New review: Early Learning at the British Museum with Nosy Crow

Two more gorgeous board books are now available in the collaborative series between The British Museum and Nosy Crow.  Each book is inspired by the vast British Museum collection and celebrates cultures from all over the world.  As museums across the world are celebrated on International Museum Day, these books are a great way to introduce history to young children and perhaps even follow-up with a visit to the museum itself!

First Words celebrates amazing objects and simple first words and is sure to encourage children to engage with early learning concepts.  Animals brings to life creatures of all shapes and sizes from all over the world, and will inspire curiosity in the natural world.


I think what I love about this series is the combination of history, culture and early language concepts brought together in a lovely format. There are so many fascinating objects to look at and its a great way to explore other cultures even with really young children.


As with previous books in the series, there is a useful index along with QR codes that link to more information about each object.  For children who perhaps don’t have access to the museum this is a great way of bringing history to their homes.

Read my reviews of the previous books here.

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With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me these books to review.



The Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist 2018

It was a huge excitement to be among those attending the ceremony at Foyles Bookshop last night for the announcement of the Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist.

The Klaus Flugge Prize honours publisher Klaus Flugge, a remarkable influence in picture books, and founder of Andersen Press. The Prize awards a published picture book by a debut illustrator with past winners including Nicholas John Frith and Francesca Sanna.

The award is run by some of the most prominent figures in children’s books including Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor of The Guardian, children’s director of the Hay Festival and Anne Marley MBE co-director of Authors Aloud UK. From an impressive longlist of fifteen picture books by debut illustrators, a panel of judges comprising Children’s Laureate and acclaimed illustrator Lauren Child; Francesca Sanna, 2017 Klaus Flugge Prize winner; leading art director Goldy Broad; and Charlotte Colwill, head of children’s books at Foyles, selected a shortlist of five.  Judging by the amazing books on the longlist it must have been a tough decision!

The evening began with a conversation between Julia Eccleshare and Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, who spoke about how she creates her brilliant books, her path to publication and generally inspired the audience about the art of illustration! “Illustration is like poetry….it’s an art form in it’s own right” she said.  It was really quite wonderful and every time I hear someone who creates children’s stories speak like this, I immediately want to put them in front of a crowd of children so they can inspire the next generation of story makers!  After the chat, Lauren went on to announce the shortlist spending a few moments to share why each book had been chosen and what had stood out for the judging panel:

night box

The Night Box, Ashling Lindsay (Egmont)
Written by Louise Greig, editor Melissa Fairley, art editor Tiffany Leeson. Ashling Lindsay is an illustrator with huge potential. This is very accomplished technically, beautifully evocative and the judges were struck by the skilful composition.

My name is not Refugee COVER.indd

My Name is Not Refugee, Kate Milner, (Barrington Stoke) Editor Emma Hargrave, art editor Julie-Ann Murray.  Mood and emotion are beautifully portrayed; Milner chooses to use a limited palette but avoids making it too dark; she draws really well and the book’s construction always leaves space for the reader.


Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, Markus Motum, (Walker Studio) Editor Denise Johnstone-Burt, art editor Louise Jackson.  Motum is definitely an illustrator to watch. Though this is an information book, you feel there is a story being told, with pace and animation. His work reminded the judges of iconic Czech illustrator M Sasek.

the real boat

The Real Boat, Victoria Semykina, (Templar)
Written by Marina Aromshtam, editors Katie Howarth & Lisa Edwards, art editor Genevieve Webster and Maya Schleifer.  There are absolutely beautiful illustrations within the book, some of them exquisitely good, and the judges are excited to see what Semyinka will do next. They particularly admire the skilful change of scale that occurs throughout the little boat’s journey.


Big Box, Little Box, Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) Editor Emma Blackburn. Colour and detail in Underwood’s book are both very pleasing indeed; graphically it is a stand-out picture book with superb use of colour and composition. There’s a slight sense of Lynley Dodd in the way the layout carries you through the story.

Chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare said: “Our expert judges were presented with a very varied set of picture books and have selected a shortlist that feels exciting and full of potential. Each artist, in their different way, successfully guides readers into and through the stories they are telling via their illustration. We were delighted once again to announce the list live at a special event; picture book illustration, as championed by Klaus Flugge throughout his career, deserves proper recognition as an important and vital art form.”

The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.  For more information about the award visit



BLOG TOUR! How to Write a Love Story by Katy Cannon

how to write a love story I’m a hopeless romantic so clearly when I heard about this book I wanted to read it!  How to Write a Love Story by young adult author Katy Cannon, tells the story of Tilly Frost, who has grown up reading her grandmother’s bestselling romance novels. When her grandmother is taken ill, Tilly has to finish her latest work and so begins a brand new chapter in her life, that will bring new meaning to the words ‘love story’.  Written with warmth, humour and a great deal of insight into teenage heartaches, How to Write a Love Story is bound to delight its readers.

I’m delighted to be hosting this stop on the blog tour to celebrate the publication of How to Write a Love Story and to welcome Katy Cannon to the blog. Katy has written several successful YA novels including Love, Lies and Lemon Pies which has been published in eight languages.

Today Katy has written a very special guest post for me to share.  What would you say to your sixteen year old self?  The benefit of hindsight can be hugely revealing and I’m very honoured to share this personal letter written by Katy to her sixteen year old self.

A Love Letter To Young Katy 

“Dear Sixteen Year Old Me 

Right now, with GCSEs looming and friends getting into all sorts of trouble, I know it feels like this year will never end. But I’m here to tell you that it does, and that life gets better. Being a teenager sucks, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But, twenty years on, I can look back at you and smile. You’re not perfect, but you’re me, and you’ve got a lot more going for you than you think.

You’re a great friend – supportive and sympathetic. And that’s something I hope I’ve held onto from those times, to always help a friend in need. They’ll help you back when you need it too, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we care. 

You’re smarter than you think. Yes, GCSEs are hard. So are A-Levels and your degree, when you get there. But you do get there. You work hard and you achieve what you set out to do. (Even passing your driving test. So don’t stress out too much the first time you fail. Or even the fourth time, come to that. Just keep at it.) That ability to keep on trying, to keep going even when the odds seem stacked against you (like that U grade in your Science GCSE mock) will take you great places. You’ll travel the world, meet incredible people, even fall in love, for real this time.

And most of all – you’ll get to live your dream. It’ll take every last bit of courage and perseverance and determination you have in your bones and blood, but one day you’ll see your own book on the shelf in a bookshop, with your name written in bright letters on the cover. (And sometimes other names, and lots of other books, but that’s another story.)

But for now, just be kind. Not just to your friends, but to our family (even Dad when he’s grumpy) and to yourself. They’re all trying their best, and so are you. It’s hard figuring out your place in the world. But you don’t have to be perfect at it – or anything else – right now. There’s time to get it right, and honestly? You’ll never be perfect. But as long as you keep trying, you’ll get a little better every day.

And that’s all any of us can hope for.

With love, always

Your older self xxx”



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HTWALS Blog Tour 2

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for sending me this book to review.

New reviews: five great reads!

I’ve read some fantastic books over the last few weeks.  Here are my highlights of brilliant middle grade and YA reads which are available now, written by brilliant authors who know just how to get children and young people reading whether through fascinating facts, humour and adventure, teen romance or important issues.


