Welcome to the ‘beautiful jungle’ of kids’ fiction

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Image: Pixabay

You wait for one blog post about the merits of children’s fiction, and then two come along at once ...

The other day, I was whining on about how underrated kid’s literature was. How the adult reading public tend to see the classification YA or childrens’ and flee like kittens on a hot griddle.

I was pontificating about how serious the themes in YA often are, how high the quality of writing is in books such as Booker Longlister Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. How not all fiction for young people drips with vampires and werewolves and soppy, sparkly love triangles.

People just don’t read the stuff, I whined. Why won’t anyone listen to me? I prattled. Seriously, if you want to read a writer in full whinge mode, then here is a good place to start.

And then do you know what happened?

The next day – the very next day – after that blog was blogged, the Costa Book of the Year was announced. Formerly the Whitbread Book Awards, they’re a pretty deal. Previous winners include Ian McEwan, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, Ted Hughes, Hilary Mantell – some of the biggest of the big hitters in literary terms.

There are categories for first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s books and then an overall winner is chosen.

And that winner this year was …

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge – a novel written for children featuring a 14-year-old heroine.

Now, I’m not saying tha Costa judges allowed the contents of this blog to sway their final decision. I would never suggest I have the ear of such a prestigious group of people, though it seems a hell of a coincidence, doesn’t it?

And, though I haven’t yet read The Lie Tree I will definitely search it out in the future – it’s a Victorian murder mystery which involves science, gender politics and a tree that grows when you whisper lies to it. What’s not to love about that presmise?

It’s only the second time the Costa Book of the Year has been won by a children’s book, the first one being … The Amber Spyglass

Now, I’m sure the total of £35,000 in prize money Hardinge won will be very much appreciated.

But even better in my view, will be the increase in attention and sales, which will perhaps spill over to other kid’s writers.

As Hardinge said when accepting the award,

For those people who might be hearing this who think that children’s and YA fiction is not their thing please do come and explore – there’s a beautiful jungle out there.

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There were some other, very fine nominees for the award, my particualr favourite being Kate Atkinson –  if you haven’t read any of her books, you could do worse than start with her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum.