Thursday, 14 February 2013

Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2013

Woo hoo - the shortlist for the 2013 book prize has been announced! As a Waterstones children’s bookseller, my colleagues and I were lucky enough to take part in reading the longlist and telling those on high which books we thought were the best, so it’s very interesting to see what has made it to the shortlist. Some titles are a surprise and not necessarily what I would have chosen had it been just little old me - but that, of course, is what makes it interesting; it’d be boring if we all liked the same thing wouldn’t it?

The shortlist is divided into three categories: picture books, young fiction and teenage fiction. These are all books that were published during 2012, and by authors who have written no more than three books, thus are “hidden talent”. Dare I lay down my bets and pick a winner? Truthfully, I have yet to read all of the titles on the shortlist, so I can't honestly say which are the best until I've tasted all of them - and even then I don't know if I'd be able to pick a winner, they are all so different from each other. But... here is the shortlist, and my thoughts and personal favourites so far...

Picture Books
The Journey Home - Fran Preston-Gannon
The Worst Princess - Anna Kemp
Rabbityness - Jo Empson
Lunchtime - Rebecca Cobb
Oh No, George! - Chris Haughton
Can You See Sassoon? - Sam Usher

It’s easy to pick my favourite here: The Worst Princess is just awesome in all ways: funny and clever and witty, and turns gender and fairytale stereotypes on their head. Then I’d pick Oh No, George! as a runner up because it is just SO funny (especially the rather ambiguous ending).

I disliked The Journey Home because I don’t think it does what the author wants it too, and it seems to me that people say they like it simply because of what it is trying to portray than what it actually does. But, in my earlier review, one reader left a very interesting and worthwhile response countermanding my negativity toward it, so again with the 'wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same thing?'

As for the others on the shortlist, Can You See Sassoon? is a fun book with a Where’s Wally feel to it that should bring hours of entertainment to little ones, and Lunchtime is a very sweet, simple and quite appealing story, though I have yet to figure out who really ate the little girl’s lunch! Rabbityness, though, while purportedly about dealing with grief, I found a little odd - there are much books out there that cover this issue.

5-12 Fiction
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law - Jennifer Grey
Wonder - R. J. Palacio
The Wolf Princess - Cathryn Constable

This is a bit harder. Wonder really stands out from the crowd, and it’s a book that absolutely lives up to its title, but I rather suspect that adults probably get more out of it than children of this age are likely to (not that they wouldn’t find it enjoyable - but as this is a children’s book prize, we should perhaps be thinking more specifically about what children will enjoy the most than what I enjoy the most). The Wolf Princess is a wonderful fairytale-type story in fairly traditional vein, but it is quite distinctly a girl’s book, while the fresh and funny Atticus Claw is more appealing cross-gender, has a great but subtle moral, and is likely to have grow into a lovely little adventure series.

But I have yet to read The Secret Hen House Theatre, The Chronicles of Egg, and Barry Loser... Ahh, so many books, so little time.

Teenage Fiction
Throne of Glass - Sarah J Maas
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman
Insignia - S. J. Kincaid
Ketchup Clouds - Annabel Pitcher
Skin Deep - Laura Jarratt

This is even harder to call as there’s a great selection this year. I have yet to read Insignia, but Skin Deep and Ketchup Clouds are both excellently written. Whilst ostensibly being ‘issues’ stories, they cover the whole confusing time of growing up and falling in love, figuring out who you are and what is right and what is wrong. And they are both very good in different ways, making it hard to choose between even just these two, before considering the rest of the pickings.

Meanwhile, Throne of Glass and Seraphina are wonderful examples of a fresh new sci-fi/fantasy take on teenage writing. Throne of Glass is great, and seems to appeal almost equally to boys as it does to girls, but personally I think Seraphina has the edge because of its originality and very strong female heroine who, while she does fall for someone, doesn’t let it cloud her judgement like the Throne of Glass’s heroine. Personally, I think I’d have to pick Seraphina as my teen winner because of sheer originality, brilliant storytelling, and intriguing characters.

Geekhood is fun, tapping into the world of RPG and geeks, which - considering the heaviest male book buyers in the teen world are quite often boys of this ilk - is surprising and slightly shocking that it’s not done more often. Geekhood has been tapped as an 'If you like John Green, you'll love this' - it’s not as good as John Green, though I can see the link between them, and the story’s conclusion is quite refreshing (while everything does work out, it doesn’t work itself out in quite the traditional manner).

So, to summarise, my favourites (so far) are The Worst Princess, Atticus Claw, and Seraphina. And overall? Ummm... errmmm.... how can you compare a picture book with a teen book with a young fiction book? No, I’ll leave that one to the panel!

Previous winners:
2012: The Pirates Next Door - Johnny Duddle (picture book)
2011: Artichoke Hearts - Sita Brahmachari (9-12 fiction)
2010: The Great Hamster Massacre - Katie Davies (5-8 fiction)
2009: The Thirteen Treasures - Michelle Harrison (9-12 fiction)
2008: Ways to Live Forever - Sally Nicholls (teen fiction)
2007: Darkside - Tom Becker (teen fiction)
2006: The Diamond of Drury Lane - Julia Golding (9-12 fiction)
2005: The Cry of the Icemark - Stuart Hill (teen fiction)

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