Sparking a passion for reading in young people is important for a multitude of reasons – stories give them an understanding of the world, different cultures, other people and themselves.
And, with the announcement of the Carnegie Medal 2021 longlist, there’s some seriously fabulous new fiction around to add to their bookshelves.
The 20 books on the longlist were selected from a total of 152 nominations and read by a team of 15 children’s and youth librarians from across the UK.
The collection is abundant with novels that touch on themes of loss, grief and mental wellbeing, which, owing to the pandemic, struck a chord, said chair of the judges Ellen Krajewski.
Of the longlist, Krajewski called the talent and imagination on display “truly inspiring”, so we expect you’ll love these titles as much as your children.
“The variety of stories, the creativity in how those stories have been lovingly crafted, and the relatability of the characters and their experiences has been a joy for all the judges to behold,” she added.
The award honours and recognises outstanding books written in the English language for children and young people and aims to “inspire and empower the next generation to create a better world” – exactly what this year’s longlist achieves.
The shortlist will be announced on 18 March, with the prize-winning author, who will receive £500 worth of books to donate to their local library, revealed on 16 June.
Our round-up covers all 20 books, which are perfect for your child’s collection if you’re looking to open up their minds to a world of imagination, as well as issues of race, how to cope with living in a world consumed by social media, and love and loss.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
‘Clap When You Land' by Elizabeth Acevedo, published by Hot Key Books
Former Carnegie Medal winner Elizabeth Acevedo has been longlisted for her empowering verse novel that tells the story of two girls, Camino and Yahaira, following the devastating death of their father. Using a dual narrative model, it explores grief as well as the importance of family and heritage. An electrifying book for any young adult reader.
‘The Girl Who Speaks Bear' by Sophie Anderson, published by Usborne
This award-winning novel is a playful blend of myth, folklore and fairytale. It tells the tale of Yanka, an abandoned baby born in a bear cave, who is on a quest to find where she belongs in society and make sense of her family. Recommended for readers aged eight and older.
‘The Space We’re In' by Katya Balen, published by Bloomsbury
Debut novelist Katya Balen draws on her knowledge of autism to show how it can affect family members in different ways. Told from 10-year-old Frank’s perspective, Balen invites you to view and empathise with his struggles in coping with his younger brother’s autism. It’s said to be a moving and absorbing novel that aims to promote compassion in young readers.
‘The Short Knife' by Elen Caldecott, published by Andersen Press
Set during the Roman occupation of Britain during the year 454AD, this historical fiction reveals a time of division and conflict, and delves into themes of identity, loyalty and human endurance. Through skilful scene-setting, a first-person narrative and a lyrical writing style, The Short Knife is a gripping tale that features a strong female lead and is steeped in the mysticism of early Britain.
'The Girl Who Became a Tree’ by Joseph Coelho, published by Otter-Barry Books
This tale is the story of a young girl, Daphne, who seeks solace in her local library and her mobile phone as she comes to terms with the death of her father. Mixing real life with fantasy tales, Coelho weaves together the ancient legend of Daphne, who was turned into a tree to avoid the attention of the god Apollo, with modern experiences. Owing to the author’s background in performance poetry, you can expect a variety of poetic forms narrating the events.
‘Beverly, Right Here’ by Kate DiCamillo, published by Walker Books
Revisiting the world of Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home, this is the final book in Kate DiCamillo’s trilogy. Each book spotlights one of three best friends, and this one focuses on 14-year-old Beverly Tapinski: her dog has just died and her mother is drunk, a usual occurrence. In a bid to escape, she hitches a ride with her cousin to a seaside town where she lands a job and forms a family of sorts. Several things could go wrong, but what underpins the narrative is the importance of friendship and belonging, and how these things can carry you when the going gets tough.
‘Furious Thing' by Jenny Downham, published by David Fickling Books
A timely and contemporary novel that touches on important yet contentious issues, including anger management and gaslighting. It focuses on a young girl named Lexi, who is angry about most things in her life – but while people tell her she shouldn’t be angry, they placate the anger of her manipulative and emotionally abusive stepfather. Downham allows for an interesting debate on society’s expectations of women’s anger versus men’s.
‘Pet’ by Akwaeke Emezi, published by Faber
Set in the city of Lucille, where children are taught that monsters no longer exist, this novel follows the life of Jam and her discovery of Pet, a creature made of horns, colours and claws that emerges from one of her mum’s paintings. Pet is on a mission to hunt a monster that lurks in the house of her best friend, Redemption, and Jam must fight to protect her pal while uncovering the truth.
