The novel is about a British, Muslim girl growing up in London and Khan was prompted to write the book after three teenage girls from Bethnal Green flew to Syria to join Islamic State.
This year the Branford Boase Award celebrates its 20th anniversary and Julia Eccleshare, chair of the judges, said: “We’re delighted that I Am Thunder has won this year. Muhammad Khan is giving voice to those we haven’t heard from enough and his story will ring true with readers of any background. We look forward to reading more by Muhammad, and all the writers on this shortlist, and to twenty more years celebrating the exciting new talent in children’s books.”
Sanchita Basu de Sarkar of the Children’s Bookshop Muswell Hill, who was on the judging panel this year, said: “Khan's acute portrayal of Muzna captures both the joy and turbulence of being a teenage girl. His dialogue is fresh, and funny, and keeps the story zipping along, even when the characters are filled with uncertainty. The balance of culture, religion, and following one's heart have rarely been depicted with such nuance.”
Khan was born in Balham and studied engineering before training to become a teacher. He now teaches maths at a secondary school in Sutton and his second novel, Kick the Moon, was published in January. Pearse has worked at Macmillan Children’s Books for four years and was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2018.
I Am Thunder was chosen from a shortlist of seven books, including The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne), and The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf, edited by Lena McCauley (Orion Children’s Books).