The Carnegie Prize Diversity Scandal

The Senior School Reading Groups explain why we need more windows and mirrors.

Carnegie Medal Shortlist, 2017
Dr Rudine Sims Bishop wrote eloquently of a child’s need for diverse literature: ‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of the world that may be real or imagined, familial or strange.  These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.  When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.  Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.  Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’[1]

We enjoy taking part in shadowing the Carnegie Medal book prize each year and were quite shocked and upset when an all-white longlist was produced in 2017.  The scandal received a lot of news coverage at the time and the organisation responsible for overseeing the prize, the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) responded by initiating a review.

This was carried out by Margaret Casely-Hayford, Chair of ActionAid UK and resulted in ten recommendations[2].  As part of the PGS Race Takeover of Pride initiative, we have chosen to examine the progress being made to ensure the prize addresses the need for diversity, specifically the inclusion of BAME authors and characters.  In the latest report issued by CILIP[3] they have said, they welcome feedback from external stakeholders which we feel must as a shadowing group, include us.

We have not been able to do a direct comparison between the 2017 and 2020 longlists as the latest one will not be available until 20 February.  The nomination list for 2020 contains 91 books and as far as we can tell from our research of the authors, 20 identify as BAME.  When we examined the books to find those with BAME lead characters, we found 28 out of the 91 contained clear examples.  We are now waiting anxiously for the release of the longlist to see how many of these will make it through. We are concerned that the existing numbers are small and they may reduce further in the creation of the longlist.

One of the recommendations has been to ensure that the judges no longer form a 100% white panel as they did in 2017.  This year we can see there are 15 judges and 2 appear to be from BAME backgrounds.  A co-opting procedure to add two further judges was introduced following the Casely-Hayford review to deal with an all-white panel situation.  It is not clear if this was called upon in this year.  We feel that 2 out of 15 is far too few.  The 2019 statement admits the co-opting process is not an effective solution and has announced, that in order to be a judge in the future, CILIP membership will no longer be a requirement.  This was written as:  ‘In recruiting judges for 2021-22, CILIP has introduced an opportunity for library workers from BAME backgrounds to join the panel without CILIP membership.’[4]  Our shadowing group discussion quickly made connections between this policy and Malorie Blackman’s story, Noughts and Crosses. A group of the cleverest Noughts are allowed to join the Crosses in their school as a first step to de-segregation in that society.  We have wondered why CILIP does not open up the application process for judging to those who work in partnership organisations too? Why not include authors in the panel? Taking steps to improve the diversity of library staffing is a positive move but we, in the shadowing groups, cannot wait for the ideal composition to be realised from which a diverse judging panel could be drawn. It behoves CILIP to reach out and develop those cross sector partnerships now, in order to create greater diversity at every level of the book prize process.  Their objective to regularly profile top ten diverse voices could also be shared with a rolling programme of different partner organisations thereby sharing the difficulty of finding capacity to complete this recommendation.

In the words of Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor (who provided diversity training for CILIP): ‘All children deserve to have literature that opens up the world in all its complexity.’[5]  

We have enjoyed the discussions provoked by this project and the many conversations will continue with the release of the longlist, the shortlist and the exciting finale in June where the winners will be announced.  We hope they provide us with, both insights to the wider world and reflections of ourselves.  Therein lies the challenge.

[1] Bishop, Rudine Simms. (2015). “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors”. Originally appeared in Perspective: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vol 6. No 3. Summer 1990. Retrevied:
[2] Anon. (2019). Review of CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards creates and promotes opportunities for improvement in diversity, representation and inclusion in children’s books. The Library and Information Association. Retrieved from:
[3]CILIP. (2019) CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Diversity Review
[4]CILIP. (2019) CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Diversity Review
[5] Chetty, Darren & Sands-O’Connor, Karren. (2018, January).  “Beyond the Secret Garden? Part One: The Fantasy of Story”. Books for Keeps - the children's book magazine online, vol. 228, pp. 9-12. Retrieved from: