The CILIP Carnegie Medal Shortlist 2021

The CILIP Carnegie Medal is the UK’s oldest children’s book award, recognising outstanding reading experiences created through writing for children and young people. The shortlist this year includes our most recent YA Fiction Staff Book Club’s Book of the Month Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo as well as the already very popular with students and staff alike Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds and Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence which is doing a tour of the Sixth Form!

Here’s the shortlist to explore. All copies are stocked in the LRC and Look Both Ways are in Year 7 and 8 classrooms. Please email to request a copy.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

In this lyrical adventure 12-year-old Yanka has always felt out of place in her small village. When she wakes up to find that her legs have become bear legs, she sets off into the forest to discover who she is, on a journey that takes her from icy rivers to smouldering mountains, with an ever-growing band of misfits and friends alongside her.

Grounded in Russian folkore, there is a jigsaw-like feel to the interconnecting stories surrounding Yanka, a girl found in a bear cave as a baby. Readers will delight in discovering the familiar traditional and fairy tales expertly woven into the novel. Danger and struggle combine in this story of self-discovery, providing a nuanced exploration of identity and belonging. Themes of family in its different forms, friendship, and the celebration of difference run throughout. This is a magical and memorable book where every character, human and animal, has a distinct personality. A beautifully written and original fantasy adventure story that will linger long after the last page.

Age 10+

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

This ingenious frame story is made up of ten short stories which take place on a walk home from school. Without adults on the walk, we get to see each child’s personality shine and it feels intimate as though the stories are being relayed directly to the reader. Stories stand-alone but also have clever interconnections.

Character are well-developed and display motivations that are compelling and convincing throughout. It provides a real snapshot into the lives and concerns of others. There is an impressive array of themes explored bullying, homophobia and bereavement to name but three. All are broached with a deft, lightness of touch and considerable warmth and all help to promote understanding and empathy in impressive ways. Alongside each of the stories we read, there are also numerous story starts to intrigue and capture the imaginations of readers leaving them thinking about the characters. An engaging, funny and totally unique read!

Age 11+

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

During the height of the Depression, Ellie and her family experience the hardship of life at the bottom of a mountain. Friendship is at the heart of this tale of what people can achieve when pushed to their limits. This compelling and thoughtful plot creates an experience that will stay with the reader long after the final page.

The grim life and ever-present tension of the Great Depression looms in this quiet but compelling plot. Descriptive and immersive figurative language draws the reader in to a family story of dynamic relationships. The titular mountain is a character in its own right, with a real presence in the story, with the echoes within the plot, including echoes of other stories, playing an important role. The conclusion of characters’ healing experience, both medically and emotionally, makes this a novel to be treasured.

Age 11+

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho

The myth of Daphne and Apollo combines with a story of a girl struggling to make sense of loss in this innovative novel playfully told across a plethora of poetic forms. The book cleverly relays complex emotions and brings to life the inner-world of Daphne’s grief an isolation whilst showcasing the power of story, reading and libraries as a form of release.

The duality of the myth of Daphne and Apollo is realised in a layered and intricate way which offers readers insight into the psychology of grief and loss. The story successfully combines the contemporary and the ancient and its themes feel at once both vast and yet intimate. Language is used in ways that is playful and powerful so that the words can almost be tasted. Imagery of trees and forests are suffused throughout giving nuance and the myth offers a lens through which to gain new perspectives upon some of the pressures of modern life. An immersive and inventive novel that empowers, educates and inspires whilst wrenching at the heart.

Age 12+

On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

An exceptional retelling of the Irish legend of Tain Bo Cuailnge, this beautiful coming-of-age novel is set in Co Donegal in the long hot summer of 1976. When a dolphin swims into the bay at Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel an instant connection. As the dolphin starts to attract tourists, it doesn’t take long for the residents of neighbouring Ross Bay to become disgruntled and a dangerous gang war begins. 

This compelling novel beautifully evokes a time and place. The reader needs no knowledge of the original legend to enjoy this gripping tale of love, loss and petty rivalry between two small fishing villages. Tension and suspense are foremost as old friendships are challenged and new love blossoms. The characters are convincing and the inequalities of 1970s Ireland are well portrayed. Each character has a part to play in the unfolding drama and when the inevitable tragedy strikes, lives are changed forever.

Age 12+

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann

A compelling verse novel in which Amber is trapped – by her abusive father’s rules, by his expectations, by her own fears.  She only feels alive when running, but even that is forbidden.  Inspired by school lessons about revolution Amber slowly finds the strength to free not only herself, but also her downtrodden mother and her trapped sister from their domestic prison.

Complex and strong, Amber struggles to rebel against many of the expectations made of her.  We hear the voice of those that are voiceless and that lack agency in this brilliantly written and powerful verse novel which articulates domestic violence, anger and coercion in ways that feel explosive.  Sparse use of language adds to the impact, whilst structure is utilised to drive the narrative. The verse format is employed to its full effect in conveying the emotions of the main characters.  Amber is a richly nuanced, believable character, compliant yet rebellious, courageous yet fearful; readers will empathise with her but also passionately dislike her at times.  This is an inspiring book that leaves a lasting impression.

Age 14+

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino and Yahaira see their lives collide when their families and cultures are unexpectedly brought together in this thought-provoking novel.  Grief and family revelations are explored through dual narrative verse that questions how well we really know those closest to us.

This is a powerful, heart-breaking and compellingly novel.  There is economy and beauty in the language, demonstrated in an immersive narrative artfully told through verse.  The structure and shape of the text adds an essential component to the superb overall quality of the story.  The believable characters develop and mature as the story unfolds in this tale of family and unconditional love.  An outstanding reading experience.

Age 14+

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

A well-researched, beautifully layered story set in Spain under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Daniel is a rich American tourist and Ana is the maid assigned to look after his family in the Castellana Hilton Hotel in Madrid. As their relationship grows, we meet a cast of supporting characters who all have an important role to play in the unfolding story, and whose lives subtly intertwine as we delve into the secrets of Franco’s Spain.

This captivating novel depicts the grim existence of ordinary people under Franco’s regime. Ana’s family are living in extreme poverty as a result of her parents’ political affiliations. In contrast, Daniel is the son of a Texan oil baron and wants for nothing. As Daniel wanders the streets of Madrid taking photographs he begins to uncover some of the unsavoury happenings under the Fascist regime, putting both himself and Ana in danger. The compelling theme of secrets was carried throughout the story. The tension and the ever-present sense of danger were foremost holding the reader’s attention throughout this compassionate and gripping novel.

Age 15+