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Spotlight on the Waterstones Children’s Shortlist 2021

By Michaela O’Callaghan, Laura Jones and Rosie Burgoyne


Chosen by booksellers, this award is open only to authors who have published less than three books. Last year Look Up! written by Nathan Bryon and illustrated by Dapo Adeola got the top prize. It is not long until the announcement of the winners of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of our top picks from the shortlist.


Illustrated Books Shortlist


Bear Shaped by Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden


With illustrations reminiscent of Shirley Hughes’ Lucy & Tom, Bear Shaped is a beautifully crafted story of love and loss, suited perfectly to its young audience and older readers alike. Bear Shaped is Coulter-Cruttenden’s debut book and is based on a true story – when a child loses his favourite and most beloved bear. Not only a story of how to cope with loss, this book shows how one small voice can lead to a much greater impact, felt across the world.


The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle


In The Blue Giant, Meera is enjoying a day in the sun when a blue giant approaches them. The wave calls on Meera and her mother to help the ocean. This is a story packed full of meaning and hope, exploring ideas of plastic pollution, whilst its blueish illustrations are visually stunning. Overall, an excellent picture book with a giant message, worthy of its place on the shortlist.



The Grumpy Fairies by Bethan Stevens


Bethan Stevens’ debut picture book, The Grumpy Fairies is a light-hearted read brought to life by the author-illustrator’s expressive illustrations, playful use of size and perspective and carefully considered colour palette throughout. Hugely entertaining for young readers and adults alike, the story takes an unexpected route into the depths of a magical forest to remind readers that not all fairies are happy and helpful, and some just happen to be very, very grumpy.


Young Readers’ Shortlist


A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll


A Kind of Spark tells the story of Addie, an autistic child who campaigns for a memorial of the witch trials in her local area. McNicoll excels at exploring the interpersonal relations between all the characters, encouraging empathy and consideration for the realities of others. Thought-provoking and powerful, this story is all about being proud of who you are and embracing difference.


Llama Out Loud! by Annabelle Sami


In this incredibly funny tale, we meet Yasmin – a ten-year-old who is surrounded by a very large and noisy family, but who says very little and prefers things to be quieter. Just when she thinks things can’t get any louder, along comes Levi the Llama, a toy with a big – and very loud – personality. As Levi pulls Yasmin into his chaotic and fun-filled world, life begins to change. Will Yasmin finally find her voice?




When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Gette


When Life Gives You Mangoes is a beautifully crafted tale set on a Caribbean Island, which follows the journey of Clara, a young girl searching to recover the truth behind what happened to her during a storm the past Summer. Complete with a shocking twist to keep middle grade readers guessing, this book from Pushkin Children’s Books is the perfect Summer read and a definite highlight from this year’s Young Readers’ Shortlist.



Older Reader’s Shortlist


And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando


And the Stars Were Burning Brightly is a powerful exploration of grief. After AI commits suicide, his brother Nathan and former classmate Megan work together to understand the reasons behind AI’s decision. This is a nuanced exploration of topics such as suicide, bullying and social media as the two central characters try to navigate a world without AI. At the heart of this book is a strong message about opening up about your emotions and supporting those who are struggling.



Boy, Everywhere by A M Dassu


A poignant must-read debut, Boy, Everywhere depicts the journey taken by Sami and his family as they leave behind a world of privilege, becoming refugees. Forced to leave their Syrian home, they end up in a prison in Northern England. Sami’s story is one of bravery and survival, and a reminder of the importance of family. This hard-hitting novel of refugees is handled with care and tenderness.



The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta and Anshika Khullar


This fierce and fearless coming-of-age novel written by Dean Atta and featuring striking illustrations by Anshika Khullar was one of Hachette Children’s standout releases of 2020, making waves across social media and bookshops alike. Atta’s brilliant novel, telling the story of a black gay teenager learning to proudly claim his identity, shares crucial messages about the importance of being brave even when you don’t feel ready.


We can’t wait to find out who wins! Congratulations to all authors and illustrators who have made the shortlist. You can find the full shortlist here.

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