The Secret Diary of Thomas Snoop Tudor Boy Spy by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Jamie Littler

Thomas Snoop is in training to become a spy. Entrusted with a top secret mission by the mysterious Lord Severn, right-hand man to the Tudor king, Thomas must travel to the magnificent Goldenhilt Hall – in the guise of a servant – in order to uncover traitors plotting against the crown. It will take all Thomas’s wits and cunning to uncover the traitors lurking at Goldenhilt Hall – and he must do so without being discovered himself…

I’ve read and enjoyed the previous books in this series and this new book doesn’t disappoint. With Philip Ardagh’s trademark wit and hilarity, we discover all about Tudor times through the eyes of Thomas Snoop and his diary entries. Mystery abounds as Thomas attempts to complete his mission and uncover the dastardly treacherous villains who threaten to destroy English freedom! I love Jamie Littler’s illustrating style, complimenting the narrative with humorous takes on the larger than life characters.  Historical facts appear throughout the story, making Tudor Boy Spy informative and fun! This great series introduces history in an accessible way, encouraging young readers to think what life might have been like growing up in a different time period – with the added bonus of being really funny!

Philip Ardagh has written many children’s books and is best known for his Grubtown Tales for which he won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.  Jamie Littler is an illustrator whose books include Hamish and the World Stoppers, a bestselling debut of 2015.

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The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell illustrated by Clare Powellchoc ghost

Archie McBudge knows his lucky underpants must really work, because when he and his mum are summoned to Honeystone Hall in the remote Scottish village of Dundoodle, they find Archie has inherited not only the enormous hall, but the whole of the world-famous McBudge Confectionery Company from Great-Uncle Archibald. That’s a new home, a fortune and a lifetime’s supply of treats rolled into one! But all is not well in Dundoodle, and when Archie reads the mysterious letter his great-uncle left him, he finds himself on a quest to save his family’s company from ruin. With the help of his new friends Fliss and Billy, Archie has to try to figure out the puzzles of Honeystone before his sweet future melts away like an ice lolly in the sun!

I absolutely loved this story! Full of adventure, heart and humour I defy anyone to read this and not laugh out loud, whilst craving the wonderful fudge creations described. A fantastic balance of mystery, fantasy, devious villains and a trio of heroes, the plot keeps you guessing until the final pages. Set in the wilds of Scotland, the landscape springs to life and soon enough, Archie finds himself wading deeper into the secrets of Dundoodle. He makes a fine, hugely likeable hero ably supported by Fliss and Billy and you are rooting for them throughout. With strange creatures, relatives plotting revenge and of course, lots and lots of sugary treats, The Chocolate Factory Ghost really is a great middle grade read and definitely one of my favourites so far this year.

I read a proof copy of this book so haven’t seen the illustrations but if the cover is anything to go by I’m sure they’re fantastic! David O’Connell is a writer and illustrator from South London and works mostly in children’s books.  Claire Powell is an illustrator and designer whose short animation The Scapegoat won an award at the British Animation Film Festival 2015.

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How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

How to Bee is set in a future where there are no bees and children are employed to scramble through the fruit trees with feather wands.  Peony wants to be a bee, a hand pollinator; she’s light, she’s fast, and even though she’s a year too young, she’s going to be the best bee the farm has ever seen…except when you’re only nine years old it’s hard to get everyone around you to go along with your plan.

How to Bee is a compelling middle grade story set in a dystopian future that feels all too plausible. You can feel the heat, dust and humidity of the Australian farm on which the story is set and sadly imagine a world where bees no longer exist and pollination has to be done by hand. Featuring a bold and fierce heroine named Peony, who’s bravery is admirable in the face of true adversity,  How to Bee is a fast-moving story, full of heart rending moments. Taken unwillingly from her home, Peony’s struggles are frequent but she doesn’t lose heart and her determination to get back to her Grandfather and sister is palpable. Even in the most unpleasant of situations, Peony keeps her desire for freedom in sight, making friends in the most unexpected of places. It’s a story full of hope and courage, thankfully (spoiler alert) with a happy ending; but also a stark warning for those who ignore the plight of the diminishing bee population. After reading How to Bee, when you next see bees buzzing around the garden you’ll look at them with new eyes and Peony’s story will stay with you long after the final page.

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand and now lives in Melbourne. How to Bee has been shortlisted for several awards and is Bren’s first children’s novel to be available in the UK.