‘On Midnight Beach’ by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, published by Faber
Telling the story of two opposing towns in Ireland, their long-standing grudge comes to a head, resulting in something much more frightening and dangerous than anyone could have expected. Inspired by an old Irish legend, it is a coming-of-age story of love, loyalty, community, feuds and tragedy.
‘Deeplight’ by Frances Hardinge, published by Macmillan Children’s Books
This book presents a maritime fantasy that is said to be magical, unforeseeable and entirely addictive. Set on a large group of islands – The Myriad – surrounded by unfriendly seas, it tells the story of two friends, Jelt and Hark, and the toxicity of their relationship, as well as the history of gods; their reign and their demise. It probes issues of obsession and greed through evocative prose.
‘And The Stars Were Burning Brightly' by Danielle Jawando, published Simon & Schuster
Emotional and raw, this is a story of suicide, mental health, bullying, grief and growing up with constant access to social media. And The Stars Were Burning Brightly tells of 15-year-old Nathan, who discovers that his older brother, Al, has taken his own life. During Nathan’s quest to find out why Al did what he did, he learns the truth about the online world. This book highlights the importance of speaking up when all you want to do is hide away.
‘In the Key of Code’ by Aimee Lucido, published by Walker Books
This innovative tale encourages young readers to think differently about code and science. It tells the story of 12-year-old Emmy and her musical family following their move to California so her father can pursue a career with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Emmy at first is unable to find her feet, but when she joins the computer science club at school, she realises she can understand code through a medium she’s familiar with: music. As her confidence grows, she begins a friendship with Abigail and they develop a shared appreciation of Java, the programming language. Blurring the lines between poetic and programmatic prose, it’s said to be an inspiring read for those aged eight and older.
‘Run, Rebel' by Manjeet Mann, published by Penguin Random House Children’s
A compelling debut written in verse, it tells the story of teenager Amber who grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father who targeted both her and her mother. Through emotional prose, Mann is said to craft a narrative that mimics the claustrophobia and sense of tensions felt by Amber. Exploring prevalent issues in today’s society such as feminism, identity, class and abuse.
‘The Deathless Girls' by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, published by Orion
Reimagining the story of Dracula from the point of view of his enslaved brides, this is a sinister and chilling tale, but one that also touches on companionship and love.
‘Burn' by Patrick Ness, published by Walker Books
Expect fire-breathing animals in this story set in an alternative America during the Fifties, which tells the tale of a dragon, Kazimir, who has more about him than meets the eye – Sarah can’t help but be curious about him. Exploring themes of friendship, bravery, revenge and redemption in a world at the brink of elimination, it’s a pacey read.
'After the War’ by Tom Palmer, published by Barrington Stoke
A touching story of survival and loss and eventually finding inner peace and a sense of belonging, it’s set following World War Two and three friends Yossi, Leo and Mordecai arrive in the Lake District having survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. With flashbacks to their dark pasts, it’s a touching portrait of three boys welcomed to Ambleside.
‘Look Both Ways’ by Jason Reynolds, published by Knights Of
Cleverly weaving nuanced stories around the daily ritual of walking home from school, this book is split into 10 tales (one per block of the journey) and explores each character’s unique perspective on life. Touching on issues of bullying, homophobia, cancer and death, it’s an expansive read for a young audience.
‘The Fountains of Silence’ by Ruta Sepetys, published by Penguin Random House Children’s
Love, silence and secrets under the Spanish dictatorship form the basis of this tale. Daniel meets Ana, a young girl working in his hotel. Character-driven, it draws on the suffering and despair that those under Franco’s rule experienced, as well as the burgeoning romance between Daniel and Ana.
‘Somebody Give This Heart a Pen’ by Sophia Thakur, published by Walker Books
Sophia Thakur is a force to be reckoned with – she brings her spoken-word performances to the page. In this debut, she explores the emotions and experiences of growing up as a mixed-race woman. With authenticity and honesty comes themes of love and loss, joy and resilience. A must-read.
‘Echo Mountain' by Lauren Wolk, published by Penguin Random House Children’s
Set in Great Depression-era Maine, Echo Mountain focuses on Ellie, a young girl struggling to help hold her family together. Like many others, they’ve moved to the mountains after having lost their home. When her father has an accident, they struggle even more. It’s a tender tale of family life.
Searching for more great novels for your child? Try these best young adult books
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.