Love and aliens conquer all as 'The 5th Wave' wins children's book award

The under-the-radar hit with Britain's young readers will soon become a major film

First came the vampires of Twilight, then the dystopia of The Hunger Games. Now an even bleaker tale of apocalyptic alien invasion is set to become the next teen reading obsession.

The 5th Wave, hailed as a "modern sci-fi masterpiece" and a "holy grail of publishing" by critics in the US, was yesterday honoured with the only British book award voted for by children, after it became an under-the-radar hit with young readers in the UK.

The novel – the first in a planned trilogy – is already being lined up as a major Hollywood film franchise, with Material Pictures, a company set up by the actor and producer Tobey Maguire, signed up to translate it to the big screen.

The author, Rick Yancey, yesterday admitted that he was nervous about his work being transferred to the cinema. He said it was going to be "hard to watch".

The 5th Wave was partly inspired by the leading physicist Stephen Hawking, who once warned that "if aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans".

The arrival of a massive spaceship is followed by several "waves" of destruction: an electromagnetic pulse, a global tsunami, a deadly virus and then body-snatched humans. The ominous fifth wave of the title is revealed later in the book.

The novel won the overall prize in The Red House Children's Book Awards yesterday after more than 15,000 younger readers voted through the Federation of Children's Book Groups and online.

Yancey, 51, a former tax collector from Florida, said that most pop culture images of aliens were "kind of juvenile", and he wanted to make his creations a mysterious, largely unseen menace.

He added that what had appealed most to Maguire was "the love the lead character [16-year-old Cassie] has for her younger brother and, by extension, humanity, rather than evil aliens and the chance to use epic special effects – that gave it a different twist from your typical alien invasion story".

The upcoming British director J Blakeson has been lined up to direct the film, and a screenplay has been written by Susannah Grant, who scripted Erin Brockovich.

Yancey, who sold the film rights for a six-figure sum before the book was published, said: "I've not seen the screenplay. I'm kind of on the fence about whether I should look at it."

He added that he would "love" to have a cameo role. "I would like to be a dead body or something like that."