Now in its twenty-first year the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It is regarded as one of the most important awards in children’s books and has an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge.
Past winning editors continue to shape contemporary children’s literature and include J K Rowling’s editor Barry Cunningham and Philip Pullman’s editor David Fickling. 2020 winner Sarah Odedina has worked with Neil Gaiman, Louis Sachar and Sally Gardner.
The submissions in 2020 were particularly strong, and the judges chose to award Highly Commended to Katya Balen and her editor Lucy Mackay-Sim for The Space We’re In, a moving story about a boy and his relationship with his younger brother, who is autistic.
Muhammad Khan, last year’s Branford Boase Award winner says of Bearmouth: “Bearmouth is a tour de force of a page turner with an intricate and stylised plot. Liz Hyder has created a gritty world for her hugely likeable protagonist, Newt, and a unique language which evolves as the exciting story unfolds. Original and unforgettable.”
Liz Hyder says: “The Branford Boase Award is such a prestigious award and I love that it celebrates both editor and author. It was a true partnership to work with Sarah on Bearmouth. I learnt so much from her and can honestly say that the experience changed my life in so many ways. To be shortlisted felt like prize enough but to win feels utterly incredible! It means the world to me not only because I’m following in the footsteps of so many authors who I admire and cherish but also because I share it with Sarah who is the best, most inspiring, wonderful editor. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”
Sarah Odedina said: “What marks Liz out for me is her courage and originality and her faultless ability to create a story that holds the reader’s attention by its sheer power. As an editor there cannot be many higher accolades than to be on the Branford Boase Award shortlist. To win the award in partnership with an author confirms that this task of bringing stories to young readers is a work of collaboration and one that is most successful when author and editor listen to one another and enjoy the process of creating a novel.”
Katya Balen and Lucy Mackay-Sim, Highly Commended, said: “We’re thrilled to have received this commendation from such a prestigious award, and to be recognised among a shortlist of such brilliant books – including a truly extraordinary winner. It’s also a delight to receive this accolade together on a book we both care about so much.”
Muhammad Khan says: ”The Space We’re In is a challenging story about neurodivergent siblings and what ‘family’ and ‘home’ means to them. Katya Balen writes with an assuredness that takes you directly into the characters’ lives and makes you feel every beat of their joys, woes and frustrations. An incredible first novel.”
This year the judges are Sue Bastone, vice-chair SLA; Victoria Dilly, creator of the Book Activist blog; Layla Hudson of Round Table Books, Brixton; and Muhammad Khan, author of I Am Thunder, winner of the 2019 Branford Boase Award. The panel is chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival and Branford Boase Award founder.
Julia Eccleshare said: “The Branford Boase Award is now in its 21st year, and it has really come of age. Each year we look for exceptional books, stories we haven’t read before, told in new and original ways. Both Bearmouth and The Space We’re In do this, and both Liz and Katya have extraordinarily memorable voices even amongst a shortlist of such exciting debut authors. We all agreed that Bearmouth is the outstanding novel on the list, a hugely brave and impressive piece of writing, testament to the skill of both author and editor in successfully creating such characters and such a narrative. It’s a book that sends shivers down the spine, truly astounding. As always, we can’t wait to read what the shortlisted authors will write next.”
The Branford Boase Award is supported by Walker Books.
The complete list of titles on the 2020 shortlist are:
Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties by Humza Arshad and Henry White, edited by Holly Harris and Sharan Matharu, illus Aleksei Bitskoff (Puffin)
The Space We’re In by Katya Balen, edited by Lucy Mackay-Sim, illus Laura Carlin (Bloomsbury)
A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby, edited by Liz Bankes and Sarah Levison (Egmont)
Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, edited by Sarah Odedina (Pushkin Press)
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, edited by Lindsey Heaven (Electric Monkey)
Frostheart by Jamie Littler, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Puffin)
The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Penguin)