Shadows of the Carnegie

Some thoughts about culture

Inspired by Children’s Literature

The Carnegie Prize is awarded to the best in Children’s Literature (although the short list is mostly what we’d call Young Adult) you can find out more about it here. They run a shadowing scheme in which libraries, schools, book clubs etc. can read the short list and offer opinions at the same time as the judges do – although I’m pretty sure public opinion makes no difference.

I’ve been shadowing this years shortlist with work and thought that some of the themes in these books for children were worth talking about. Of the five books I’ve read so far the main characters are:
A young girl threatened with near murderous bullying.
An orphaned young carer in temporary accommodation.
A teenage thief from a single parent family on the run.
A boy born in a refugee camp who hasn’t realised his mother is dying.
A girl left brain damaged after being raped and beaten, whose mum is gone, dad has died, grandfather is in prison and grandma is slowly dying from emphysema.

As you can imagine they are, on occasion, very sad stories. Even the sci-fi stories are filled with real people facing real events: lies, betrayal, confusion, cruelty, loss and death.

But there is also hope in these stories, in fact it is often the case that stories themselves bring hope. (Which is only to be expected when the creators of the stories are authors.)

I think it’s natural to be drawn to these kind of stories as writers, judges and readers; they are the same type of stories Jesus told. His parables are brief but full of realistic characters – the whiny older brother, the self-obsessed successful farmer/businessman, the nagging widow, the woman who manages to lose something very valuable then has to panic clean the house until she finds it (yep, been there!) They fully live in a world that is far from ideal and yet there is hope, the hope of rescue, restoration, retribution, reward and relationship.

There is definitely a role in using the excellent literature aimed at young adults and children as a starting point for discussion of some real world issues, the effects of sin in this world and the role of hope. It’s great motivation to praying for and serving the vulnerable and damaged in our society and others.

It’s also great as a way of evaluating how we teach. Are we realistic about the falleness of our world and the ways that affects young people? Are there issues we would never talk about or do we realise that our young people may be experiencing them? Are we teaching historical events with as much interest, personality and excitement as the real world has?

And most importantly when we talk about hope; are we talking about a hope that helps and heals even the most broken? Are we seeing that gospel hope threaded throughout the Bible? Are we talking about the difference hope has made in our own experiences? Are we talking about a hope that is built on the real person of Jesus – who invites the broken and abandoned into his family and makes them whole?

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