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Medal for Illustration Criteria

At the end of the criteria is a glossary of terms. If a word has an asterisk* by it a definition will appear in the glossary.


The book that wins the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration should be a book that creates an outstanding reading experience through illustration. The whole work should provide pleasure from a stimulating and satisfying visual experience, which leaves a lasting impression. Illustrated work needs to be considered primarily in terms of its graphic elements, and where text exists, particular attention should be paid to the synergy between the two.

Not all criteria will necessarily be relevant to each title that is nominated.

The Visual Experience

What is the overall impact of the book on the reader?  What role do the illustrations play within this?

Does the visual narrative progress in a manner that is reasonable and convincing?  Is the pace* compelling?

How do choices made in illustrations contribute to the overall meaning and impact of the book?  Do artistic and design choices* made throughout the book feel deliberate and considered and help to visually shape the narrative?

Do the illustrations help to give the book layers of meaning for readers of different backgrounds and experiences, and/or allow different meanings to be inferred across multiple readings by a single reader?

Does the book provide opportunities for readers to encounter new or unfamiliar ideas, experiences or perspectives?

Do the illustrations individually and cumulatively make a lasting impression on the reader?

The Artistic Style

What medium* or materials* are used to create the illustrations?  What impact do these have on the reader and how do they contribute to the subject or theme of the book?

Is there a consistent quality of illustration throughout the book?  Are characters and settings consistently portrayed?

Is the style of the illustration fresh and creative?  Does the book contain elements of innovation, experimentation, imagination or playfulness?

What role does composition* play in helping to foreground* main events and in the visual storytelling of subplots*?

How is colour used? Does the colour palette* chosen help to establish mood and convey emotion?

Do the illustrations mainly provide surface aesthetic beauty, or help to progress or enhance the narrative?

How well does the style capture movement and convey a sense of momentum? Do images ever appear static?  What impact does this have on the reading experience?

If the plot is a retelling of a well-known story, a myth/fairy tale/urban legend etc. are new visual elements added or changed sufficiently so that the story feels fresh or reimagined?

How successful is the use of visual techniques and conventions*?  Does the illustration style challenge these techniques and conventions and what impact does this have for readers?

Visual Representation

Are opportunities taken to visually include characters that are representative of different backgrounds and experiences.  If not, why not?

Are protected characteristics* (Equality Act, 2010) represented in the illustrations?  If so, is this done in a way that promotes inclusion, empathy and understanding?  While there is no single correct way to achieve representation, be aware of ways that are outmoded, problematic or tokenistic.

Are opportunities for incidental inclusion and accessibility taken through the illustration, e.g. ramps, glasses, hearing aids, type of wheelchair/mobility aid?

Does the depiction of gender and physical attributes (skin tone, hair, physique, clothing) create non-homogenised representation?

Where themes of identity* are visually shown, is this done in a way that promotes equality, empathy and understanding? 

Where cultural material is shown – this might include architecture, clothing and lifestyles – is it used with consideration for the respective culture?  Is it appropriate, well-researched, respectful visual representation?

How is place represented? Does architecture, flora, fauna and clothing contribute to the establishment of this?

Is it a problem if some characters are not visually represented?  Could this be constructed as an act of silencing?  What might be inferred by their absence?  Does this contribute to or reinforce existing societal inequality or discrimination?

Synergy* of Illustration and Text

How well do the illustrations and text relate to each other?  Where there are divergences* are these deliberate and conscious?  What purpose do they serve?

Are there recurring visual themes or motifs* that add to the book’s meaning?

Do the illustrations enhance the impact of the text or could they be considered ‘pictorial upholstery’* and for decorative purposes only?

Where present, how is information or factual detail conveyed through the illustrations?  Is this accurate and clear? If not, is there a purpose for adopting a different approach? Consider how the illustrations assist the reader’s understanding of the topic.

The Format

Many of the considerations around format and design are not within the remit of the illustrator, although they nonetheless contribute to the visual reading experience. It will be for judges to decide the weight that the following points hold and to assess their overall impact.

