By History Lecturer and Teaching Resources Librarian Rose Roberto

A petition to reinstate Kate Greenaway's name in the literary award which bore her name for decades is gathering pace.

Created by BGU Librarian and History Lecturer Rose Roberto and illustrator and bookseller Tamsin Rosewell, it has received backing from a range of illustrators and writers including Patrick Ness, Candy Gourlay, Philip Pullman, and Frank Cottrell-Boyce. According to the organisers:

"The Kate Greenaway Medal is the oldest British literary award focused on illustration. It remains one of very few that highlights the contribution of illustrators and actively promotes the importance of their work. Kate Greenaway’s own work is a hugely important part of the heritage of the British Book Industry; she remains an influence on illustrators today and should also be recognised as one of Britain’s great female artists. In an age when illustrators' names are still very often left off promotion and reviews for books, we feel it is vital to retain her name in association with this award."

In 2023, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) which runs the awards renamed The Greenaway Medal as The Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration. The organisers describe this as "branding expediency" and argue that "The name of an accomplished woman, whose work is directly relevant to the award, has been removed and replaced with that of a male industrialist and a sponsoring corporation. This feels hugely insensitive, and ironically inappropriate when it awards a profession that still battles to be recognised." The petition calls on CILIP to reinstate Kate Greenaway’s name on the award before the 2024 nominations are made.

The petition has now garnered more than 2700 signatures. Click here to add your signature to this cause.

Below, Rose Roberto shares more about the petition...

'The Kate Greenaway Medal rebrand is misguided, and thousands are calling for her name to be restored.

After signing our petition, award-winning author Patrick Ness, tweeted: "I know the librarians who run the medals do their absolute damnedest to make them the best awards in the world (which they are), but I too would love to see the Kate Greenaway name return. It’s such a specific honour on its own and honours a foundational female illustrator." A Monster Calls, written by Ness, was illustrated by Jim Kay. Jim Kay won the 2011 Kate Greenaway medal for illustrating A Monster Calls.

Named awards have meaning. Individuals who have awards named after them should embody the values of the organisation they represent and/or the spirit for which an award was given. Many illustrators not only relate to Kate Greenaway's work and feel inspired by it — she, as a person, represents real struggles with whom illustrators today can relate. As a woman living a century ago, she lacked many opportunities, especially educational ones, that men were given more readily. This petition reflects the fact that writers and illustrators of all genders want this award to be named after a woman. It also shows that they want it to be named after a fellow illustrator. The Kate Greenaway Medal has always been a privilege for librarians to give to illustrators, recognising their talent and their specific work in a particular year. CILIP’s argument that librarians now somehow need to make literature awards about libraries is self-aggrandising and utterly bizarre.

Greenaway’s name has been a constant and consistent example for many aspiring illustrators and writers in the English speaking world. Canadian Duncan Weller writes: "I have heard of the Kate Greenaway Medal, probably as early as my teenage years when I first thought of becoming a writer and illustrator of children’s picture[s]. It is a great mistake to change this name. Female illustrators need more recognition and especially those as qualified as Kate Greenaway."

Oxford-based Helen Cooper posts: "I write and illustrate. They are entirely different. And for some reason one is often seen as more important than the other. I wonder if giving both the awards the same name was a misguided attempt to adjust that? I think it will have the opposite effect so am signing the petition. The Kate Greenaway award is so important for illustrators as a standalone award. We don’t want it to be the lesser of the Carnegie’s — which it almost certainly will become."

London-based Phil Bradley wrote: "This is an absolute disgrace and very disappointing the CILIP has made this decision. It is wholly inappropriate and completely out of step with how members and wider society feel."

It is troubling is that the CILIP’s rebranding campaign was launched in September 2022, with little fanfare, and little consultation. There were many surprised librarians who contacted both Rosewell and I personally complaining of a lack of transparency in this decision. Had any sort of proper research been conducted before the name change (ironically, the kind of research that librarians excel at), launching a campaign to remove the Greenaway name would not have occurred.

This year, I ran a CILIP Shadowing Awards scheme at the Bishop Grosseteste University Library (BGU). BGU houses one of the largest children’s literature collections in a UK university and has been collecting two copies of Greenaway and Carnegie Medal winning books since the 1950s.

During the shadowing scheme process, I first became aware that Kate Greenaway’s name had been removed from the medal. When I sent CILIP an email querying this decision, requesting that the decision be reversed back to the 2022 award name which was "Yoto Kate Greenaway", I heard nothing back from CILIP for weeks. While waiting for a response, Rosewell and I decided to launch our petition. We were honoured that the first signatory was Jackie Morris, who won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2019.

James Mayhew eloquently explains why we undertook this campaign and why so many have signed the petition. "Kate Greenaway was a pioneering woman," he said. "It is right and proper that she is remembered, celebrated, and has her name attached to this important prize. Losing this link with an actual illustrator greatly lessens the significance of such an award."

If you sign, you’ll be joining others such as Philip Pullman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jackie Morris, Dapo Adeola, Rob Biddulph, Lydia Monks, Thomas Taylor, Candy Gorlay and Patrick Ness.'

This story was first published by The Bookseller.

Hear Rose and Tamsin speak on The Illustration Department podcast here.

14th August 2023

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