For the first time this year the organisers of the Medals took the decision to judge and announce longlists. Their aim is to shine a spotlight on some of the brightest authors and illustrators in the running for the esteemed awards and to reflect the high number of quality children’s books being published (you can read the full press release online). For those of us working with young readers on the shop floor, it essentially means that we’ve got a handy, quality guaranteed, list of books that’s sure to engage readers. To follow is our own Lizzie Ryder’s roundup of committee members’ thoughts on the twenty books that are in the running for the Carnegie medal:
The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond (Walker Books)
A timeless rollicking adventure set in the strange and wonderful world of the circus. Want to find out more? Listen to the brilliant Guardian Children’s Books podcast with David Almond and Oliver Jeffers.
All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry (Templar)
Described as brutal and provocative, this is a page-turning mystery about a girl who is reviled by her community when she returns, silent, four years after being abducted and held captive. The idea of the tragic heroine and women’s voices are central to the book. The New York Times review offers a really interesting perspective on these themes.
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks (Penguin)
A dark and tense thriller that has something of the Saw film franchise about it! A troubled teenager is kidnapped and imprisoned with five other victims. The characters are superbly drawn but the real success is the pacing. The ending catches you completely unawares and you’ll find yourself thinking about it for days afterward – make sure you’ve got somebody else to discuss it with when you’ve finished!
The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston (David Fickling Books)
Written by The Times poetry and art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston, this is a lyrical and poetic novel that takes on some hard hitting and expansive themes. From fellow nominee Annabel Pitcher’s review:
“The Child’s Elephant has the feel of a great epic. Not just a tale of two children fighting to survive, this is a big and important story about war, love, loss and the enduring power of friendship in the most brutal of circumstances. The slow-burn plot may not suit some readers, but those who persevere will be rewarded with a novel that smoulders in the mind long after the final page.”
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (Bodley Head)
An utterly convincing and beautifully written account of the European settlement of what is now New England. The tale is skilfully told from two perspectives: the 11 year old Native American, Little Hawk, and that of John Wakely an English settler. The two boys meet only for a few moments and yet have a profound effect on one another’s lives. Ideas of ancestry, our impact on the land and, as we witness the two communities collide, our impact on one another are interwoven throughout the narrative. Stylistically the writing is incredibly brave – there’s a moment half way through that will have you holding your breath. A strong contender to be shortlisted. You can listen to Susan Cooper reading from the book and answering questions on the Guardian’s children’s books site.
After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross (Oxford University Press)
Dystopian fiction that’s close to home – After Tomorrow is a timely and pertinent novel which imagines the fallout from the collapse of the British Banks. Brothers Matt and Taco find themselves fleeing everything they once knew and landing in France as refugees. Though by no means an easy read it’s a real page turner. The characterisation is great – particularly that of Bob, a streetwise ‘fixer’ and handy person to know, who encapsulates so many of the uneasy moral questions that the novel raises.
Heroic by Phil Earle (Penguin)
Inspired by SE Hinton’s The Outsiders and by the battles facing young soldiers all over the world, this is a devastating novel about brotherhood and sacrifice. Phil Earle’s characters are always superbly drawn but in Heroic so is the setting. The somewhat foreboding Ghost estate, with its looming towers, has as much a part to play as any of the main characters.
Blood Family by Anne Fine (Doubleday Children’s Books)
A great read about a sensitive issue. A young boy is taken into care, first to a foster family and then adopted. The story is seen through various characters, his social worker, foster mum, adoptive parents and step sister. He grows up and becomes an adult with lots of issues bubbling away beneath the surface.
Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)
From debut author C. J. Flood, this is a truly beautiful book which charts the summer that changes one girl’s life. Set in rural England, everything is turned upside down when travellers move into the field next door to Iris. The general story may seem familiar but as Simon Mason puts it in his review “Infinite Sky is very much its own story.”
