The best childrenâ€™s fiction makes no compromises on literary or intellectual ambition, but instead finds a way to make mature themes accessible and compelling for younger readers. Thatâ€™s certainly what my fellow judges and I found with the shortlist for this yearâ€™s Guardian childrenâ€™s fiction prize, announced today. They are four very contemporary books that also bring to mind classics from the past, all examining how the stories we tell not only rewrite our histories, but can also change our future:
Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
A reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth that reverberates with intensity and passion, beautifully presented and written. The transformative potential of art and the imagination radiates from every page of this book, which is as short and all-consuming as the love story it describes.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
A compelling fantasy spun from one mesmerising idea: what if telling lies gave you the power to discover other peopleâ€™s secrets? This gothic yarn of Victorian fossil hunters gone bad features an unforgettable young heroine, who fearlessly takes on monsters of the present and the past to build herself a better life.
An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
This is a joyful Treasure Island-style mystery for the Instagram generation. A lovable young pair donâ€™t face pirates as they seek their late auntieâ€™s buried hoard, but more contemporary devices â€“ from crowdsourcing clues to metal detectors â€“ are winningly deployed in this funny and tender exploration of what makes a family.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
E Nesbitâ€™s classic Five Children and It gains an outstanding sequel, with the ingenious conceit of transposing the cosy Victorian setting for the eve of the first world war, yielding devastating results. Enthralling, witty and often unbearably moving, an elegy not only to a lost generation, but to the first golden age of childrenâ€™s literature.
Like all the shortlisted works, it is the kind of story you will want to pass on to your grandchildren, and they to theirs. Itâ€™s going to be very hard to pick the winner.