The Yoto Carnegie Awards 2023: A First Time Win for a Book in Translation
By Lucy Clark, Alice Reynolds and Rob Tomlinson
The Yoto Carnegie Awards are the UK’s longest running and best-loved children’s book awards which celebrate and honour outstanding books for children and young people. Established in 1936 in the memory of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the award has been recognising children’s writers ever since. Carnegie saw the importance of libraries and in his time set up more than 2800, with over half the library authorities in Great Britain having Carnegie libraries at the time of his death. The prize now is unique in that it is awarded by a panel of children and youth librarians, including twelve librarians from CILIP, the library and information association’s Youth Libraries Group.
The Carnegie Medal for Illustration, formerly known as the Kate Greenaway Medal, was established in 1955 for exceptional illustration in a book for children. It was originally named after the popular and highly influential 19th century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
The Shadowers’ Choice Medals for Writing and Illustration are chosen by reading groups in schools and libraries in the UK and beyond. They read and review the shortlists, engage in reading-related activities in groups, then vote for the books to win the medals.
These winners are announced in a ceremony at The Barbican, which thousands live-stream worldwide. This year, they were hosted by former Children’s Laureate Lauren Child CBE, who won the Carnegie Medal for Illustration – then known as the Kate Greenaway Medal – in 2000 for her first Charlie and Lola book, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato. The winners receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize and a newly designed golden medal. For the first time this year, the Shadowers’ Choice winners were also presented with a golden medal.
This year’s winner marks a departure from the award’s tradition by recognising a book in translation for the first time. The work in question is Manon Steffan Ros’s The Blue Book of Nebo, published in English by Firefly Press, and originally published in Welsh in 2018 as Llyfr Glas Nebo, before being translated by the author in 2021. In addition to the Yoto Carnegie award, The Blue Book of Nebo, in the original Welsh, won three prizes in the Wales Book for fiction, People’s Choice and best Welsh-language work. In 2020, it was also adapted into a touring production by the Frân Wen theatre company.
It tells the story of a young boy, Dylan, and his mother who, following the collapse of 21st century society as we know it, retreat to Nebo, an isolated village in northern Wales and must learn to survive there. The book tenderly examines the evolving relationship between a mother and her son as he matures and takes on more responsibility. As is natural in familial relationships, each of them guards their own secrets, and these are recorded in a journal: the titular Blue Book of Nebo.
Manon Steffan Ros was already a highly decorated writer in Welsh, having won the prestigious Tir na n-Og Award for Welsh-language children’s writing on four separate occasions between 2010 and 2019, alongside other medals for theatre and prose writing. In 2021, she was described in the Wales Art Review as “arguably the most successful novelist writing in Welsh at the moment,” and this celebration of her English-language output can only expand her influence and reputation.
What is the importance of the award going to a work of translated fiction?
This win for Manon Steffan Ros’s The Blue Book of Nebo is undoubtedly something to be celebrated as a significant step towards a greater readership of translated works, and perhaps even a turning point in people’s approach to reading itself. The recognition of a translated work as award-winning is important as it celebrates the talents of Manon Steffan Ros not only as an author but as a translator as well since she translated the work herself.
While discussing what is meant to her to win the award for a work originally written in her native Welsh, she said: “Each language offers a unique and enriching perspective on the world, and so literature in translation has the potential to enhance our lives greatly.” She describes growing up with the Welsh language as a “privilege” and her prize-winning The Blue Book of Nebo has given readers, especially children, access to fiction through a different lens which is in itself a privilege.
Translated works being written from a different cultural perspective can be eye-opening and expand a reader’s cultural understanding as they learn through reading. The awarding of the Yoto Carnegie Medal recognises the importance of translated literature, especially for children, as they are constantly learning about the world around them and what better way than to hear different voices from varied cultures around the world. We can only hope that, in the future, more translated works of literature are celebrated in this way and that we see an increase of translated works being read by children.