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Truly Wildly Deeply by Jenny McLachlantruly wildy deeply.jpg

Freedom matters to Annie. She has cerebral palsy and she’s had to fight hard to get the world to see her for who she truly is.  Annie is starting college.She can’t wait. No more school, no more uniform and no one telling her what to do. Its the start of a new adventure and Annie’s not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of that…

There’s something wonderful about coming back to a character you love. This story features the fabulous feisty Annie from Stargazing for Beginners – and she’s even better this time around! We meet her just as she’s going to college, determined to make her own way as ever despite her disability. Annie is a force to be reckoned with but she experiences the perils of teenage life just like anyone else. Making new friends, finding her way round a new campus, dealing with family and of course, finding romance. We see new insight into what makes Annie tick and meet the absolutely wonderful character of Fab, in whom Annie may have met her match. Truly Wildly Deeply is a gorgeous tale with a gorgeous heroine, who springs to life, inspires with her everyday courage and brings a smile to your face with her wit and wisdom! It’s a fantastic story by one of my favourite writers for young people – read it; you won’t be disappointed!

Jenny McLachlan worked as an English teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 2014. She has written fantastic books for young people including the Ladybirdz series and Stargazing for Beginners.

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tenderTender by Eve Ainsworth

Marty and Daisy spend their lives pretending. Marty pretends his Mum’s grip on reality isn’t slipping by the day.  Daisy pretends her parents aren’t exhausting themselves while they look after her brother. They both pretend they’re fine. That everything is fine.  But the thing about pretending is, at some point, it has to stop. And then what?

Another gritty, but ultimately uplifting story from Eve Ainsworth, who writes with such insight into the problems some young people experience today. The two protagonists face extreme difficulties in their lives, both affected by a family member suffering from debilitating illness. Daisy adores her brother but his health problems take their toll on everything in her life no matter how hard she tries to cope. Marty doesn’t want any help looking after his Mum and he certainly doesn’t want to attend some youth group for people ‘like him’.  When Daisy and Marty meet, as well as dealing with everyday teenage troubles, the cracks in their ability to deal with things at home start to show.  You can totally understand why they are drawn to each other and as the story unfolds, they find hope in new friendship.  Tender is a compelling read, with characters you really care about. Supported by an Arts Council award, the novel focuses on important issues that many will relate to, raising the profile of problems around at mental health and young carers.  I read it in one sitting and would highly recommend this YA read.

Eve Ainsworth has written several YA novels focused on issues affecting young people. Her work in pastoral care in schools has given her a real insight to the needs of teenagers and a desire to raise awareness of the things that matter to them.

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With thanks to Bloomsbury, Nosy Crow, Old Barn Books, and Scholastic for sending me these books to review!

New review: Peace Lily by Hilary Robinson & Martin Impey

On International Nurses Day, it’s the perfect time to share this beautiful picture book.  Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey is the fourth and final picture book in their WW1 picture book series for children, published in the year of the Armistice Centenary marking the end of fighting. The book was published on International Women’s Day (8th March 2018) paying tribute to the contribution of women to the war effort.  


Peace Lily written by Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey

Ever since she was small, Lily wanted to be a nurse.  Her dream becomes real when she takes the brave decision to follow her childhood friends to the battlefield of Western France. Will she ever see them again?

The story begins with young Lily being born and spending her days growing up with her friends Ben and Ray, enjoying the countryside and playing games in the brook.  Beautiful illustrations portray the sunshine and happiness; who could imagine the dark clouds of war looming?  But when war does arrive, Lily has to say goodbye to her friends as they go off to fight and she is soon compelled to join the war effort herself as a nurse.

Told in a lyrical rhyming narrative, we quickly see the stark realities of the battlefields and how brave Lily must be to help the wounded soldiers. Working in a field hospital, the conditions are dire with bombed out buildings all around. And then suddenly Lily realises her dear friend Ben is one of the wounded, and keeps a bedside vigil until he is better.  Nursing him back to health, the war finally ends and Ray, Ben and Lily are reunited at home.  The final scene thankfully tells of a very happy ending, radiantly depicted through Martin Impey’s illustrations.

