Novel inspired by the Bulger case is shortlisted for medal

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A novel for teenagers about a young girl's murder of another child, which was inspired partly by the murder of James Bulger, is among the books shortlisted for this year's Carnegie Medal for children's literature.

Looking for JJ, by Anne Cassidy, has already won the Booktrust Teenage Prize and was nominated for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year.

It is the story of 10-year-old Jennifer Jones, who murders a young girl and is released into the community six years later with a new identity and lives in constant fear that the media will track her down.

Other books on the six-strong shortlist include Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, the story of a boy who lives next to the prison where the notorious gangster is held; The Scarecrow and His Servant, from Philip Pullman, a former winner of the award; and Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, about two brothers who have seven days to spend £1m before the euro replaces the pound.

Cassidy has admitted basing the book in part on Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the boys who murdered toddler Jamie Bulger, and on the case of child killer Mary Bell. All three have been given new, court-protected identities, despite challenges by the media.

She said: "This wasn't an easy book to write because I know people have strong feelings about such things. When I tell people about this book they raise their eyebrows. Perhaps they are thinking of the victims.

"I also had to think about that when I was writing the book. Why should I ask my readers to try and show some understanding for someone who has taken a life away? But I did."

Million is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a screenwriter whose work includes the films 24 Hour Party People and Welcome to Sarajevo; it is being turned into a film by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle.

The awards' organisers stressed that, apart from Searching for JJ, which is aimed at the reader aged 13 and over, the rest of the books on the shortlist are aimed at younger readers, aged 8 to 11, who are at a crucial stage in their reading lives.

"This year's shortlist offers the very best in reading for children of 8 years and over," said Sharon Sperling, the chair of the judges. "It illustrates not only the quality of storytelling that's available for this age group but also the depth and subtlety of these writers and their power to engage young people. These are books that will have a lasting, positive effect on young minds, encouraging them to step up to the next stage in their reading".

The award, Britain's oldest and most prestigious award for children's literature, will be announced on 8 July. It is judged by librarians and sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip). Previous winners include Terry Pratchett, Melvin Burgess, CS Lewis and Arthur Ransome.

The shortlist for the Carnegie's sister award, the Kate Greenaway Medal for children's illustration, will also be announced at the ceremony.

The books on the shortlist are: The Boat, by Ian Andrew; One More Sheep, by Russell Ayto; Dougal's Deep-Sea Diary, by Simon Bartram; Michael Rosen's Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake; The Whisperer, by Nick Butterworth; Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? by John Kelly; and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver, illustrated by Chris Riddell.

Judges' assessment of the shortlist

* ANNE CASSIDY: Looking for JJ

Scholastic Children's Books

Age range: 13+

A study of the difficult subject of child murderers, this recounts what happens to 10- year-old Jennifer Jones after her release and is based in part on the story of the killers of James Bulger. "A strong narrative and well-constructed plot contribute to a gripping read, '' the judges said.

GENNIFER CHOLDENKO: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Bloomsbury

Age range: 11+

The story of a boy who lives with his family on Alcatraz Island, home to a high-security prison and gangster Al Capone. But his problems also include a new school to get used to, new friends to make and his sister's autism. "A deeply felt and remarkable tale of family and friendship.''

FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE: Millions

Macmillan

Age range: 9+

A comedy-drama, this book centres on two brothers who suddenly have to spend "millions" in seven days before the euro takes over from the pound. "A gripping read with an exuberant plot that young imaginations will find irresistible. The novel works on several levels."

SHARON CREECH: Heartbeat

Bloomsbury

Age range: 10+

A book that ponders big questions through the closely observed story, told in the first-person, of a girl on the cusp of growing up. "The subject is simply stunning. Creech deals with major themes sympathetically and realistically.''

EVA IBBOTSON: The Star of Kazan

Macmillan

Age range: 10+

Set in Vienna in the 19th century, this is a tale of a girl adopted as a baby and her search for her identity. "Atmospheric, exciting and pacy, this offers classic storytelling: a real page-turner.

PHILIP PULLMAN: The Scarecrow & the Servant

Doubleday

Age range: 8+

The adventures of Scarecrow, a courteous but pea-brained fellow, and a boy called Jack, his faithful servant, on an epic journey.

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