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (Electric Monkey)
Another debut novel, this psychological thriller follows an angry teen who, one fateful summer, becomes part of something so terrible it comes close to destroying him. A memorable read, full of pace, tension and raw emotion but a word of warning, there’s been some discussion about this book’s suitability for younger readers due to its strong language.
Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti (Walker Books)
Quite different from the other longlisted titles, it’s a unique and gripping story about warring monkey factions in Calcutta. Don’t be deceived by the animal characters, it’s a brutal exploration of the politics of power. There’s action, gore and real menace all told from the monkey’s point of view.
Hostage Three by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Shortlisted for In Darkness last year Nick Lake bring us an explosive and fast paced thriller in Hostage Three. Seized by a band of Somali pirates, Amy’s family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage 1 is Dad – the most valuable. Amy is Hostage 3. As she builds a strange bond with one of her captors, it becomes brutally clear that the price of a life and its value are very different things…
The Positively Last Performance by Geraldine McCaughrean (Oxford University Press)
Set in a mouldering and derelict theatre a girl recruits the resident ghosts to help revive its fortunes. It’s got a great ensemble of characters and a magical setting – no wonder it’s been receiving a lot of love from librarians on social media at the moment. Watch out for the plot twist!
Brock by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke)
As the title might suggest this is a tale about one boy’s determination to save a badger cub. Described as a bleakly poetic tale, it is nevertheless tense and fast paced. The incredible challenge Nicky sets for himself highlights the real value of nature and the importance of protecting wildlife. Published by Barrington Stoke this is particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers of 13+.
Binny for Short by Hilary McKay (Hodder Children’s Books)
Hilary McKay’s gift for characters and comedy make this a warm and entertaining read. Binny’s life changed when her father died and her Aunt Violet got rid of her dog Max. But when Violet dies, leaving the family a cottage in Cornwall, it changes once again.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Jonathan Cape)
A dark modern fairy tale: Jeremy can hear voices, but when he admits this, the townspeople of Never Better treat him like an outsider. Life has been tough after his mother left and his father became a recluse, but one voice in particular proves his salvation: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm.
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Indigo)
Shortlisted for her debut novel My Sister Lives on The Mantelpiece in 2012, Ketchup Clouds is a superb second offering from the lovely Annabel Pitcher. It’s got a great premise: wrestling with a terrible secret, 15 year old Zoe finds herself writing to death row inmate in America. A realistic exploration of guilt, the novel builds tension with the slow reveal of Zoe’s secret through her letters.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Faber & Faber)
Winner of Best Story in the Blue Peter Book Awards, we’ve heard nothing but good things about this novel. It’s an old fashioned kind of story (and that’s by no mean a pejorative term here) that’s invited comparisons to Noel Streatfield. Following an elusive cello melody over the rooftops of Paris, Sophie is determined to find her long lost mother, before it is too late.
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Andersen Press)
Winner of the 2013 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Incredibly sensitive book about a boy who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he tries to escape his problems at home. Read chair of the judging panel Julia Eccleshare’s comments here. You can also read the first chapter on the Guardian children’s books site.
The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)
A great book suitable for teenagers, it involves the reader in aspects of two cultures, living side by side but divided by The Wall. You gradually get the suggestion that this is the manmade wall between Israel and Palestine, from clues in the story, but Sutcliffe doesn’t tell the reader and some might not know. It is a story of two parts: one of the unknown as Joshua crawls through a tunnel under the wall and faces the people on the other side; and the other into his past and his strained relationship with his mother. As Joshua spends more time thinking of the people on the other side and how he can help them, the more dangerous his life becomes. The tension carries right through the book and the ending isn’t necessarily what the reader might imagine. A strong contender to be shortlisted.
Look out for our Greenaway feature in the next couple of days, where we will be similarly looking at the twenty illustrated books in the running for this year’s Award. The shortlists for both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway medal will be announced on Tuesday 18th March, with the winners being announced in June.