Peace Lily is a lovely picture book sensitively telling the story of a young girl, her friends and their bravery in the face of war.  Muted pastel illustrations with hints of colour throughout perfectly capture the heart of the narrative.  This would be a wonderful story to read aloud, gently introducing young children aged 4 and above to the ideas around conflict.  Written in rhyme as a tribute to the war poets, Peace Lily and indeed the other titles in the series, are an important and moving commemoration and will help ensure younger generations never forget the sacrifices made by so many.  The story also recognises the huge contribution by women in wartime, nursing those fighting for our freedom.

“Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, it requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work.”

Florence Nightingale 1820-1910

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With thanks to Strauss House Productions for sending me this book to review.




Blog Tour: You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar illustrated by Poonam Mistry

I’m delighted to be hosting this stop on the blog tour for You’re Safe with Me, a stunning picture book which celebrates the wonder of nature. I think we can all remember being frightened of thunder storms when we were little and this story captures that feeling and how a little bit of comfort and wisdom can allay our fears.  The beautiful, intricate illustrations will mesmerise young readers and the poetic narrative will calm their minds, making this a perfect bedtime story.


You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry

When the moon rises high and the stars twinkle, it is bedtime for the baby animals of the Indian forest. But tonight, when the skies turn dark and the night grows stormy, the little ones can’t sleep. SWISH-SWISH! CRACK-TRACK! FLASH-SNAP! goes the storm. Only Mama Elephant with her words of wisdom can reassure them. “You’re safe with me.”


You’re Safe with Me is written by Chitra Soundar, an Indian-born British writer and storyteller who is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India. She has published over 30 well-loved picture books in India and the UK.  The story is stunningly interpreted with artwork by Poonam Mistry who is a UK-based illustrator of Indian heritage. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art.

Today, author Chitra Soundar will be sharing her insights and inspiration for You’re Safe with Me.  Welcome to the blog! The story is a wonderful celebration of nature and nurture.  Can you tell us the inspiration and influences behind it? This story was inspired by my training as a storyteller. I wanted to tell a story about thunderstorms – that’s both real and poetic. I wanted to evoke the beauty of nature and at the same put little children at ease about thunderstorms. Secondly I wanted to have an elephant in the story – I love watching elephants. Their gentle nature, their family relationships and how they look after their young makes them ideal storytellers too. These two things came together to bring this story to life.

The narrative text and artwork come together seamlessly; how did you work with the illustrator to make this happen? You might not be aware but writers and illustrators are not always introduced to each other while they’re working. This is because a picture book text is re-imagined by an illustrator. Poonam read the story and came up with the illustrations with some guidance from the publisher. She then incorporated my text into the pictures as if they were moulded together. So hats off to Poonam Mistry for this!

‘You’re safe with me’ makes a wonderful bedtime story. What were your favourite bedtime stories when you were young? I’m not sure we were read to during bedtime. Growing up in India, bedtime was random and late. We also lived in a tiny apartment with our grandparents, aunt and uncle. So I slept on the living room floor on a straw mat, next to my grandmother and listened to the radio. Sometimes she’d tell us stories after the lights were switched off and they were mostly stories from the epics or trickster folktales.

The story has the feel of a folktale; what do you think children can learn from folktales? Folktales carry universal truths. As a child I was heavily influenced by folktales – from ghost stories to trickster tales, most stories that were told were passed down orally. As an oral storyteller, I find that some stories have travelled the world and are available in many different cultures in different forms and shapes. Children learn about truth and justice, what’s right and wrong and more importantly life lessons from folktales. Whether they are Aesop fables or Anansi stories or Native American tales, Mulla stories or Panchatantra stories from India, folktales give us a funny view of the world and puts a lesson in it for those who can find it.

