FINALLY, the winners of the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Awards were announced today. Huge congratulations to Caroline Pignat, who won her second GG for her beautiful book, The Gospel Truth. Along with Rachna Gilmore and David Poulsen, I had the privilege of being on the peer assessment committee for the Children’s Literature (Text) Award this year. As part of that task, we each read the 148 novels submitted for consideration – all between mid-April and the end of August. More than one book a day, and many were 300+ pages. What an incredible (and somewhat intimidating) learning experience!
Never having done this before, I had no idea how I would go about choosing from such a fine collection of books. But as I read, certain books simply emerged; their characters, stories and words all stayed with me long after I’d finished reading. I went to our Ottawa meeting in early September naively believing it would take only a couple of hours for the three of us to discuss the short-listed books and come to a consensus re the five finalists and one winner.
I was wrong.
It was more like ten hours of intense discussion and debate that left both my brain and body exhausted, but I think we all left the room feeling like we’d done a good job. We also collaborated on this brief, yet hard-to-write, jury statement:
Caroline Pignat’s The Gospel Truth is the powerful and poignant story of 16-year-old Phoebe, a slave girl in 1858 Virginia. Written in lyrical and elegant free verse, it is an unflinching look at the brutality of slavery and Phoebe’s struggle for freedom and truth. Ultimately, this is a story of hope.
We weren’t allocated sufficient words to mention that the story is told in six different voices. The other four finalists, all of them excellent books, are Young Man With Camera (Emil Sher), We Are All Made of Molecules (Susin Nielsen), Are You Seeing Me? (Darren Groth), and Audrey (Cow) (Dan Bar-el). Congratulations to one and all. There sure are a lot of amazing children’s authors writing brilliant, diverse books in Canada today. Happy reading!