Book of the Year - Children's Fiction


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 Shortlist

  • The Danger Gang by Tom Fletcher & Shane Devries (illus)
    Tom Fletcher’s fourth middle- grade novel, illustrated by Shave Devries, steps outside his Christmasaurus series and features a gang of children who discover that they have extraordinary powers. In lieu of in-person-events, Puffin utilised the McFly singer’s social channels to generate buzz: 78,230 copies have been sold through Nielsen’s TCM, excluding lockdown-era sales.
  • Code Name Bananas by David Walliams & Tony Ross (illus)
    HarperCollins Children's Books
    Set in 1940s wartime Britain, David Walliams’ latest, illustrated by Tony Ross, follows the friendship between a boy and a gorilla. While many books were postponed last year, HarperCollins Children’s Books brought publication forward two days, to support retailers ahead of the second lockdown. It has sold 229,029 copies through Nielsen TCM, excluding lockdown-era sales.
  • Anisha, Accidental Detective by Serena Patel & Emma McCann (illus)
    Won at a four-way auction at the London Book Fair, Serena Patel’s fresh new series follows Anisha, a STEM-loving, British Indian Sikh girl, and her huge, hilarious family. Usborne committed to strong branding from the get-go, and brought Emma McCann aboard to illustrate the project. The title won Sainsbury’s Children’s Fiction Book of the Year.
  • Dragon Mountain by Katie & Kevin Tsang
    Simon & Schuster Children's Books
    The first book in Kevin and Katie Tsang’s Dragon Realm series follows Billy Chan to a summer camp in rural China, where he stumbles upon four dragons. Simon & Schuster developed a cover that would appeal equally to boys and girls, and created buzz-worthy foil-covered proofs. The husband-and-wife duo secured a Waterstones Book of the Month slot, too.
  • The Highland Falcon Thief by M G Leonard, Sam Sedgman & Elisa Paganelli (illus)
    Macmillan Children's Books
    Macmillan Children’s Books acquired M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Adventures on Trains series at auction in July 2018. This first book is a murder mystery which takes readers to exciting places on real-life train models and routes, in a bid to entertain and educate young readers. It was a Waterstones Book of the Month in February 2020.
  • The Ickabog by J K Rowling
    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
    What started as a story that J K Rowling wrote for her own children became a hit when she decided to serialise it for free online, in a bid to brighten up lockdowns for those across the world who may have needed cheering up. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers added value to the hardback edition by featuring full-colour illustrations from young competition winners.