Kate Greenaway shortlist

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and best-loved children’s book awards, recognising outstanding reading experiences created through writing and illustration in books for children and young people.  The shortlists for the 2021 medals have been announced, with eight titles in each category.  This post will concentrate on the Kate Greenaway shortlist.  This medal is awarded for outstanding illustration in a book for children or young people.

For the first time in the history of the Kate Greenaway, all books have been illustrated and authored by the same creator.

First, a beautiful book for younger readers, from a popular previous winner (for Harris Finds His Feet, 2009), is Arlo: the lion who couldn’t sleep, by Catherine Rayner.  Arlo needs his sleep, but the grass is too prickly, the trees too noisy, the sun too hot, and his family pride of lionesses too wriggly.  Owl, who has mastered the trick of sleeping even during the day, teaches Arlo some useful mindfulness techniques.  Rayner’s characteristic warm, appealing illustrations bring a gentle humour to this perfect, calm, bedtime story, with themes of friendship and consideration for others.


Two books that share the ‘traditional tale’ tropes of folktale and fable also share a starry theme.  How the stars came to be, by Poonam Mistry, is a mythic tale of love of a daughter for her father, and the lighting up of the night sky.  Mistry was brought up surrounded by Indian fabrics, paintings, folklore and stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, which inspire and influence her artwork as well as her storytelling.  Starbird, by Sharon King-Chai, also features a father/daughter relationship.  This fable shows how the fondest intentions may lead to unintended consequences, and the importance of realising and admitting to our mistakes.

By contrast, in It’s a no-money day, by Kate Milner (who wrote and illustrated the acclaimed My name is not refugee, and has illustrated Joseph Coelho poetry books) another parent/child relationship is set against an all-too-real family’s need to use a local foodbank.

“My mum works really hard and knows lots of fun things to do that don’t cost any money.

But when there’s nothing left in the cupboards we have to go to the foodbank.

Maybe one day things will be different…”

With use of food banks rising during the pandemic, this is a timely examination of the impact on one family by a sensitive and thoughtful writer.  The visuals – spare text, line drawings, subtle, muted colours in drab hues, facial expressions telling of a range of thought and emotion – calmly match the simple power of the tale of one family’s day.

Two near-wordless books next: Hike, by Pete Oswald, and Small in the city, by Sydney Smith. Hike is another exploration of a parent/child bond, as a father and child take a challenging walk in the wilderness.  This is a visually beautiful book, with sweeping mountain panoramas contrasted with close observation of small details of nature. It is beautiful in its simple message, too, as the pair care so constructively for each other and for the natural world, on the way laying down precious memories of happy times.  It’s good to see non-white protagonists out of an urban setting, too.

Small in the city is a wonderful book.  The story has a moving reveal late on, so we’ll leave that for you to discover.  The artwork is stunning; calm and simple on the surface, with layer upon layer of meaningful detail beneath, contrasting the bustle of the city (Toronto) with the muffled stillness brought on by snowfall.  In a review on Goodreads, Betsy compares it to the work of Velásquez in Las Meninas and to Ezra Jack Keats in A Snowy Day – praise indeed, and merited.  Sydney Smith has won praise and prizes before for his illustration of Sidewalk flowers (by JonArno Lawson – published as Footpath flowers in the UK) and Town is by the sea (Joanne Schwartz).  This is his first published solo author/illustrator book.

Finally, two books dealing with more troubled childhoods, and persistence in overcoming barriers to follow a divergent path.  The bird within me, by Sara Lundberg, translated by B.J.Epstein, is based on the paintings, letters and diaries of the Swedish artist Berta Hansson (1910–1994).  In rural 1920s Jämtland, Berta’s mother is terminally ill, while her traditionalist, religious father expects his daughter to follow convention.  This graphic novella is an exquisitely told story of family and obligation and following your dreams, which won prizes and acclaim in Sweden, and will appeal to all ages.

I Go Quiet is a powerfully strange story of an anxious, introverted girl, hiding in silence in a hostile and overwhelming world. In imagination and in books, she finds possibilities for herself and discovers a place where her words ring loud and true.  David Ouimet’s debut describes how it feels to be lonely, isolated, and scrutinized— and how it feels to break free and soar.


Well, I am glad I am not on the judging panel: it’s a great shortlist.  We’ll take a look at the 2021 Carnegie Medal in another post, hopefully, but meanwhile the shortlisted titles are:

  • Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Hot Key Books)
  • The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta (Usborne)
  • The Girl Who Became A Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner (Otter-Barry Books)
  • On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Faber)
  • Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann (Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Knights Of)
  • The Fountains Of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin Random House Children’s)
  • Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk (Penguin Random House Children’s)









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