Blue Peter Book Awards 2021


The winners of the 2021 Blue Peter Book Awards have been announced …


Congratulations to Elle McNicoll, A Kind of Spark (Knights Of) and Mike Barfield, illus. Jess Bradley, A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You (Buster Books)!


Ahead of the big day Armadillo reviewer Jackie Spink asked the shortlisted authors and illustrators a few questions, beginning with The Best Story Award books –

Elle McNicoll, A Kind of Spark (Knights Of) - - Simon James Green, illus. Aleksei Bitskoff, Life of Riley: Beginners Luck (Scholastic) - - Serena Patel, illus. Emma McCann, Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Cancelled (Usborne)



How would you sum up your book in one or two sentences?


Elle Eleven-year-old Addie takes on her village council to campaign for a memorial to be made in honour of the many "witches" that were hunted in the community centuries ago. A funny, touching and quirky story of sisterhood, friendship and fighting for what's right.


Simon When 10-year-old Riley gets cursed at a funfair, his life becomes one disaster after another. Can he find a way to break the curse, before new kid Brad Chicago discovers the awful truth and doesn’t want to be his friend anymore?


Serena A story centred around family and friendship with a lot of mystery and mayhem thrown in for good measure.



All three books in the Best Story category have very vivid and engaging main characters. For readers who haven’t yet managed to read your book, what should we know about the main character?


Elle Addie is very in touch with her inner voice. She likes everyone. But she doesn't let anyone push her around or say anything about her family. She's loyal and compassionate and driven by a very fixed moral compass. She loves sharks and learning about history. And she's autistic.


Simon Riley’s a lovable underdog, and when we first meet him he’s having a pretty rough time. His best friend has just moved away, he’s been cursed, and he even messes up his part in the school show, which was really important to him. Riley is very dramatic, so he tends to make a tiny mishap into a total catastrophe, but he’s about to find out that having a good friend by your side can turn a bad day into a brilliant one… and that curses aren’t real. Are they?!


Serena Anisha is a very clever, observant, kind and determined person. She will always stand up for what is right and her family and friends are very important to her even if they do annoy her sometimes!



Could you tell us about the moment you realised your book had made the shortlist?


Elle I burst into tears. Knowing that the Blue Peter Book Award will be judged by lots of children is one of the best parts about being nominated. The intended readers will decide the winner and I think that's fantastic. I cried when I heard I was one of the three shortlisted, and I'm so thrilled to be alongside Serena and Simon.

(We should just mention that March is a particularly BIG month for Elle whose next book, Show Us Who You Are, is to be published.)


Simon I was busy writing a new book when an email from Harriet, my publicist, pinged through on my laptop. I read it, stared at it for about five minutes, and then I think I screamed and ran around the house - being as dramatic as Riley would be! Honestly though, I was so excited! It was really hard for authors launching books last year with lockdown and bookshops being closed, so being recognised for such a prestigious award made a big difference. And hey, maybe Riley isn’t so unlucky after all!


Serena I received an email from my editor with the news and I think I squealed out loud and then ran to the next room to tell my children and husband. I grew up watching Blue Peter so to have my book on the shortlist and featured on such an iconic show was a joyous exciting moment for our whole family.


Emma I got an email through from Usborne with the good news and I was like that Minion gif: WHHHAAAATTTTTT???? So there were lots of happy emails back and forth, but it didn't really hit me until I saw my illustrations animated on Blue Peter. That was amazing and so exciting.


What was your favourite childhood book?


Elle I remember really liking Charm School by Anne Fine. There was such an ensemble cast of girls my age, and I really appreciated that. I also found it very funny. I also loved Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery. I like to say that A Kind of Spark is like a neurodivergent Anne of Green Gables, haha.


Simon I absolutely adored the Choose Your Own Adventure books. These were stories where at the end of a chapter, the reader gets to choose what happens next - so, if you want to open the door to the haunted house, you turn to page 25; or if you want to run away and go home, you turn to page 50. They were so much fun, and it was great to be in control of the story and what the main character does. Those books cemented my love of reading and made me want to create books that kids today would hopefully find just as entertaining. I’m a big believer that reading should be entertaining and fun.


Serena I had an enormous copy of the Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll and I loved delving into Alice in Wonderland and all the amazing poetry in there.


Emma Oooo, tough choice here. The Chronicles of Narnia were definitely favourites. My Year 2 teacher read The Magician's Nephew to the class and I was hooked! I also loved The World Around the Corner by New Zealand author, Maurice Gee. The cover fascinated me (still does, to be honest), and I'm sure that my love of junk shops and interesting glasses stems from the descriptions in this magical book!


Emma, this one’s for you. What elements of the book inspired the spirit of your illustrations?


Emma What stood out to me even on my first reading was Serena's mischievous sense of humour. I think that's something we share; my main aim is always "Hmmm...how can I make this illustration funny?" and then "Hmmm...how can I make this illustration even funnier?" We're a good match! The cast of crazy characters is an absolute dream, so I don't even have to try very hard to find the funny in them - I just exaggerate what's already there!


