Author Gill Lewis has been shortlisted for a fifth time in the Little Rebels Award's eight-year history for The Closest Thing to Flying (OUP).
Celebrating children’s fiction that "challenges stereotypes, promotes social justice and advocates for a more peaceful and fairer world", the award shortlists seven titles and the winner will be revealed in September. It is worth £2,000 this year after receiving funding from the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust.
Lewis' tale is about a 12-year-old refugee who bravely fights her way to safety, drawing strength from the diary of a young Victorian suffragette. It is one of two chapter books to make the list. The other is Now or Never – a Dunkirk Story by Bali Rai (Scholastic) exploring the overlooked history of the Indian soldiers who fought with the British Army in the Second World War.
Dominating the shortlist however are picture books. Andrea Beaty and David Roberts make the list for a second time with Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (Abrams & Chronicle), in which resourceful character Sofia decides it's time for a local rubbish dump to be turned into a park, and her quest takes her all the way to City Hall.
Also celebrating the value of community and shared spaces are The Little Island by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, illustrated by Robert Starling (Andersen Press), about an enclave of island-dwelling geese who find cutting ties with their farm neighbours isn't all they hoped for, and The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter, illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring (Walker), about a young boy called Dimitri who doesn’t hesitate to tell friends, teachers and trees that he loves them, but rarely hearing it back, discovers the surprising and unexpected forms of expression that love can take.
Meanwhile challenging the pitfalls of consumerism are Sneaky Beak by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal (Little Tiger), in which a bear is tempted by a bow-tied bird with a catchy jingle to replace all his possessions with new gadgets, and King Leonard’s Teddy by Phoebe Swan (Child's Play), in which a lion king with an endless appetite for new possessions discovers the value of reusing, repairing and recycling when he finds his beloved teddy in need of some TLC.
Fen Coles, co-director of Letterbox Library, said: “The current pandemic has sharpened so many social justice issues—poverty, domestic violence, the destruction of our environment—but also shone a light on our capacity for great kindness. The latest Little Rebels Award shortlist similarly exposes the fissures in our society alongside an overall optimism and a belief in change. Never has this roll call of social justice books been more useful in giving children tools to make sense of the world and to know that they can be the agents of change.”
The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is run by booksellers Housmans Bookshop and Letterbox Library and is awarded by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB). This year’s judges are: author Patrice Lawrence; Emily Drabble, head of children’s book promotions and prizes at BookTrust; Jim MacSweeney, manager of LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word; Darren Chetty, teacher, writer, researcher; and Shaun Dellenty, a trainer in LGBT+ inclusive education.
Last year the Little Rebels Award winner was Catherine Johnson for Freedom (Scholastic), her historical novel exploring Britain’s involvement in the slave trade.