'It's hard to know at first what exactly excellence is, but the more you read the clearer it becomes.' Meet our Young Judge for the 2022 KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards

April 2022
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Our annual KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards are the leading children’s books awards in Ireland, recognising excellent books created by Irish authors and illustrators. Each year, a Young Judge sits on the judging panel, representing the voice of young people in Ireland as they pick our six winners.

Here, we catch up with Clíodhna Jackson, our Young Judge for the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards 2022.

Clíodhna Jackson, Young Judge for the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards 2022
Clíodhna Jackson, Young Judge for the KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards

Well hello, Clíodhna. Tell us a bit about yourself!  

My name is Clíodhna Jackson and this year I am the young judge for the Children's Books Ireland KPMG awards. I am a Transition Year student in Coláiste Íosagáin in Dublin and an avid reader. I have always been a big reader. I read books in English and Irish. Reading is so relaxing and really lets me escape the business of normal life. I love to experience what the characters are feeling and get into the mindset of the characters. When I'm not reading, I walk my dog, Suki, and swim in the sea.

How did you come to be a Young Judge – why did you want to get involved?

It was my English teacher who asked me whether I would be interested in being a young judge for the awards. She was a judge herself in previous years and had put other students forward before. She knew I had a great love of reading and so asked whether I would be interested in being a young judge for the awards.

As soon as I heard what it entailed, I knew that it would be something that I would love to do. Reading loads of books and discussing them is my idea of heaven! At the start of the summer I had a Zoom meeting with Jenny, the Deputy CEO at Children’s Books Ireland. She explained the process to me and that was that! I got my first parcel of books that August and our first meeting was in September.

Talk us through the judging process for the book awards. What are the judging panel looking for in our shortlist and winners?

From the start, I knew that I would have to keep on top of the reading if I wanted to get all the books finished in time for the judging. We usually had to read around 20 to 25 books a month, a mixture of picture books, children's books and novels for teens and young adults. I tried to read around 5 or 6 books a week, but of course, that didn't always work out. I always managed to finish the reading on time though!

I would say that it never felt like a requirement because it was so enjoyable to read the books, each one so different from the others. I tried to keep notes as I went along in a notebook. From the start, the emphasis of the panel was on excellence. Pádraic Whyte, the chairman, was very good at explaining what an excellent book was, although it took a while for me to truly understand what that meant.

It was amazing to be able to hear the opinions of the other judges on the panel. The standard was so high, and there were so many amazing books that it was incredibly difficult to choose a shortlist. After a long discussion, we finally reached a decision. In my opinion, all the books that we have chosen are really deserving of this recognition.

Cover images of shortlist for KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards 2022
The titles selected by the judging panel for this year's KPMG Children's Books Ireland Awards shortlist

What was your favourite part of it all?

My favourite part of the judging process was definitely attending the meetings. Working with the other judges and hearing all their thoughts on the books was amazing. Each of the judges are so knowledgeable about both their fields of expertise and also the books in general. They were so welcoming and kind, and I was always encouraged to give my opinion. It was an honour and a privilege to be a part of this judging panel and to work with the other judges.

I have honestly had a brilliant time judging the books and attending the meetings, the discussions and debates were always so lively and interesting! Although there were a few times where the panel was divided, we always managed to reach a conclusion and throughout the process there was a sense of cooperation and celebration of the books. The experience was incredible!

On the subject of excellence... it's hard to know at first what exactly excellence is, but I promise that the more you read the clearer it becomes.

What advice would you give to next year’s Young Judge? 

Well, I would advise them to keep on top of their reading and their notes, but most of all to really enjoy the process. Definitely to listen to what the other judges have to say and to give your opinion on the books whenever you can. The first few meetings were quite daunting – having the courage to speak your opinion always is. Once I had done it a few times, though, it was easy. The panel were really encouraging and everyone was always accepting of differing views. On the subject of excellence, as I have said, it's hard to know at first what exactly excellence is, but I promise that the more you read the clearer it becomes. Again, the most important thing is to enjoy the process!

And finally, just because we’re nosy, what are you reading right now? 

Well, after having six months of knowing which books I was going to read, and when, I confess, it has been really strange getting back into picking my own books again! At the moment I'm getting a lot of recommendations from my school librarian, my family and friends, so I'm not really reading just one genre or author. I recently finished Graham Norton's book Home Stretch, which I really enjoyed. I love books where character development is central to the storyline. I have a few more lined up now, as well, to be read over the next while. In Irish, I'm reading lots of books by Ré Ó Laighléis and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne as well as other authors. I'm really lucky that my school has an amazing library, so I'm never really stuck for choices!