Debut authors A M Dassu, Rosie Haine and Elle McNicoll have been shortlisted for this year's Little Rebels Award for Radical Children's Fiction.
Also shortlisted are Konnie Huq, Lauren Child and David Almond, in a year that sees the selected titles tackle a broad range of social justice themes including fake news, homelessness, plastic pollution, body positivity, the challenges and dangers faced by refugees, the ethics of AI, the commodification of the internet and Scottish witch trials.
Now in its ninth year, the award celebrates children’s fiction which challenges stereotypes, promotes social justice and "advocates for a more peaceful and fairer world". The winner receives a cheque for £2,000, funded by the Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust.
This year, 147 titles were submitted to the award in 2021 by a total of 46 publishers, an overall increase of 120% on the award’s inaugural year in 2012. Novels dominate the 2021 list with recurrent themes of technological progress, the moral challenges thrown up by those advances as well as the growth of young activists.
The shortlist features Agent Asha: Mission Shark Bytes by Sophie Deen, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar (Walker Books), Boy Everywhere by Am Daau (Old Barn Books), Brand New Boy by David Almond, illustrated by Maria Altes (Walker Books), Fearless Fairy Tales by Konnie Huq and James Kay, illustrated by Rikin Parekh (Bonnier) and The Goody by Lauren Child (Orchard Books).
Also shortlisted are Hope Jones Saves the World by Josh Lacey, illustrated by Beatriz Castro (Andersen Press), It isn't Rude to be Nude by Rosie Haine (Tate Publishing), A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll (Knights Of) and The Soup Movement by Ben Davis (OUP).
The award is run by Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. This year’s judges are author Patrice Lawrence; Emily Drabble, head of children’s book promotions/prizes at BookTrust; Jim MacSweeney, manager of LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word; Darren Chetty, teacher and writer ; and Shaun Dellenty, trainer in LGBT+ inclusive education.
Catherine Barter, co-Manager of Housmans Bookshop, said: “This is the longest shortlist in the history of the prize, and that’s reflective of the strength of the submissions – we were really excited and encouraged to see so many radically imaginative books responding to the social issues of our time.
"From Haine’s joyful challenge to our repressive, body-shaming culture, to McNicoll’s nuanced paralleling of the Scottish witch trials with societal prejudice against neurodiversity, through to Almond’s meditation on the meaning of life and Huq and Kay’s riotous bonanza of political satire — the Little Rebels Award has never explored such a wide range of subjects. These inspiring and politically engaged stories demonstrate that children’s fiction deserves a place at the heart of radical bookselling.”
Fen Coles, co-director of Letterbox Library, said: “It’s wonderful to see both the bigger and smaller industry players represented on this list, in terms of publishing houses and the creators themselves. And after the year we’ve all had, it has been heartening to see so many artists birthing new young activists: Hope Jones, Addie (A Kind of Spark), Asha (Agent Asha), Jordan (The Soup Movement) and an entire group of classmates in the north-east of England (Brand New Boy) are fabulous, relatable, literary role models for today’s progressive, socially aware and politically astute generation.”
The winner will be announced in July.