***


And now for the shortlisted authors and illustrators of the Best Book With Facts : Jonny Marx, illus. Charlie Davis, The Humans (Little Tiger) - - Mike Barfield, illus. Jess Bradley, A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You (Buster Books) - - Robert Winston, illus. Jessamy Hawke, Inventors (Dorling Kindersley)


How would you sum up your book in one or two sentences?


Jonny The Humans showcases the greatest achievements of the world's ancient cultures, peoples and civilisations – from the Aztecs to the Akkadians, and the Nubians to Native Americans.


Mike It is - literally - the inside stories of lots of bits of our bodies, plus fish, farts, rainbows, rocks, clocks, clouds, plants, planets and a whole lot more. Every subject - from a poo to a gnu and beyond - has something funny and factual to say, so you learn while you laugh.


Jessamy It’s a colourful and exciting collection of the stories and the people behind all kinds of inventions, covering inventors from many centuries ago to the present day.



If you had to choose just one thing, what would you like your readers to take from your book of facts?


Jonny This book aims to demonstrate that there's much more to ancient history than just the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Vikings (topics typically covered in KS2). If readers can flick through the pages and find a culture they're unfamiliar with, or a sequence of facts they've never come across before, I'd be delighted. Before writing began, for instance, I never knew that spiky dog collars were invented by the ancient Greeks in order to stop lions from attacking their canine companions! Nor that the Persians built the first 'fridges' (yakhchāl) almost 2,500 years ago.


Mike A sense of fun about our whole wide wonderful universe and everything in it.


Jessamy The idea that anyone can be an inventor. The inventors included in the book are from all kinds of backgrounds and from all over the world, inventing an amazing range of objects, medicines, and machines that have changed society and everyday life.



Could you tell us about the moment you realised your book had made the shortlist?


Jonny To make it on to the BPBA shortlist is definitely a career highlight. I'm still in a bit of shock!

A huge amount of effort went into this project; from the incredible design work by Alice Luffman, to the meticulous fact checking by Eryl Nash, not to mention the stunning illustrations by Charlie Davis. It was a privilege to be a part of. The fact that the book went on to be shortlisted for arguably one of the most prestigious children's non-fiction book awards really was the icing on the cake.


Mike I was genuinely astonished. I was lucky enough to have an earlier book on the shortlist two years ago and who knew it would happen again? Crazy!


Jess I couldn't believe it! I grew up watching Blue Peter and the chance of getting a Blue Peter badge is still the pinnacle of childhood achievement to me!


Jessamy It was overwhelming when I read the email to say ‘Inventors’ had been shortlisted for the Best Book with Facts - it was such brilliant news that it had been chosen as one of three shortlisted non-fiction books. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Blue Peter and to then have the book featured on the show, as well as all the wonderful press coverage, has been very surreal!



What was your favourite childhood book?


Jonny I'm afraid my answer has nothing to do with history, or non-fiction! Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs was my favourite book. I loved the detailed illustrations, the humour, and the characters.


Mike There are lots, but if I had to choose just one it would be the Beryl the Peril Annual 1971, which I still own and still read!


Jess I had a lot of favourites. I still read the Roald Dahl books I grew up with (Fantastic Mr Fox was my absolute favourite) and I still love The Snow Spider Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo.


Jessamy I’ve found this one really hard to choose - there are so many books I loved as a child, but I think the one that I remember most fondly is an edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Her pencil drawings and watercolour illustrations completely captivated me as I read the book - they had such a sense of character and movement that went so well with the story. In fact, I think it is time I read it again as an adult!



Jess, what elements of the book inspired the spirit of your illustrations?

I think the sense of humour was a big inspiration. I love creating characters and getting to turn such a wide variety of things into characters with personalities was a lot of fun. The chance to draw a happy poo is never something I turn down!



Jessamy What elements of the book inspired the spirit of your illustrations?


I loved illustrating the variety of the individual inventions and the life of the inventors behind them, whether it was illustrating where they grew up, what inspired their inventions, or a portrait of the inventor themselves. I also loved working with lots of colour and texture, and the designers and editors on the team were fantastic at working out colour palettes that suited the invention and the story behind it. It was a brilliant book to work on.


***


Thank you very much to authors and illustrators for taking the time to give these lovely, thoughtful responses. The Armadillo team wish you the best of luck as you wait with bated breath for Thursday’s big reveal. Irrespective of the result, these are six books richly deserving of being on the shortlist.


About the Blue Peter Book Awards

Inaugurated in 2000 and managed by BookTrust since 2006, the awards are designed to champion the best authors and the most creative illustrators. The shortlisted books are sent to judging schools to be read by hundreds of children who then cast their votes. Illustrious past winners include Michael Morpurgo, Katherine Rundell and Oliver Jeffers.













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