Amazing books for children from the 2015 CILIP Kate Greenaway awards

Prepare to feast your eyes on the very best in children’s book illustration.

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, and is unquestionably the most prestigious award for illustration in children’s books. The Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding picture book and entries are received from all corners of the globe (previous Australian winners are Bob Graham and Freya Blackwood).

Eight books were shortlisted for the Medal this year and the winner, Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, was announced earlier this week.

What a visual treat Shackleton’s Journey is – a non-fiction picture book that tells of the last days of the Heroic Age of Exploration, when Ernest Shackleton attempted to cross the frozen heart of Antarctica. His ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice, and Shackleton and his crew were stranded. Thousands of miles from home, the men of the expedition set out on a desperate trek across the ice in search of rescue.

Fittingly, Grill’s illustrations are dominated by shades of blue and ample use of white space. Contrasting the majestic scale of the Antarctic landscape to the intricacies of the journey, Grill creates a visual catalogue – the crew, the dogs that pulled the sleds, the equipment, and the how-to of cutting through pack-ice. It’s a beautiful book and a deserving winner.

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The 2015 shortlisted books were largely aimed at readers in the 7-12 years bracket, with some wonderfully dark and intriguing stories in the mix. Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl: and the Ghost of a Mouse tells the story of a young girl living in an enormous haunted house. It truly is a book for book lovers – lavishly bound, pages gilded in purple, and endpapers decorated with silver leaves and skulls, it’s gothic-goodness with a modern twist.

Also flirting with dark themes is Tinder, illustrated by David Roberts. Aimed at middle readers, the story centres around mysterious beasts, power and the desire for  riches. Roberts’ monochrome illustrations are splashed with red to create striking contrasts and fierce imagery.

Dark Satanic Mills, illustrated by John Higgins and Marc Olivent, is a graphic novel aimed at children aged 11 and up. Despite what the title and cover illustration may imply, the story is about a young girl’s adventures in a futuristic world. The book has been billed as a ‘modern-day Wizard of Oz’ and Higgins and Olivent, renowned comic artists, have created powerful black and white illustrations that certainly pack a punch.

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Australia’s own Shaun Tan was shortlisted for his delightful futuristic tale, Rules of Summer. Tan’s artwork is instantly recognisable and in his story about the relationship between two boys, he creates quirky characters and mysterious landscapes, cleverly blurring the line between the real and the imaginary.

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For the youngest readers, comes a story about a ‘pongy pooch’ – Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner. Louie the dog has been forced to take a bath and, not feeling comfortable in his freshly washed coat, sets out to recreate his ‘Special Smell’. In doing so, Rayner documents all sorts of (horrible) doggy delights with wonderful watercolour illustrations.

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Rounding out the shortlist are two books dealing with specific issues. Jim’s Lion, illustrated by Alexis Deacon, and The Promise, illustrated by Laura Carlin. Jim’s Lion tells the story of a young boy in hospital facing a life-saving operation – his imaginary lion gives him courage. Although the colours and style of the illustrations are restrained, Deacon’s lion and what it is used to symbolise is bold and confident.

In The Promise, a young thief discovers the error of her actions and learns that change is possible. Carlin uses light and shade to capture grim city-scapes and, by introducing flashes of colour, reveals the changes to the thief’s life and attitudes.

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Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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