Random thoughts: Abingdon Carnegie Forum 2009

Last year, I was very honoured to be invited to be a judge at the Abingdon Schools' Carnegie Forum. It was a fantastic day, I enjoyed myself immensely, and was delighted to be invited back for this year's event. Last year the event was hosted by Abingdon School, this year - under the auspices of the hosts Our Lady's - the event took place in the Guildhall. The big difference this year was the format of the presentations. Last year, the shadowing groups - made up of a mix of students from each of the six secondary schools participating - made presentations at the end of the day which were felt to be a bit stilted. This year, the focus was on a more dramatic 4 minute presentation, with a choice of formats. Most groups chose to dramatise scenes from the book, or deliver a "reduced shakespeare" type delivery of the whole book. It was a lot of fun - and there was some great performances for the seven books on the shortlist. Upon arriving at the Guildhall, we were greeted by the following fabulous Carnegie cake, made locally by Sue Russell.
As you know, I have strong views on books + cake, so the sight of this hugely impressive confection bucked me tremendously. I wasn't the only one:

Anyway - there was serious business at hand - namely, for us (the judges) to read through a whole series of book reviews from the shadowing schools, whilst the students themselves decided what they were going to do for the presentations. We were welcomed by Mrs Renwick, Headmistress of Our Lady's (left) who then passed over proceedings to Our Lady's librarian Barbara Hickford (incidentally, I learned that Barbara set up a wiki for her shadowing group at the school, to enable pupils in the group to update reviews and feedback from the books).

Mrs Renwick gave us an overview of the Carnegie Medal itself, its history and just how many students (an estimated 90,000) are involved in the shadowing scheme. This is, BTW, the 10th annual Abingdon Carnegie Forum. The students got into groups, spread out through the Guildhall:

As judges, we had a wander around to observe the presentations coming together, before retiring to our smoke-filled room for plenty of heated debate over the reviews (actually, it wasn't that heated, and the place is smoke-free, but you get the idea). As last year, I took a sneaky photo of the assembled schools and facilitators towards the end:

...before prizes were given for the winners of the reviews for each book. A couple of observations struck me about the reviews this year:

  • the use of the word 'random'. I guess when you are 'down with the kids', random is a compliment. Several uses cropped up in the reviews, typically "this book was good, but a bit random". I'm guessing that this means the book was unexpected, didn't conform to expectations. I'd suggest, if you're a children's author, you'd want that kind of response from you readers.
  • several of the reviewers found it 'weird' when the book was in the third person. In fact, one of the reviewers went as far as to say that they found it so weird they had to re-read several passages. Now, in my opinion, I still find first-person books a bit weird. Not so long ago, writing in the first-person was something that was incredibly difficult to pull off. I guess styles in literature have completely changed - I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing - but 3rd person doesn't seem to be very in at the moment. Perhaps it's that celebrity culture thing creeping in again?

Anyway - here's a good article to read if you want to know more about the background to Carnegie Shadowing:

If your eyesight isn't very good, the article can be found online here. I appreciate that I have only been involved in this event for two years, but I am so impressed by the high level of commitment, organisation and excitement from all involved. As a bookshop, we are dead chuffed to be involved in the Forum. As a change from selling books, I found the whole day energising in terms of re-discovering people who just get excited about books. The Knife of Never Letting Go was voted the favourite book at the end of the Forum. Last year my predictions of the eventual winner were a bit off. For what it's worth, I reckon the Forum will get it spot on this year when the winner of the Carnegie Award 2009 is announced this Thursday.


  1. 1st person/3rd person? What a random thing to get worked up about! It never occurred to me it might be an issue. Though I personally prefer third person, because one thing you always know about a first person narrator is he's going to survive.

    Unless his consciousness gets downloaded into a machine following the physical death of his body, or something ... Hey, it could happen.

    What really turns me off is stories written in the present tense, a habit that needs to be eradicated like swine flu.

  2. I don't think the kids were worked up by it Ben, they were asked to write reviews about all aspects of the books - and this was just something that came up several times in different reviews.

    I'm with you on the present tense thing BTW...

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