Friday, 29 January 2016

And the Costa Book of the Year is - a Children's Book! Savita Kalhan

Hooray! Frances Hardinge has not only won the Costa Children's Book award but also the Costa Book of the Year award for her novel The Lie Tree!

The last time a children's book won the Costa Book of the Year was fifteen years ago in 2001 when Philip Pullman won with his novel, The Amber Spyglass, which is part of His Dark Materials series.

Hardinge describes her novel as a "Victorian Gothic mystery with added palaeontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography and feminism".  At its heart, The Lie Tree is a children's book, and as Frances Hardinge says - most of her books are written for herself as a 12 year old.

Her win is important for so many reasons, not least because when she was interviewed on Radio 4, she was asked by the interviewer what winning the 'proper' prize meant to her. I'm not sure whether the interviewer meant that the Children's Prize was improper in some way, or just not as important or meaningful...

So why is it an important win, apart from the fact that the book explores issues that a scientifically-minded, very intelligent 14 year old girl in a Victorian age faces at a time when girls had little or no say in the world, much less in the scientific community?

Over the years, teen and young adult fiction has been seen as unliterary and lightweight, and because it caters for children, it therefore cannot be deemed worthy of winning a 'proper' prize. Writers of teen fiction are often asked whether they think they might be the next JK Rowling, or whether they might eventually write a 'proper grown up' book, so for a book like The Lie Tree to become part of mainstream literary fiction will open hearts and minds to the fact that children's fiction is eminently readable, as enjoyable, and as good as other 'grown up' books is great.

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