Guardian children's fiction prize 2016 shortlist announced

Historical and contemporary fiction go head-to-head as UK authors Tanya Landman and Alex Wheatle vie with US writer Brian Selznick and Australian Zana Fraillon for the only children’s book award judged by children’s authors

Tanya Landman, who won the Carnegie medal last year for her historical novel Buffalo Soldier, has made the shortlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize for Hell and High Water, set in 18th-century England.

Landman’s novel, one of four titles shortlisted for the award, follows the story of Caleb and his father, showmen for a Punch and Judy show. When Caleb’s father is falsely accused of a crime and transported to the colonies, Caleb is determined to find out the truth. Judge and winner of last year’s prize David Almond called it “beautifully written and wonderfully paced”, adding that Landman “handles a complex, wide-ranging plot with vivacity, verve and skill”.

Hell and High Water is one of two historical novels shortlisted for this year’s award, which is the only children’s fiction prize judged by children’s authors. American novelist Brian Selznick, a former winner of America’s prestigious Caldecott medal, was picked for The Marvels, which weaves together an illustrated story beginning in 1766 with the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and a prose story set in 1990, in which a boy has run away from school to the mysterious house of his uncle. Almond said Selznick was “an original, a creator of books that are engrossing, mind-bending and are also beautiful objects”. The Marvels, he continued, “shows what is happening and what is possible in the extraordinarily inventive world of children’s literature today”.

The remaining two novels on the shortlist are both contemporary: Alex Wheatle’s Crongton Knights takes place on the fictional South Crongton council estate and follows a night of adventure for its hero McKay, and Australian Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow is the story of Subhi, a refugee who has spent his entire life in a detention centre, and his meeting with the scruffy girl Jimmie beyond the fence. Judge SF Said called Fraillon’s contender “moving and memorable”, adding that it “deserves to be read by all who care about our common humanity”, while Almond said that Wheatle’s novel was “elegant, authentic and humane”.

“It hums with the beat of real life and the language sings from the page. This is mature, powerful writing by an author with great talent and great heart,” added Almond.

The winner will be announced on 17 November, joining a lineup of major names who have taken the Guardian children’s fiction prize in the past, from Alan Garner to Diana Wynne Jones and Patrick Ness. Under 18s can also enter the Guardian young critics competition, reviewing one of the longlisted books either as an individual or a school book group to win book tokens, books and a chance to meet the authors.

Almond and Said are joined on this year’s judging panel, which is chaired by Guardian children’s books editor Julia Eccleshare, by the author Kate Saunders, who won the Costa prize for Five Children on the Western Front. “This was my first experience of judging children’s fiction. I was so dazzled by the sheer quality of the storytelling that I had to keep reminding myself I was a grown-up,” said Saunders. “I was impressed by the general simplicity, clarity and accessibility – these writers never lose sight of their audience.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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