Beyond the Secret Garden:

Drawing Conclusions In their latest Beyond the Secret Garden feature examining the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic voices in children’s literature, Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor look at the Kate Greenaway Medal and recent children’s books.

In 1936, following the lead of the American Library Association, the British Library Association created its first prize for children’s books, the Carnegie Medal.

It was nearly twenty years before

they added a medal specifically for illustration, named after one of the great Victorian illustrators, Kate Greenaway. The award was announced in 1955 and was offered for ‘distinguished illustration in a book for children’ (CILIP Carnegie Greenaway website); however, no book that year was considered suitable and thus the first Kate Greenaway winner, Edward Ardizzone, came in 1956. Like its counterpart the Carnegie Medal, the Kate Greenaway Medal ‘has yet to be awarded to a book by a Black British author/illustrator, and only once (in 1967) went to a book with a contemporary Black British main character’ (Sands-O’Connor, Children’s Publishing and Black Britain, 159); the 1967 winner was Charles Keeping for Charley, Charlotte, and the Golden Canary. In 1973, the judges gave ‘honourable mention’ to Black British illustrator Errol Lloyd for his collaboration with Petronella Breinburg on My Brother Sean, but the winner that year was Raymond Briggs for Father Christmas.

Taking the Kate Greenaway Medal winners as a group, they have continued to be almost exclusively white authors (not all of them British) writing about white (or animal) characters. However, as with the Carnegie Medal, the Kate Greenaway Medal judging criteria have undergone a revision in order to include consideration of ‘diversity’ (broadly defined to include protected characteristics in the Equality Act of 2010). The new criteria encourage judges to consider ‘silencing’ and the possibility that picture books might contribute to or reinforce existing societal inequality or discrimination. They inform judges that, ‘[w]hile there is no single correct way to achieve representation, there are ways that can be outmoded, problematic or tokenistic.’ With that in mind, we

thought we would highlight some of the books that have been nominated for the 2021 Kate Greenaway Medal that depict racially minoritised characters.

Several of the books on the nominations list this year are influenced by Middle Eastern or South Asian art styles. Because these books are produced by illustrators from or with family connections to those cultures, they certainly are ‘appropriate, well-researched, respectful visual representation’ (Kate Greenaway Medal Criteria), but they also do something more. Poonam Mistry, who has been nominated for the last two years for her collaborations with Chitra Soundar (You’re Safe with Me, 2019, and You’re Snug with Me, 2020) and whose art is influenced by Madhubani paintings and Kalamkari textiles from India, has written and illustrated this year’s nomination, How the Stars Came to Be (Tate Publishing). Using her trademark stylised depictions of animals and nature, this book includes an Indian girl and her father as characters, and tells a folktale that is both familiar in characteristics (as folktales should be) but also different enough ‘so that the story feels fresh or reimagined’ (Medal Criteria). Iranian-born Ehsan Abdollahi’s illustrations for Jackie Morris’s retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Secret of the Tattered Shoes (Tiny Owl), include multiracial princesses who are portrayed in shades of grey during night-time scenes. The colour palette works ‘to establish mood and convey emotion’ (Medal Criteria) by depicting the time of day, but also the darkness of the princesses who are unconcerned about the deaths that result from their secret. Reza Dalvand’s illustrations for Sufiya Ahmed’s Under the Great Plum Tree (Tiny Owl), a story from the Panchatantra, use similarly stylized and graphic elements ‘inspired by Indo-Persian traditions’ (Under the Great Plum Tree)—but his colour palette is brighter and he makes more use of white space than Mistry. Sharon King-Chai, who began her career as a designer, uses silver foil in her

18 Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021

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