Does the size and shape of the book work to showcase the illustration and themes of the book?

Where present, what use is made of the covers, end-papers* and title page and what does this contribute to the overall reading experience?

Is the typography* – typeface, print size, spacing, novelty features* or justification* – integral or intrusive?  What impact does this have on the reading experience?

Does the use of hand-lettered text (if present) add an effective illustrative element to the book?

Consider the use of the page layout (placement*, gutters*, blank space), in what ways do these contribute to or detract from the shaping of the visual narrative?


Colour palette – Choice of colours used to comprise pictures, these can contribute to mood and meaning with sepia tones often used to indicate events happening in the past, blues used to indicate cold or isolation etc. Contrasting and complementary colours can be used to particular effect.

Composition – This refers to how a picture is structured or put together, the point of view that is provided and the elements which are found at the front of an image (in the foreground), at the back (in the background) and which provide the point of focus, often in the midground.

Design choices – The placement of illustration and textual elements which comprise the book together with fonts. This may also include the type of paper – known as stock – the binding used and format. Whilst these contribute to the aesthetics of the book, it is rare that they are influenced by the illustrator.

Divergences – Divergences are when the text and the illustrations contradict one another. This may be deliberate or might show a lack of cohesion. This can be used to create counterpoint, the interpretative or imaginative space that exists between words and pictures in illustrated text. This can empower early visual readers who listen to the words and see the differences shown in the pictures.

End-papers – The interior pages of a book that are glued to the cover, these can be used to great effect to introduce characters, themes or ideas which are relevant to the book.

Foreground – A compositional term for the material that forms the front part of an image.

Gutters – The area on a double page spread where the pages converge during binding, this can be used compositionally to separate areas, or it may be that a gutter margin is employed to avoid elements being ‘lost’ during the production process.

Identity – The visual characteristics that help to create the way characters are represented and shown. This might include size, height, hair colour, eye colour, skin tone, gender, age and use of adaptive equipment that might suggest how dependent or independent an individual character is shown to be.

Justification – This refers to how the text is aligned. The text might be centred, right aligned, left aligned or may be justified to appear as a solid block.

Materials – See medium.

Medium – The materials which are used to create the illustrations, choice of materials can affect both style and impact of the book. For instance, pens, paint, crayon, pastel etc.

Motifs – A recurring visual which gives a weight of significance to a particular theme or subject.

Novelty features – These could be a range of elements, they might include lift-the-flaps, spin-dials, foil-blocking. They can be integral to the story and illustrations or can be used as a type of pictorial upholstery or gimmick.

Pace – In literature, pace, or pacing is the speed at which a story is told (not necessarily the speed at which the story takes place). The pace can be determined by the spreads of illustration, by the width and height of these and by the use of frames and panels.

Pictorial upholstery – Highly embellished, decorative illustrations or graphic elements that do not meaningfully advance the narrative or contribute to the establishment of mood.

Placement – Where characters or objects are placed in an illustration and the impact this creates. This may include the direction characters are facing or moving.; when this is from left to right, it can feel naturalistic but when reversed this can be used to create feelings of discord or unease.

Protected characteristics – The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination based on: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. CILIP recognises that not all marginalised groups are protected under the Equality Act 2010. For example, social class and body size are not listed. We encourage judges to take care to reflect on the representation of any marginalised groups/identities within the books.

Subplots – Storylines that do not form the main part of a narrative, but which nonetheless form a substantial part of the book.

Typography – This includes the choice of fonts, the use of italicisation or bold, the size of the font and any use of hand-lettered text. It may also include typographical effects where words – often onomatopoeic words – like ‘WHAM’ or ‘BAM’ are presented as big, bold shaped images.

Visual techniques and conventions – Visual elements that establish a convention such as the use of speech bubbles and thought clouds that have association with comic strips and graphic novels, illuminated letters as part of fairytales, use of visual puns in works on humour, cinematic or filmic allusions. Illustrations may adhere to or challenge these conventions.