Branford Boase Award 2019 – winner announced!

BBA_LogoI was delighted to attend the 20th Branford Boase Award ceremony last evening. The Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. It also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of outstanding author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It is regarded as one of the most important children’s book awards, thanks to its impressive record in identifying authors with special talent at the start of their careers: previous winners include Frances Hardinge, Marcus Sedgwick, Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet.

It really is my favourite award for authors chosen by a panel – how incredible to be recognised for the first novel you have written and how wonderful that the person who is most involved in your writing – your editor – is also recognised?! I felt privileged to be there. There was a huge buzz of excitement in the room, which was filled with past winners and an array of people from the world of children’s books.  It must have been a near-on impossible task to chose a winner from the brilliant shortlist of books which reflected the amazing talent currently to be found in writers for children and young people.  To a room waiting on tenterhooks, the winner was announced as Muhammad Khan for his YA novel I Am Thunder and his editor Lucy Pearse. Mitch Johnson presented Muhammad Khan with a cheque for £1,000 and Muhammad and Lucy Pearse both received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.

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Published by Macmillan, the novel deals with a gritty topic –  the radicalisation of a young Muslim girl growing up in London, the choices she is presented with, and how she develops the confidence to make her own decisions. The author, a Maths teacher, was prompted to write the book by the news that three Bethnal Green schoolgirls had flown to Syria to join the Islamic State group. Like his character Muzna, Muhammad Khan grew up in South London, and his parents are first generation immigrants from Pakistan. Like her, he always knew he wanted to be a writer, though his family were determined he should be an engineer. But he says that Muzna is primarily based on his young students. In fact: “virtually every character in the book has a real-life counterpart”. On a shortlist that celebrates vibrant new voices and original stories, the Branford Boase Award judges were full of admiration for Muhammad Khan’s ability to create convincing characters, and for the way he combines politics, identity and a universal coming of age narrative. Indeed, they agreed that he doesn’t put a foot wrong in the telling of his story.

Mitch Johnson, last year’s Branford Boase Award winner says of the book: “The sensitivity with which Khan handles such a volatile and emotive subject is astounding, and his ability to create a story that is both gripping and tender is hugely impressive.”

With only 4% of all the children’s books published in the UK last year featuring a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) character (CLPE Reflecting Realities) ,  Muhammad was determined to give his students a voice through his character. Muzna’s life as a young Muslim woman is vividly described, while her teenage experience is something that everyone will relate to, whatever their background. On winning the award Khan said: “I am absolutely thrilled and humbled by the news that I am Thunder has won the prestigious Branford Boase Award. It’s a real pinch-yourself moment! The competition was tremendous, each book magnificent in its own right. Lucy Pearse worked tirelessly and with passion to help me polish I Am Thunder so it’s especially nice to share this incredible accolade with her. Thank you!”

Winning editor Lucy Pearse said: ‘It was a real honour to see I Am Thunder included on this incredible shortlist, and a complete pinch-yourself moment for it to be selected as the winner.  Muhammad deserves this award so much – it is a brave and important book and he has worked enormously hard – and I feel privileged to have been part of its publishing story. Each book on this shortlist is a spectacular achievement and I feel very lucky to be working among such talented authors and editors.’  

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Julia Eccleshare, Chair of judges

Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare, children’s director Hay Festival, said, “2019 is the 20th anniversary of the Branford Boase Award. It has celebrated wonderful books and authors over the years, and we are very proud of all that it has achieved in highlighting new writers and the editors who help them develop their potential.  We’re delighted that I Am Thunder has won this year.  Muhammad Khan is giving voice to those we haven’t heard from enough and his story will ring true with readers of any background.  As demonstrated so brilliantly in her book Fire, Bed and Bone, Henrietta Branford also gave voice to those whose stories need to be told, and was happy to pose questions about politics and society in thrilling adventure stories.  We look forward to reading more by Muhammad, and all the writers on this shortlist, and to twenty more years celebrating the exciting new talent in children’s books.”

