Manon Steffan Ros

Blue Book of Nebo Wins Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing

The winners of the UK’s longest-running and best-loved book awards for children and young people, the Yoto Carnegies, were announced today in a live-streamed ceremony at The Barbican. For the first time in the awards almost 90-year history, the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing is awarded to a book in translation – The Blue Book of Nebo (Firefly Press), written and translated by Manon Steffan Ros.

Told through the dual narrative of a mother and son in post-apocalyptic Nebo, this “compelling, conceivable” story explores Welsh identity and culture, and offers a beautiful appreciation of language. The original Welsh publication, Llyfr Glas Nebo, won multiple awards, including the 2019 Wales Book of the Year.

Jeet Zdung has won the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration for Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear(Kingfisher, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Books). This is the second consecutive year that a graphic novel has clinched the prize. Written and inspired by the real life of Vietnamese wildlife conservationist Dr Trang Nguyen, the “beautiful” manga-inspired illustrations – including scenic watercolours and detailed, pencil sketched journal entries – work together to offer “something new to discover on each re-reading” and inspire and educate young wildlife activists.

The Yoto Carnegies celebrate outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration and are unique in being judged by an expert panel of children’s and youth librarians, including 12 librarians from CILIP, the library and information association’s Youth Libraries Group.

Selected from shortlists of seven and six titles respectively, both winners were praised by the judges for providing an “immersive” reading experience, addressing questions about how we live now and how this might affect the future – from the domestic, day-to-day perspective in The Blue Book of Nebo, to environmental and animal protection in Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear.

Each year thousands of reading groups in schools and libraries in the UK and around the world get involved in the Awards, with children and young people ‘shadowing’ the judging process, debating and choosing their own winners. They have voted for their favourites from this year’s shortlist and have chosen I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys for the Yoto Carnegie Shadowers’ Choice Medal for Writing, and The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton for the Yoto Carnegie Shadowers’ Choice Medal for Illustration.

Sepetys previously won the Carnegie Medal for Writing in 2017 for Salt to the Sea and was shortlisted in 2021 for The Fountains of SilenceI Must Betray You, a YA novel set during the Romanian Revolution, was called “compelling”, “captivating” and “a must-read” by shadower Grace from The Abbey Readers, and Giselle from HAEC Books and Biscuits Carnegie Shadowers group described it as a “powerful and moving historical fiction novel. . . The author explores the themes of freedom, betrayal, and hope in a way that is both thought-provoking and relevant to our own lives.”

The Comet – a touching picture book about a father and daughter who move from the country to the city and are searching for a feeling of home – was praised by Darcy-Belle at Chandlings Prep School for its “bright and colourful illustrations” and Logan at The Great Bookish Club said it was “full of imagination and adventure.” Todd-Stanton was longlisted for the Medal for Illustration in 2018 for The Secret of Black Rock.

The winners were revealed at an in-person ceremony held at The Barbican, which was live-streamed and watched by shadowing groups around the country. The awards were hosted by former Children’s Laureate Lauren Child CBE, who won the Carnegie Medal for Illustration – then known as the Kate Greenaway Medal – in 2000 for her first Charlie and Lola book, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato.

Janet Noble, Chair of Judges for The Yoto Carnegies 2023, said:

“From an incredibly strong shortlist, our panel of librarian judges have debated long and hard to choose our two worthy winners of the Yoto Carnegie Medals 2023. In The Blue Book of Nebo, the world building and distinct voices of the two main characters, the son and his mother, are expertly realised and the reader is compelled to question their own relationship with the modern world. Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear is a beautiful story, elegantly told, which brings together a global view of conservation and an empowering true story of an inspiring female environmentalist, told through dazzling manga art and watercolours. Jeet has crafted every illustration to immerse the reader, just as Manon draws the reader in completely with her vivid, deliberate prose. Thanks to the young readers far and wide who have engaged with our shortlists and voted for their own deserving Shadowers’ Choice Medal recipients. Huge congratulations to all four of our Yoto Carnegie medal winners for this year, who demonstrate the best of children’s writing and illustration in its myriad of forms.”

Prolific Welsh writer Manon Steffan Ros lives in Tywyn, North Wales. She has written over 23 books for adults and children and is four-times winner of the Tir na n’Og Wales Children’s Book Awards. The Blue Book of Nebo is Ros’ first YA novel to be published in English, and is published by British Book Awards Wales Small Press of the Year, Firefly Press. The judges admired the “appreciation of language, reading and literature” and described it as “heartbreaking”, “poignant” and “rich with Welsh heritage.” Following the success of The Blue Book of Nebo, Firefly have since acquired two middle-grade titles by Ros, Feather (Pluen), and Me and Aaron Ramsey (Fi ac Aaron Ramsey), to be published in English in 2024.

Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing winner, Manon Steffan Ros, said:

“I used to see the word Carnegie on the covers of my favourite books as a child, and the fact that The Blue Book of Nebo now has that honour bestowed upon it means more than I can say – and to be the first book in translation to win the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing is a source of great delight. One of the greatest privileges of my life has been the fact that I was raised through the medium of the Welsh language, and having access to two languages has brought me so much joy and opportunity. There’s a huge, lively, thriving Welsh language cultural scene that I’m honoured to be a part of. Each language offers a unique and enriching perspective on the world, and so literature in translation has the potential to enhance our lives greatly. Your favourite book might not yet be translated into a language that you understand.”

Comic artist-illustrator Jeet Zdung grew up in and still lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. He uses diverse drawing styles, from realistic depictions to cartoon, manga, and Vietnamese-Japanese folk styles, to create multiform works for readers of all ages. He has won several awards, including a Silent Manga Audition Excellence Award for his manga Stand Up and Fly. Considered alongside last year’s Illustration Medal winner Danica Novgorodoff for Long Way Down, written by Jason Reynolds, these two graphic novels demonstrate the range of storytelling this form can offer readers. The judges praised Zdung’s “clever use of panelling” and infusion of graphic novel and manga styles to deliver “drama and impact” as well as creating “perfect synergy” between the visuals and the text.

Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration winner, Jeet Zdung, said:

“When I was a child, I always wished that I could create my own cartoon movies. The process of creating the book Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear was a journey to satisfy the child’s longing inside of me – to create an immersive movie on paper using influences of comics and manga. Together with Trang Nguyen, we hope these books will contribute to the conservation of wildlife by sharing with the readers what we know, what we love and care about. For me, this is a long and enduring journey. Winning the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration is a great honour. We hope that the impact of the prize will be felt widely and draw attention to the plight of the Sun Bears and other wildlife.”

The winners each receive £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice, a £5,000 Colin Mears Award cash prize and a newly designed golden medal. For the first time, this year the Shadowers’ Choice winners were also presented with a golden medal. Ros is making her donation to her local library, Tywyn Library in Gwynedd, where she wrote a few of her books when she didn’t have the means to get internet at home. Dr Trang Nguyen and her organization WildAct have set up libraries for children in localities near Vietnamese national parks to heighten their reading skills and knowledge of conservation; Zdung’s donation will be supporting this effort.

Yoto, the innovative, screen-free audio platform for children, is the headline sponsor of the Awards. The Yoto Carnegies are sponsored by ALCS and Scholastic as the official book supplier, with First News as the official media partner for 2023.

You can read Manon Steffan Ros in Conversation with Gary Raymond, here.