Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens stars a pair of boarding school girls investigating the violent murder of their teacher, while Smart by Kim Slater follows a misfit teen investigating the death of a homeless man. The shortlist also includes Harriet Whitehorn’s Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s The Apple Tart of Hope, Erin Lange’s Dead Ends and Lara Williamson’s A Boy Called Hope, all featuring crime-solving kids.
Melissa Cox, Head of Children’s Buying at Waterstones, said: “Crime fiction is a perennial favourite on adults’ bookshelves, but the resurgence of children’s mystery books recently is striking. In the last year we’ve seen a new wave of Nancy Drews filling the pages of some of the best children’s titles.”
Cox went on to say: “By borrowing from the detective genre, many of our shortlisted authors have allowed their characters to deal with some very serious issues within a framework that also feels safe and familiar for young readers. Some books, however, have simply channelled the good old-fashioned fun of catching the baddie.”
Notably, fifteen of the eighteen books up for the prize this year are by women, continuing the trend from 2014, which also saw an overwhelmingly female-dominated shortlist.
Among the nominated women this year is former accountant Sally Green, shortlisted for Half Bad, last year’s Young Adult breakout. Green’s tale of a teenaged boy caught in a war between two witch factions shot to success in 2014 with a six-figure advance and comparisons to the Twilight and Harry Potter series. Half Bad is just one of six novels battling for the title of this year’s Best Book for Teens. It is joined by Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, a feminist dystopian read that’s garnered praise from Jeanette Winterson and Marian Keyes, and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, a multi-generational novel in the magical realism tradition.
Exploration and travel themes run through the Illustrated category, most clearly in Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland, which takes the reader on a colourful tour of the greatest sights on Earth. Blown Away by Observer Magazine Art Director Rob Biddulph and Where Bear? by World Book Day 2015 Illustrator Sophy Henn both picture a cast of animal characters on journeys across jungles, snowscapes and the open sea. The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony, on the other hand, sticks closer to home with a whirlwind trip around London.
James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstones, said: “Children are our most valued customers here at Waterstones as we strive to nurture the next generation of readers. Central to this is the passion with which our booksellers introduce them to wonderful reading, and in particular to the special thrill that comes with the discovery of new and extraordinary talent. The Waterstones Children's Book Prize celebrates this mission and does so with a stunning shortlist of exciting, imaginative and beautiful children’s books.”
The winners will be announced at an evening reception at Waterstones Piccadilly (London), Europe’s largest bookstore, on Thursday 26th March. Six books will compete within each category to be crowned category winner, with the three category winners then vying for the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year 2015. The winner of each category will receive £2,000, with the overall winner receiving an extra £3,000. The winning authors will also see a significant boost in sales, and the promise of an ongoing commitment to their writing career from 276 Waterstones branches nationwide.