Born in Balham, Muhammad Khan studied engineering, but then trained as a teacher. After publication of I Am Thunder in 2018, he studied for an MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. He is now teaching maths at a secondary school in Sutton.  His second novel, Kick the Moon, was published in January 2019.

Lucy Pearse began her career assisting children’s agents and quickly moved over to the publishing side as a PA and then an editorial assistant. She has been working as an editor at Macmillan Children’s Books for nearly four years, was selected as a Bookseller Rising Star in 2018 and promoted to Senior Commissioning Editor for the 6+ team in 2019, working on illustrated young fiction, middle-grade and YA.

Young winners of the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition, which runs alongside the Branford Boase Award, were also present at the award ceremony and presented with their certificates and prizes by Mitch Johnson.

With thanks to the Branford Boase Award for inviting me to attend!

Find out more at www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk

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Bookchat: Q & A with M.G Leonard on the Branford Boase Award

BBA_LogoNext Thursday a whole host of the great and the good from the world of children’s books will gather to hear the announcement of this year’s winner of the Branford Boase Award. This year is the 20th anniversary of the award which is given annually to a first-time writer of an outstanding book for young people and also their editor, recognising the important contribution of the editor in identifying and nurturing new talent. Running alongside it is the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition which encourages writing talent in 19 year olds and under. 

M.G. Leonard Branford Boase winner 2017

I’m delighted to welcome past award winner M. G Leonard to the blog today for a bookchat about the Branford Boase Award.  M.G Leonard won the Branford Boase in 2017 for her brilliant debut Beetle Boy, along with her editors from Chicken House, Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon.  Beetle Boy was the first in a trilogy, and M.G Leonard has since gone on to have huge success (read my review of Beetle Boy here.) Today she shares her thoughts on winning the award, the important relationship between author and editor and also her current projects!

Can you tell us what makes the Branford Boase Award so special? A debut novel is a rough diamond, and requires more input from an editor than any other book an author will write. It is a powerful collaboration, and this award is the only one to recognise this work. The Branford Boase Award has an amazing history of awarding writers who go on to be some of the most exciting authors out there telling stories for young people. It is the award that all writers want to win.

How did it feel to win the award and what difference has it made to you two years on? I am very proud to be a Branford Boase Award winner. It was the first major award that I won, and it is hugely encouraging to be told that you did a good job when you are floundering in a new industry. It was particularly lovely to have Rachel and Barry’s work celebrated, because Chicken House believed in Beetle Boy right from the start. Winning the award increased my confidence and creativity, and it’s ever so lovely when people announce you before your event and tell everyone that you won it. The Branford Boase Award is a hallmark of quality, a standard to live up to, and the finest club I’ve ever been in.

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Barry Cunningham described the relationship between author and editor “like your first girlfriend or boyfriend in how it shapes you”. How do you think working with both Barry and Rachel Leyshon has shaped you as an author? I think the relationship depends on the people in it. My work as an author is considerably shaped by my working for fifteen years in the theatre, however what Barry and Rachel taught me was the importance of keeping the action, the power and the decision making firmly in the hands of the children. This is an invaluable lesson, because it’s so easy to be in love with your creation, when really you need to be in love with your characters.

What advice would you have for aspiring authors working on their debut novel about developing a good relationship with their editor(s)? To the aspiring writer I would say, the editing process is painful and infuriating. You will doubt yourself and lose all objectivity, so you must trust your editor. They know the world of books far better than you, if this is your first. Read your edits. Step away from your manuscript and vent all your frustrations and anger at a wall, or a friend. And you will be angry, or upset, because we are all defensive about our creations and the role of the editor is to question and poke and cut. Your debut is an epic voyage and your editor has the map; you must journey alone, but you won’t get to the end without your editor’s help. Once the quest is complete you will feel an enormous debt of gratitude to your editor, because you will see your book is a far superior vessel for your story than when you first set out.

