Lessons from history dominate children's book prize

Some have claimed that the test of all great children's literature is its ability to resonate with adults as well as its younger readers.

What better proof of the theory than the titles vying for this year's CILIP Carnegie Medal, announced yesterday, which have all been hailed as examples of "topical storytelling" that draw on the lessons of the past as a way of describing the grim realities of the present.

The seven works shortlisted for the prize, whose past winners include CS Lewis and Philip Pullman, are set in different periods of history but feature obvious, politicised references to modern-day society.

One novel tells the story of South Africa's apartheid years during the 1980s, while another describes King Arthur as a thuggish leader and his right-hand man as a wily spin-doctor. Another of the titles draws a parallel between the Crusades of the 12th century and the present conflict in the Middle East.

Elizabeth Laird's novel, Crusade, is set in 12th-century Jerusalem where a Christian and a Muslim boy come face to face at a time of war, while Kevin Crossley-Holland's book, Gatty's Tale, tackles the same theme of the Crusades when his bold and beautiful young heroine makes a pilgrimage from North Wales to the Holy Land. Philip Reeve's Here Lies Arthur, dissects the nature of myth making and spin-doctoring by retelling the story of King Arthur.

Linzi Glass's story for young adults, Ruby Red, describes the power of first love set against the backdrop of South African apartheid, while Meg Rosoff's book, What I Was, explores the gender politics of a girls' boarding school in the 1960s.

Jenny Valentine, who is the only first time novelist to be shortlisted, offers the reader a slice of post-war British society in Finding Violet Park, which is narrated from the perspective of a teenage boy who finds an urn carrying someone's ashes, and begins a dark but comical quest to discover its mystery owner. Meanwhile, Tanya Landman's Apache reflects on life for women on the Mexican border in the 1800s. Her 14-year-old Apache Indian heroine is transformed, by a series of bloody events, into a warrior bent on revenge.

Tricia Adams, chair of the judging panel, said the selected works dealt with topical themes with a "lightness of touch". "Each one illuminates something different about the world we live in today, making the past accessible and relevant to the present. This is strong, imaginative writing for young people that unlocks history way beyond the classroom," she said.

The prize, which does not include a cash reward, is judged by librarians from across the country. Over the next nine weeks, 90,000 young people will read all the shortlisted works. The winner will be announced on 26 June.

The nominees

* Kevin Crossley-Holland, shortlisted for Gatty's Tale, has won before for Storm in 1985.

* Linzi Glass is shortlisted for Ruby Red, her second novel. She was brought up in South Africa and now lives in California.

* Tanya Landman is shortlisted for Apache. This is the first time she has been shortlisted for the Carnegie. She lives in Devon with her family.

* Elizabeth Laird's Crusade is her fifth book to be shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie.

* Philip Reeve, shortlisted for Here Lies Arthur, worked in a bookshop before writing his first book, Mortal Engines.

* Meg Rosoff is shortlisted for What I Was, her third novel. She won the Carnegie award last year for Just in Case.

* Finding Violet Park is Jenny Valentine's debut novel which has already won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

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