Waterstones children's book prize goes to 'mesmerising' debut adventure story

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars praised for ‘good, old-fashioned storytelling’ that recalls Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

A novel inspired by childhood travels to the volcanic island of La Gomera and the traditional stories of the Canary islands has scooped the Waterstones children’s book prize for a 27-year-old poet and playwright.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut The Girl of Ink and Stars was named overall winner of the prestigious award by children’s laureate Chris Riddell at a ceremony in the bookselling chain’s flagship store in London’s Piccadilly.

Influenced by Philip Pullman’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, the book was described by Waterstones managing director James Daunt as “wonderful”. “It’s a story that’s quite timeless, and I expect people will be reading it in years to come,” he said, adding that it represented the “heart” of the chain’s mission, which is to promote “good, old-fashioned storytelling”.

The book tells the story of cartographer’s daughter Isabella Riosse. She lives on the island of Joya, which is reigned over by a strict governor. When her best friend Lupa disappears into a forbidden forest, she volunteers to find her using the island’s myths and the maps given to her by her father.

After the ceremony on Thursday night, Millwood Hargrave, who is a graduate of Cambridge and Oxford and was a Barbican Young Poet, told the Guardian that she had not expected to win and felt “very grateful and happy”. “Normally in my head, when something good happens, there is that voice saying ‘you don’t deserve it’. But this feels different, this feels like I’ve done a good thing,” she said. “No matter what the future brings, I’ll have done this. I couldn’t have asked for a better start for my career.”

Judge Florentyna Martin, who is Waterstones’ buyer for children’s books, described the novel as a joy to read. “It is always exciting when we see this level of outstanding talent in a new writer, and Kiran has crafted a mesmerising world full of myths, magic and adventure that evokes an atmosphere akin to Pullman’s His Dark Materials,” she said.

The £5,000 prize champions new and emerging talent in children’s writing and is unique in that it is voted for solely by booksellers. The Girl of Ink and Stars beat strong competition for the overall award from Lizzy Stewart’s There’s a Tiger in the Garden, which won the category for illustrated books, and Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence, which took the prize for older fiction.

Stewart’s book was praised by Martin as “bold, bright and beautiful” picture book that “leaps off the page”. Lawrence’s debut Orangeboy was praised for its truthful and gripping storytelling, as well as its “rounded, believable teen characters”.

Daunt said the three books showed that the trend for children’s books by celebrities had not pushed other writers out of the market. He was relaxed about the use of ghostwriters to produce books branded under the names of TV, sports and reality stars. “Ultimately the quality of the book will out,” he said. “If a celebrity brings people into a bookshop and brings people into reading books, it is all for the good.”

He did add a caveat, however. “If a celebrity is producing tosh, then readers won’t come back for another one. It’s like bad TV, bad films or bad anything. The only thing that really works is quality.”


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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