Can you share with us what you’re working on at the moment? I am writing a new series of books for Macmillan, called Adventures on Trains. The first book, The Highland Falcon Thief will be published in March 2020, and swiftly followed by a second in September. Harrison Beck, the protagonist, is an eleven-year-old from Crewe with a talent for drawing. When his uncle, a travel writer, takes him on the last journey of the royal steam train around the British Isles, he draws what he sees. When a priceless diamond necklace goes missing, Harrison realised there are clues in his pictures, and sets out to catch the thief. The books are a joyous celebration of trains, rail travel and landscape, as well as a damn good adventure. Each book in the series features Harrison and his Uncle having a new adventure on a different train in a different country. The second book is set in America, on the California Zephyr.

I have also written a picture book for Walker Books, illustrated by Daniel Rieley, that will be published in January 2020 called The Tale of a Toothbrush – a story of plastic in our oceans, which I’m very excited about, because the subject is very important to me.

With thanks to M.G Leonard for participating in this blog today!

 

You can find out more about M.G Leonard on her website www.mgleonard.com. Read all about Chicken House here www.chickenhousebooks.com and for more information about the award visit www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk

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New reviews: Klaus Flugge Prize – A wondrous shortlist of picture books!

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I was very fortunate to be invited to review the incredible selection of books shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize.  The Prize will be awarded on 12th September to a debut illustrator of a published picture book. The five books on the shortlist will make judging the winner very difficult, such is the talent they demonstrate!

I enjoyed each of these very different titles and am delighted to share my reviews with you today.

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My Name is Not Refugee written and illustrated by Kate Milner (Barrington Stoke) is a moving and sensitively portrayed journey of a refugee inviting young readers to think how they might feel if they had to leave their homes.  A mother explains to her son the journey that lies ahead, some of it scary and some of it exciting but above all hopeful. Muted colours, use of light and shadow and blank space encourage you to stop and think and ultimately understand that refugees are just like us. The narrative is simple and each spread holds a direct thought-provoking question.  A brilliant book to prompt discussion, particularly with (but not limited too) young children, this is a great example of how picture books and illustration can be used to aid understanding of important issues.

Big Box, Little Box illustrated by Edward Underwood (Bloomsbury) written by Caryl Hart is a light-hearted tale of curiosity and an unusual friendship. If you’ve ever had a pet cat you’ll know how much they love to play inside, outside and all over the place with boxes!  The cat in this story is no different and has a wonderful time exploring all sorts of boxes, only to discover one is being in habited – by a mouse! Thankfully, the cat doesn’t respond as most cats would and a happy ending beckons.  The lyrical, rhyming narrative is perfectly reflected in the colourful images creating a really enjoyable story. I particularly love the movement and expressions of the cat! I can imagine this being a story youngsters will want to read again and again.

The Night Box illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont) written by Louise Grieg is an enchanting tale of day turning into night.  Little Max holds the key to the Night Box and as Day starts to wind down, it’s time to open the box! Night spreads across the land and out come the woodland animals, stars in the sky and of course, peaceful sleep.  This is such an evocative tale you can almost feel night time cover you!  Gorgeous illustrations, reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers in style, beautifully portray all the elements of night time from the animals to stars to the drip of a tap!  Warm colours wrap around you like a blanket and bring to life the peace that can be felt at night time.  This would be a wonderful story to allay young children’s fear of the dark and show them just how magical it can be.

Curiosity The Story of a Mars Rover written and illustrated by Markus Motum (Walker) tells the incredible journey of a real life mission to Mars.  A fine example of the amazing non-fiction books available for children today, Curiosity is full of fascinating facts that will have young readers on the edge of their seats. Told from the robot’s point of view, the narrative brilliantly sparks the imagination around the wonder of the universe. Amazing and detailed illustrations share the world of space exploration and show just how advanced it has become, with double page spreads that highlight just how vast the solar system is. A completely fascinating story and visually stunning book, this is a fantastic way to encourage youngsters to be curious about their world and beyond!

