books will also come away with an increased knowledge of the world in which they live.
  • In all the books, the young protagonists go on a journey of discovery: face up to your fears (Liar and Spy, Blood Family), believe and follow your dreams (Rooftoppers) and treat people fairly (The Wall, Ghost Hawk). Readers can learn from these characters, even if they are not experiencing the same dilemmas.
  • All the books make you think – you cannot read them, shut the book and feel unaffected by what you have read

There is no doubt that the books are all, in differing ways, interesting, informative, challenging and educational. The key question though, as raised by Patrick Ness, is whether these books are also good and enjoyable (not medicinal) reads for young adults and teenagers?

For BT&M, there are some GBAITs (Great Books ABout Important Things) among this shortlist. My top three are:

All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry – the story made me care about Judith. I wanted her to overcome her past, her disability, her exclusion by society. I found the setting interesting and the behaviour of the society believable (if repugnant) and I enjoyed the story.

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks – I found the story dark and chilling. The behaviour of desperate human beings was both fascinating and frightening and the story was compelling (more compelling than enjoyable), different and individual.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell – I did not enjoy the story so much; I found it a bit fantastical but I loved the writing. It was poetic and absorbing and I got lost in the book.

What are your GBAITs on this list?





  1. I am really disappointed that Bunker Diary is in your top 3 as I feel very strongly that it shouldn’t have been on the shortlist at all. It is a deeply disturbing book which I don’t want my students to read. I would hesitate to recommend it to an adult, let alone a teenager. A couple of my 6th form and one year 11 read it and on their say along with my personal view, I have made sure it isn’t on the shelves in the school library. It has no redeeming feature whatsoever!


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