Donnelly ‘s ‘Light’ still shines bright in UK

April 28, 2007
By Ben Beagle

A former “Tale for Three Counties” book finds itself on the short list for a British prize celebrating the best children’s literature of the past 70 years.

Jennifer Donnelly ‘s young adult novel, A Northern Light , was honored with a Carnegie Medal in 2003 as the year’s best for children, and now the committee that awards the Medal have named Donnelly ‘s A Gathering Light (the book’s British title) and nine other books to a list from which one book will be chosen through online voting for a “Carnegie of Carnegies.”

“I was honored and humbled and a bit disbelieving,” Donnelly said this week before departing on a trip to Paris.

The CILIPCarnegie Medal is among the most prestigious awards for children’s literature. The award celebrates its 70th anniversary this summer.

In 2006, A Northern Light (the American title) was featured in the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Donnelly visited each county that March.

The novel tells the story of Mattie Gokey, a young woman coming of age in the Adirondacks at the turn of the last century, who must choose between family duties and her desire to go to college. Woven through Mattie’s fictional story is the real-life murder of Grace Brown.

The timelessness of the two girls’ story is what continues to draw readers to the novel, Donnelly said.

“Though it is now 2007, not 1906, it is still difficult for many people – men as well as women – to find the confidence and courage needed to choose their own paths, to believe in their dreams,” Donnelly said.

The list also includes Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights , the book that prompted the title change of Donnelly ‘s book.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust and a member of the judging panel, told London’s The Independent that the best children’s literature is able to deal with real-world themes as well as create rich fantasy worlds.

“It’s certainly a very important function of literature to give children a framework to explore the world,” Douglas said, “but the fantasy worlds of Pullman and Philippa Pearce’s ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ are just as important in terms of imagining worlds and laying the foundations for creativity in adult life.”

The winning novel will be announced at the British Library on June 21. To vote (by June 14), go to

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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