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For the first time ever in the history of both the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards, winners from the United States have triumphed in both categories announced today, Monday 19th June, at a ceremony at RIBA in London.

49-year-old music manager turned novelist Ruta Sepetys wins the CILIP Carnegie Medal for the first time for Salt to the Sea (Puffin), a New York Times-bestselling novel that explores the events leading up to the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the worst maritime disaster in history in which over 9,000 people, mainly refugees, perished. The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, with a family connection to the disaster, Ruta spent three years researching the book, walking the path of some of those refugees who saw the boat as their salvation but who ultimately lost their lives.

57-year-old Lane Smith, acclaimed US artist and author, wins the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustrations in There is a Tribe of Kids (Two Hoots)a picture book exploring the power of collective nouns and the importance of play and exploration. In his speech, Smith credited leading British illustrators, including Brian Wildsmith, Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury – with their stylised and quirky techniques – as his inspiration as a young illustrator starting out.

Ruta Sepetys, who was previously shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2012 for Between Shades of Grey, commented: “As a writer, I am drawn to underrepresented stories and history in hiding. I spend a lot of time pondering the question – why do some parts of history penetrate our collective consciousness while others remain hidden? When I began work on the novel years ago, I had no way of knowing that when it was published, we would be amidst a refugee crisis. Then and now, my thoughts return to the children.” She added: “History allows us to examine decisions. Yes, history can be full of sadness and pain but it also shines light on hope, freedom, courage and the miraculous nature of the human spirit. History divided us, but through reading we are united in study and remembrance. That is the power of books.”

Lane Smith commented: “Years ago, when graduating from art school, I was told that my work was too stylised-looking for the kids’ book market in the States and I would probably have to move to London where they took a more enlightened view of quirky artworks. I told my instructor that he was wrong, and that there were many wonderful books being published in the States, and showed him my books by Wildsmith, Blake, Browne, Steadman, Cousins, Oxenbury, Foreman and Burningham. And my instructor politely informed me that those were all British artists.. to be acknowledged from the land of many of my favourite illustrators is an enormous honour.”

Tricia Adams, Chair of the 2017 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals judging panel, said: “It is a tremendous privilege to judge the Medals in this double anniversary year. The books that have triumphed demonstrate the vitally important role literature and illustration play in helping children and young people to understand the world around them, be that through a historical lens or through the natural world around them. These, and the Amnesty Honour commendations selected from the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlists, poignantly prove the importance of stories in making voices heard – especially those of the dispossessed – encouraging the young reader to look beyond the headlines.”

Sepetys and Smith each receive £500 worth of books to donate to their local library, a specially commissioned golden medal and a £5,000 cash prize from the Colin Mears Award.

Themes of refugees and displaced children carry on into the Amnesty CILIP Honour category, coincidentally announced at the beginning of Refugee Week. From the CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist, the Honour went to Zana Fraillon for The Bone Sparrow (Orion Children’s Books), the story of a boy living in an immigration detention centre in Australia. The Amnesty CILIP Honour for the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist went to Francesca Sanna for her debut, The Journey, a picture book depicting a family fleeing their war-torn country in search of refuge.

Nicky Parker, Chair of judges for the Amnesty CILIP Honour, said: “Stories are some of the very best ways to open children’s eyes to the world around them and to stimulate empathy and solidarity. The Amnesty CILIP Honour judges – who are all passionate advocates for children’s rights and books – hotly debated the 16 titles on the Medals shortlists. Ultimately, we decided we could not ignore the two books that bravely, skilfully and sensitively address the global refugee crisis.”

Widely regarded as the greatest of all accolades available to a children’s writer or illustrator, the annually awarded Medals are unique in that they are judged solely by librarians. First awarded in 1937, the roll-call of past winners from the Carnegie Medal include: Arthur Ransome, C.S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Noel Streatfield, Meg Rosoff and Penelope Lively. Winners from the Kate Greenaway Medal, first awarded 60 years ago in 1957, include Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes, Janet Ahlberg, Quentin Blake, Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham. This is the second year that the Medals are joined by the Amnesty CILIP Honour, a commendation for the book on each shortlist that most distinctively illuminates, upholds or celebrates freedoms.


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Puffin)

It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories. They converge in a desperate attempt to board an overcrowded ship in a Baltic port, which is tragically then sunk by a torpedo. Based on a true story, the incident was the worst maritime tragedy ever.

Ruta Sepetys is the author of acclaimed YA novel, Between Shades of Grey. Born and raised in Michigan in a family of Lithuanian descent, Ruta now lives with her husband in Tennessee. Ruta was a highly successful promoter of classical music concerts, booking and touring with orchestras worldwide, before turning to writing full-time. In 2015, Ruta was awarded The Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Center writing residency, where she interacted with other leading international artists, writers and thinkers. Ruta discovered the story on which Salt to the Sea is based originally through a family connection and discovered that a cousin of her father’s should have been on board but a fortunate accident near the port meant he missed boarding, saving his life. The book has recently been picked up for development by Universal Pictures.


There is a Tribe of Kids illustrated and written by Lane Smith (Two Hoots)

Lane Smith takes us on a colourful adventure through the natural world, following a child as he weaves through the jungle, dives under the ocean and soars into the sky. Along the way he makes friends and causes mischief with a dazzling array of creatures both large and small – but can he find a tribe of his own? Full of warmth and humour, There Is a Tribe of Kids is a playful exploration of wild childhood – of curiosity, discovery and what it means to belong.

Artist and author Lane Smith‘s books include the New York Times bestselling It’s a Book and its companion, It’s a Little Book, the Caldecott Honor-winning Grandpa Green and his quirky collaborations with John Scieszka including The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. In 2012, the Eric Carle Museum named him a Carle Artist for “lifelong innovation in the field of children’s picture books,” and in 2014 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Illustrators. Lane Smith lives in a small town in rural Connecticut, USA with his wife, the designer Molly Leach.


From the CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist:

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion Children’s Books)

Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice Jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing with it unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made out of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.

Zana Fraillon lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and three sons. She worked as a primary school teacher before having children, and has had picture books and middle grade fiction published in Australia.

From the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist:

The Journey illustrated and written by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)

What is it like to have to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange? A mother and her two children set out on such a journey; one filled with fear of the unknown, but also great hope. Based on her interactions with people forced to seek a new home, and told from the perspective of a young child, The Journey is full of significance for our time.

Francesca Sanna is an Italian illustrator and graphic designer based in Switzerland. After she finished her studies in Cagliari, the main city of her beloved Mediterranean island, Sardinia, she said goodbye to her family and her cat, Berta, and moved to Germany before and Switzerland after, in order to follow her dream and be able to work as an illustrator. She graduated in 2015 from the Lucerne School of Art and Design with focus on Illustration. The Journey is her first picture book.