Children's authors rediscover fun to usurp masters of the dark arts

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The Independent Culture

Harry Potter's world may grow darker and more dangerous, but judges of the top prizes for children's fiction have rediscovered the feel-good factor.

Yesterday the optimistic and good-humoured novel Ruby Holler, by the American author Sharon Creech (Bloomsbury) took the Carnegie Medal, Britain's premier award for young people's literature.

It joins Saffy's Angel, by Hilary McKay, winner of this year's Whitbread children's book award, among titles to benefit from a growing backlash against doom and gloom.

Ruby Holler was praised by the chairwoman of the Carnegie judging panel, Anne Marley, as "a very gentle tale of love and self-discovery told with great subtlety, humour and lightness of touch".

It tells the story of a mischievous pair of orphaned twins, Florida and Dallas. They leave the despotic home at Boxton Creek to find happiness and adventure with an eccentric couple of foster carers, amid the wild beauty of Ruby Holler. With its timeless landscapes and gleeful escapades, the book summons up the ghost of Mark Twain.

Creech, 57, was born in Ohio. From 1979, she spent 17 years in England and taught at an American school in Surrey before returning to the US. She lives in New Jersey, is married to a headmaster and has two grown-up children.

After two adult novels, she began publishing children's fiction in the 1990s with Absolutely Normal Chaos. In 1995, her novel Walk Two Moons won the Newbery Medal, the major prize for children's fiction in the US, while her later books reached the Carnegie shortlist in 2000 and 2001. She is the first author to take the leading children's award on both sides of the Atlantic, and the first American victor in the Carnegie award over its 67-year history.

The Carnegie Medal is administered by the Youth Libraries Group of CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

CILIP also awards the Greenaway Medal for the year's best illustrated children's book. It was given yesterday to Bob Graham, a writer-artist who lives in Melbourne, for Jethro Byrde - Fairy Child (Walker Books). It is about travelling fairies in an urban setting.

Graham is donating his £5,000 prize to groups helping asylum-seekers and refugees in Britain and Australia. He said: "People are arriving vulnerable, dispossessed and traumatised, often escaping from brutal regimes.

"I would like this to be a small expression of practical support to help them back on their feet."