Tanya Landman, who won the Carnegie medal last year for her historical novel Buffalo Soldier, has made the shortlist for the Guardian childrenâ€™s fiction prize for Hell and High Water, set in 18th-century England.
Landmanâ€™s novel, one of four titles shortlisted for the award, follows the story of Caleb and his father, showmen for a Punch and Judy show. When Calebâ€™s father is falsely accused of a crime and transported to the colonies, Caleb is determined to find out the truth. Judge and winner of last yearâ€™s prize David Almond called it â€œbeautifully written and wonderfully pacedâ€, adding that Landman â€œhandles a complex, wide-ranging plot with vivacity, verve and skillâ€.
Hell and High Water is one of two historical novels shortlisted for this yearâ€™s award, which is the only childrenâ€™s fiction prize judged by childrenâ€™s authors. American novelist Brian Selznick, a former winner of Americaâ€™s prestigious Caldecott medal, was picked for The Marvels, which weaves together an illustrated story beginning in 1766 with the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and a prose story set in 1990, in which a boy has run away from school to the mysterious house of his uncle. Almond said Selznick was â€œan original, a creator of books that are engrossing, mind-bending and are also beautiful objectsâ€. The Marvels, he continued, â€œshows what is happening and what is possible in the extraordinarily inventive world of childrenâ€™s literature todayâ€.
The remaining two novels on the shortlist are both contemporary: Alex Wheatleâ€™s Crongton Knights takes place on the fictional South Crongton council estate and follows a night of adventure for its hero McKay, and Australian Zana Fraillonâ€™s The Bone Sparrow is the story of Subhi, a refugee who has spent his entire life in a detention centre, and his meeting with the scruffy girl Jimmie beyond the fence. Judge SF Said called Fraillonâ€™s contender â€œmoving and memorableâ€, adding that it â€œdeserves to be read by all who care about our common humanityâ€, while Almond said that Wheatleâ€™s novel was â€œelegant, authentic and humaneâ€.
â€œIt hums with the beat of real life and the language sings from the page. This is mature, powerful writing by an author with great talent and great heart,â€ added Almond.
The winner will be announced on 17 November, joining a lineup of major names who have taken the Guardian childrenâ€™s fiction prize in the past, from Alan Garner to Diana Wynne Jones and Patrick Ness. Under 18s can also enter the Guardian young critics competition, reviewing one of the longlisted books either as an individual or a school book group to win book tokens, books and a chance to meet the authors.
Almond and Said are joined on this yearâ€™s judging panel, which is chaired by Guardian childrenâ€™s books editor Julia Eccleshare, by the author Kate Saunders, who won the Costa prize for Five Children on the Western Front. â€œThis was my first experience of judging childrenâ€™s fiction. I was so dazzled by the sheer quality of the storytelling that I had to keep reminding myself I was a grown-up,â€ said Saunders. â€œI was impressed by the general simplicity, clarity and accessibility â€“ these writers never lose sight of their audience.â€