The Real Boat illustrated by Victoria Semykina, (Templar) written by Marina Aromshtam is a wonderful tale about a tiny paper boat venturing to the big wide ocean.  The paper boat wants to be a real boat and believes if he can get to the ocean his wish will come true.  He journeys along the river and meets many other boats along the way, from rowing boats to tug boats, fishing boats and once at the ocean, vast steam ships. The dangers of the seas overwhelm him, but even as he sinks to the ocean floor, all is not lost and a perfect and happy ending is reached. Beautiful, intricate illustrations bring the wonderful world of boats to life and portray just how vast and precious our waterways and oceans are. Full of heart, the narrative also shares insight into the many and varied activities around boats and water. I love the little boat’s wonder at the world around him and his fearlessness in realising his dream.  This is a lovely picture book story to share and the longer length makes it a really satisfying read.

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I couldn’t pick a winner; they’re all brilliant! The judging panel has a difficult task ahead; the panel comprises 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.  The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 12th September 2018 and will receive a cheque for £5,000.

With thanks to the award organisers for sending me these books to review! For more information visit www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk

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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!

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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!

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Bookchat: Kate Poels, the Children’s Book Award Co-ordinator

banner newThe Children’s Book Award, run by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish.  It has always been a source of great excitement for the children I’ve worked with because they know their votes actually count!  So I’m really pleased to host a guest post today by Kate Poels, co-ordinator of the award, to tell us how it works and how she came to be involved. Thanks for joining us Kate!

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“I was delighted to be asked by the brilliant Book Activist to write a guest piece for the blog.  I am a huge admirer of the work done in schools and for parents and carers by the Book Activist and feel that anything that brings books to children is a huge bonus!

My background has always been with children.  I started out training as a nurse at Great Ormond Street and then decided to take a degree in Primary Education to work as a teacher instead.  I now have two sprouting girls of my own and so I have seen the world of children from many different angles.  The thing that always strikes me is how important a love of books can be.  The power a good story has to bring comfort, humour, reality, solace, escapism, inspiration, other worlds, different viewpoints and so much more into the life of a child.  Whether it be a very sick child in hospital, a child with problems at home, somebody struggling with bullying or a little one with a huge imagination who wants to hear new things and tread new paths.  I have seen first-hand how these children need books in their lives.

My passion for children’s literature led me to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups a few years ago.  It is a fantastic organisation, fuelled solely by volunteers, that works on a national level to bring children and books together.  I now work on a local level with them and have also attended several of their fabulous industry-filled conferences.

As a member of the FCBG my children have had the opportunity to take part in the voting process for the Children’s Book Award.  This award is unique as it is the only one in the country voted for entirely by children.  If you are over 18 then your vote doesn’t count for anything…but if you are still young enough then every vote cast goes into a big boiling pot along with roughly 150,000 other votes and together they create the top 50 books of the year.  These are then whittled down to the top 10 comprising of 4 picture books for Younger Children, 3 stories for Younger Readers and 3 stories for Older Readers.

Then the results are once again handed back to the children who decide which of these shortlisted titles deserve their votes.  They alone choose who the winners of each category are and which book will be the overall winner. And they do a fantastic job every year.  Sometimes favourite, well-known authors take the crown (this year Michaels Morpurgo and Foreman won with their book ‘An Eagle In The Snow,’) but other times they discover new gems that go on to be firm favourites.  Previous winners have included JK Rowling, Kes Gray and Jacqueline Wilson to name a few.

Earlier this year I was asked if I would consider co-coordinating the award and I was thrilled to be able to get involved.  We are in the process of taking the award forward with a fresh new website (childrensbookaward.org.uk) as well as stronger online presence.

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Our member children, families and schools are all busy voting for this year’s favourites and in February we will be finding out who they have chosen as their picks of the year.  Then the voting opens for anyone in the UK to take part, as long as you are under 18 of course! The shortlist will be announced and children can use our website to vote for their favourites.  You can pre-register now to be the first to hear the shortlist!

It is such a brilliant thing to be part of and so many of our winning authors have told us that for them it is the most important award of the year.   And that is all down to the people who vote…..their intended readers… the children!

If you would like to find out more then please follow @CBAcoordinator on Twitter or The Federation of Children’s Book Groups on Facebook. Also drop by our resource-filled website and see how you could get involved.”

Find out more about this wonderful celebration of children’s books at www.childrensbookaward.org.uk

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