Exploring the Kate Greenaway shortlist with judge Jake Hope

Published on: 16 March 2017

Jake Hope, one of the judges for the Kate Greenaway Medal, reveals how this year's nominees use illustration to open up books for young readers.

Images are capable of holding tremendous meaning. From prehistoric cave paintings to gifs, memes and emojis, images are a part of our everyday experience, allowing us to record and retrieve ideas and stories without barriers or boundaries.

Pictures have an immediacy that gives us direct access to information and stories.
And in sequence, pictures form patterns that carry readers through periods of time and across the world, creating an immersive experience that builds on the themes, moods and tone of a piece of writing. 

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, has a long, prestigious history in recognising distinguished illustration in children's titles.  Past winners include innovators such as: 

  • Raymond Briggs, this year's winner of the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award, who realised how a comic strip can carry emotion, poignancy and even political comment.  
  • Chris Riddell, the current Children's Laureate and the only illustrator to have won the award three times with titles like Pirate Diary, a superb example of narrative non-fiction - a sadly under-represented area.  
  • Lauren Child, whose clever use of mixed media illustrations create a thoroughly modern visual style that feels fresh and distinct.   

And now the 2017 shortlist features an impressive range of titles that encourage the reading and sharing of books through an imaginative mixture of words and pictures. 

First off is a title suitable for sharing with the very young. A Great Big Cuddle is a collaboration between past and present Children's Laureates Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell and offers a collection of poetry with full colour illustrations. The typography and graphic play make this generous book one that is ideal to cuddle up with.

That powerful feeling of togetherness is also present in Lane Smith's There Is A Tribe of Kids. Motifs from the natural world are drawn together to encourage games, play and creativity. The wild and untamed nature of childhood is beautifully presented in this measured story, running alongside a message about the importance of friendship.

The wild natural world is also explored in Emily Gravett's Tidy, with its environmental message about Earth and the relationship we have with it. It's a humorous but thought-provoking story that draws upon visual play and the seasons.

Equally thought-provoking is The Journey, a timely story of refuge and seeking sanctuary from war. Drawing on traditional folk art references, Francesca Sanna powerfully evokes the destructive nature of conflict and the personal journeys made through our lives. Light and dark are contrasted throughout the book with incredible poignancy.

Elsewhere, The Marvels cleverly weaves together two stories, drawing upon history and theatre.  Brian Selznick has brought the characters and plot vividly to life thanks to a dynamic relationship between pictures and words - there's even a cinematic quality in how the illustrations zoom in and pan across.

A filmic sense of muscular movement and power also pervades Wild Animals of the North, Dieter Braun's factual book that uses cubist references to highlight the awe-inspiring wonder of the animal kingdom.  

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, meanwhile, breathes new life into a well-established story by creating a fresh look that differs from the film - it has an impressive, imaginative scope.  

And last but not least, The Wolves of Currumpaw is William Grill's retelling of the story of Lobo, the wolf King of Currumpaw.  Powerful, graphic storytelling invites the reader into this fully-realised landscape and history.

In other words, the Kate Greenaway Medal 2017 shortlist showcases the range of styles and stories - whether poetry or prose, fact or fiction - that illustration and images can enhance, enriching the experience of picking up a book and making a long-lasting impression on the reader.

Topics: Features

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