It was a strong year in children’s fiction, with both brand- name authors and newcomers making up this shortlist. Stories range from wartime Britain to rural China and follow friendships, superheroes and dragons. What they did all have in common was beautiful illustration and design, backed by impressive campaigns and retail support.
The Highland Falcon Thief
M G Leonard & Sam Sedgman; Elisa Paganelli (illus)
Macmillan Children's Books
Gleaming with a “glamorous, escapist holiday feel”, the first book in M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Adventures on Trains series, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, was well on track to be loved by middlegrade readers—and the judges for this category agreed, awarding it the Nibbie for Children’s Fiction Book of the Year.
Acquired by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2018 after heated six-way auction, The Highland Falcon Thief follows 11-year-old Hal as he accompanies his uncle Nat (a travel journalist, steam-train enthusiast and author) on the royal steam train’s last journey up the East coast of the UK mainland. The murder mystery is both educational and entertaining, and takes readers to exciting places on real-life train models and routes. “A joyful reinvention of the classic train mystery format” thought one judge.
In a bid to create a buzz on social media, the publisher sent special-edition proofs to key reviewers, booksellers and influencers with the fun addition of a VIP train ticket, map and a letter from the authors. The book was a Waterstones Book of the Month in February 2020, and landed a major supermarket placement: the judges though the publishing for the start of this series was “smart” and “impressive”.
The Danger Gang by Tom Fletcher & Shane Devries (illus)Puffin
Code Name Bananas by David Walliams & Tony Ross (illus)HarperCollins Children's Books
Anisha, Accidental Detective by Serena Patel & Emma McCann (illus)Usborne
Dragon Mountain by Katie & Kevin TsangSimon & Schuster Children's Books
The Highland Falcon Thief by M G Leonard, Sam Sedgman & Elisa Paganelli (illus)Macmillan Children's Books
The Ickabog by J K RowlingLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers