Big ideas and the great outdoors: Discover the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist

Published on: 18 March 2021 Author: Jake Hope

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, which celebrates outstanding illustrated children's books, has unveiled its 2021 shortlist! Here, judge Jake Hope takes us through the nominees...

The books on the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist

The Kate Greenaway shortlist this year celebrates big ideas and the great outdoors. This list of books is the perfect place to share adventures, explore new ways of looking and better ways of understanding our world and its ways.

'What do things look like? Really? I often think about that.'

Berta, the 12-year-old protagonist in the distinctive The Bird Within Meponders this. The idea of how things look and the impressions they leave upon us feels very apt for the UK's oldest children's book award for illustration.

Berta's conflict between her home life with her ill mother and her ambition of becoming an artist will resonate with a great many readers. The Bird Within Me cleverly contrasts the claustrophobia of indoors with the wide open wildness of outdoors in a book full of hopes and dreams, with rich references to the world of art.

Colour is used to great effect in Starbird, which tells the story of the Moon King and the gift of the legendary Starbird to mark his daughter's birth. The fable-like story is given life and form through the visual splendour of foiled illustration. Bold use of brushwork creates texture and really captures what it is to be free in this powerful tale.

The infinite feel of the sky is also captured well in How the Stars Became, a creation story about how the stars formed. The colour palette and patterning lend depth to the story and every star is individual and intricately created. Contrasting and complementary colours bring both day and night-time to life.

An illustration from Arlo, The Lion Who Couldn't Sleep

Day and night also bookend the story of Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn't Sleep. There's a relaxed quality to the illustrations, yet every animal has a real presence upon the page in this picture book, which already feels like a classic. It makes for a perfect bedtime read, while also capturing the awe and majesty of the natural world.

A wonderful sense of freedom and fresh air pervade Hike, where wordless storytelling creates moments of tension and humour in a story about a father and child going on an adventure together. Perspective is used to dizzying effect in this touching, intimate story of the great outdoors.

But the outdoors can sometimes be overwhelming, and this feeling is brilliantly evoked in Small in the City, an evocative and expressive book which really conveys what it's like to be small. Vantage points, views and the city's architecture are powerful and cinematic, and the format and height of the book create a striking and memorable impact.

Elsewhere, a mood of dark unease contrasts with the hope and positivity of the text in the graphic novel I Go Quiet. The experiences of a shy, anxious girl are conjured in a way that promotes great understanding, while the story draws on rich visual motifs of animals, providing multiple details which offer new experiences on every reading.

Finally, empathy, warmth and love radiate in It's a No-Money Day. Readers are offered two different perspectives in this clever story, which explores the richness of togetherness on a 'no-money day' and which subtly alludes to the challenges this can provide for parents. The relationship between mother and child is outstanding and speaks to different ages and experiences through its naturalistic illustrations.

The world can be a big place and the experiences and emotions growing out of that can, at times, feel overwhelming. As the shortlist shows, illustrated stories can make big experiences accessible to readers of many different ages and abilities, enabling a sense of widened horizons for us all!

The shortlist in full

  • Starbird by Sharon King-Chai (Two Hoots)
  • The Bird Within Me by Sara Lundberg, translated by BJ Epstein (Book Island)
  • It's a No-Money Day by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke)
  • How the Stars Came To Be by Poonam Mistry (Tate Publishing)
  • Hike by Pete Oswald (Walker Books)
  • I Go Quiet by David Ouimet (Canongate)
  • Arlo, the Lion Who Couldn't Sleep by Catherine Rayner (Macmillan)
  • Small in the City by Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

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