attention for the title poem alone, offering a gateway to the enchantment of the five senses for small children. The Oldest Girl in the World presents traditional forms and folkloric material for contemporary readers.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (2005)
Michael Rosen illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker, 40pp, 978-1406317848, £5.99
This is surely the book that the Kurt Maschler Award (for text and illustration working together) was invented for. But the Kurt Maschler was discontinued after 1999 and it seems that there were too many complicating factors in this collaboration between two giants of children’s literature. The very circumstances that make it a special book and the first port of call when talking to young children about death and bereavement make it hard to classify. It’s not fiction but subjective reportage. A real person, familiar to his readers, talks about his grief at the loss of the son whom his child fans also feel they know from his poems. Quentin Blake, too, was drawing a friend and close collaborator. It offers a glimpse into the intimate world of its creators.
Adele Geras, Scholastic, 368pp, 978-0439992206
Shortlisted for the Whitbread, Carnegie and Guardian but the gods, revealed by this excellent women’s-eye-view of the Trojan War to be cantankerous and capricious, were not in favour. Two sisters who have grown up under siege in the service of King Priam, both in love with the same Trojan warrior, make the ancient and terrifying events familiar. Through the girls, and the trio of old women who dish the dirt in Helen of Troy’s kitchen, new teenage readers of the classics are made.
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden (2009)
Helen Grant, Penguin, 352pp, 978-0141325736, £6.99
This dark psychological mystery set in a wholesome-seeming German town with shades of Twin Peaks and Royston Vasey was simply unlucky. The Carnegie shortlist for that year was packed with worthy winners and the Medal went to Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book. Grant’s first novel stays in
Geraldine Brennan is a journalist specialising in children's books and education, regularly reviews for the Observer and has judged several literary awards.
the mind long after reading with its updated Grimm-fest and the 10-year-old narrator is an intriguing mixture of endearing innocence and irritating whimsy. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden has since picked up an Alex Awardin the US for its appeal to young adults.
The Silver Spoon of Solomon Snow (2004)
Kaye Umansky, Puffin, 240pp, 978-0141316734, £4.99, Kindle ed.
Kaye Umansky was one of the inaugural judges of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2008. The prize seeks to give books bursting with sheer laughter value their deserved acclaim and if it had been around four years earlier, this sharp, clever parody of the Victorian waif novel would surely have won. As it was, it made the shortlist for the Smarties.
Hansel and Gretel (1981)
Anthony Browne, Walker, 32pp, 978-1406318524, £5.99 pbk
The interiors with their mid-1970s decor were contemporary for the time of publication but the loveless family life in the woodcutter’s cottage, ruled by the spiky chain-smoking stepmother, hints at an earlier and darker age. A resonant, chilly treatment for Grimm, light on the gingerbread.
The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit (2004)
Christopher Wormell, Red Fox Picture Books, 32pp, 978-0099455950, £6.99
This is a slow-burn book, which presents profound themes and big questions about need, image, attraction, friendship and contentment for young children to explore and return to. If the monster believes the rabbit is his friend, is that enough? While the monster is not exactly cuddly, is he really ugly? His vulnerability makes him endearing. Much to discuss, and perhaps not enough time to do so on awards panels. n
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