Of all the many books you’ve written which are you most proud of and why? That perhaps is the hardest question to ask any writer! Every book has achieved a milestone in my life as a writer and storyteller. I’m proud of You’re Safe With Me because it was an original story that came from my experience as a storyteller and I believed in the story. It waited over two years for a publisher to find it. But it has been worth the wait. And more importantly my two nephews have an advance copy and want to read it over and over again. And that to me, is my proudest moment of all.

Thank you Chitra for your inspiring words and we wish you every success with You’re Safe With Me!

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You're Safe With Me blog tour announcement (1)

Branford Boase Book Award 2018 – shortlist announced!

BBA_LogoThe Branford Boase Book Award is an absolutely wonderful celebration of writing and is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. However, not only does it honour brilliant authors but also the super-talented editors who work with them.  It really is a special award and having been a supporter of it over the last few years I’m delighted to share the shortlist on the blog. Social media is buzzing with congratulations for the nominees and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing the books over the coming weeks!

The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of the outstanding and prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase, editorial director and one of the founders of Walker Books. They worked together on a number of Henrietta’s novels, a partnership they greatly enjoyed. Both Henrietta and Wendy died of cancer in 1999.  The Award is the joint idea of Julia Eccleshare and Anne Marley. Julia is chair of PLR and director of the Hay Festival children’s programme as well as a regular contributor to Radio 4’s Front Row and Open Book programmes. Anne is now co-director of Authors Aloud UK and was Head of Children’s, Youth & Schools Services for Hampshire Library & Information Service for many years.

Seven different publishers are represented on the shortlist including independents Usborne and David Fickling Books and brand new list Zephyr. Now in its nineteenth year the Branford Boase Award is recognised as one of the most important awards in children’s books with a hugely impressive record in identifying authors with special talent at the start of their careers. Previous winners and shortlisted authors include Siobhan DowdMeg RosoffMal PeetPhilip ReeveFrank Cottrell Boyce and Patrick NessCosta Book Award winner Frances Hardinge won with her debut novel Fly By Night in 2006.

The shortlist for the 2018 award is as follows:

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A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Head of Zeus: Zephyr)

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The Starman and Me by Sharon Cohen, edited by Sarah Lambert (Quercus Children’s Books)

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Fish Boy by Chloe Daykin, edited by Leah Thaxton (Faber)

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Knighthood for Beginners by Elys Dolan, edited by Clare Whitston and Elv Moody (Oxford)

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Kick by Mitch Johnson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne)

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Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton, edited by Anthony Hinton (David Fickling Books)

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The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, edited by Gill Evans (Walker Books)

It’s a fantastic shortlist and judging will not be easy! This year the judges are Urmi Merchant of children’s bookshop Pickled Pepper BooksHelen Swinyard, librarian at Heartlands High School and founder of theHaringey Children’s Book Award; author and reviewer Philip Womack; and M.G. (Maya) Leonard, author of Beetle Boy, winner of the 2017 Branford Boase Award. The panel is chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival.

Julia Eccleshare says: “Each year the Branford Boase Award discovers authors with outstanding talent and promise: this year is no exception. The BBA also celebrates the lively state of children’s publishing in the UK and we were excited that no less than 26 different publishers entered books with seven making the shortlist. By concentrating on the most exciting new voices, the Branford Boase consistently highlights trends in contemporary children’s fiction: our 2018 judges were struck by the huge predominance on the longlist of domestic dramas. Children’s adventure it seems has become internal, the setting no longer the outside world but frequently the family, with narrative tension and action arising from issues such as mental health and individual trauma. Nonetheless, our seven shortlisted books have new stories to tell and vibrant new voices to tell them.”

The winner of the 2018 Branford Boase Award will be announced on Wednesday 4th July at a ceremony in London. The winning author receives a cheque for £1,000 and both author and editor receive a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

Good luck to all those nominated and watch this space for reviews coming soon!


For more information about the award, including a full list of past winners, and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition visit .