Julia Eccleshare introduces the longlisted books
The 2010 Guardian children’s fiction prize celebrates eight wonderful books for children who love magic, mystery, wonder, adventure, doing the impossible and understanding the past. They show the power of story to propel children into other lives and other times; to be brave and kind; to dream and wonder. Perfectly pitched, they see how things may look from a child’s point of view and, in doing so, show exactly why reading is such a pleasure.
Prisoner of the Inquisition, by Theresa Breslin (Doubleday, £12.99). Age: 12+
Wealthy Zarita has enjoyed a cosseted existence as a magistrate’s daughter; Saulo’s life has been dogged by persecution, danger and poverty. An unlucky accident causes their paths to cross as the officers of the Inquisition arrive in their small town. Zarita struggles to survive the brutality and trickery of the Inquisitors while observing the courtly intrigue of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, while Saulo, sentenced to work as a galley slave, faces shipwreck and pirates before encountering Christopher Columbus. Large in its scope and rich in its sense of history, this is a thrilling story deftly told.
Now, by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, £6.99). Age: 9+
Set long after the second world war is over, Now concludes Gleitzman’s exceptional story of Felix and Zelda, two children whose lives were blighted by the Holocaust. Felix is now an old man, and the only Zelda in his life is his granddaughter. Knowing the bravery of her namesake gives Zelda a lot to live up to. Against a background of school bullying and a race against time to escape a forest fire, she has to overcome her fears as she tells her own story. Gleitzman’s trademark fine balance of tragedy and comedy is a sure as ever.
Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes (Quercus, £6.99). Age: 11+
Propelled at great pace and embracing any number of dangers and disasters, this is a brave, zany and warm-hearted road story following two children’s rollercoaster journey from Winnipeg to New York. When their father dies, “the Rat” refuses to contemplate being taken in as an orphan and sets off to find her uncle in New York. Wiser and older, Bob knows he must follow his sister, whose feisty, determined and fearless behaviour leads to potential disasters from which she has an unusual, if not always honest, knack of extracting herself. Bob and the Rat survive much and grow strong as they live on their wits.
The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson (Macmillan, £9.99). Age: 8+
When a hag, a troll, a wizard and a boy who lacks magic altogether are given the Summer Task at the annual Summer Meeting of Unusual Creatures, it is no great surprise that they shake and tremble and even think of running away. Facing up to the terrifying flesh-eating Ogre is quite an ordeal; trying to rescue the princess as well seems impossible. But nothing, in this deliciously entertaining and frothy novel, goes quite according to plan. It’s full of surprises, and all the capers unfold elegantly, leading to a delightful conclusion.
Sparks, by Ally Kennen (Marion Lloyd Books, £6.99). Age: 9+
When three children find a note their grandfather has left giving clear instructions about the kind of funeral he wants, they decide they have to do all they can to fulfil his wishes. Subverting the plans the adults are making, breaking all the rules they’ve always obeyed before and possibly the law too, Carla leads her siblings on a thrilling and original adventure with a very unusual purpose. Doing the impossible is highly entertaining in this spirited adventure.
Lob, by Linda Newbery, illustrated by Pam Smy (David Fickling, £10.99). Age: 8+
Lucy loves visiting her grandparents in the country and especially loves spending time with her grandfather as he potters around his garden. It is Grandpa Will who introduces her to Lob, his mysterious helper. Grannie Annie scoffs at the idea of the hidden green man, but Lucy believes absolutely long before she finally catches her first glimpse of him. When Lucy’s world is turned upside down, Lob is her comfort and her connection to an important part of her childhood. Laced with poems, and beautifully illustrated, this is a magical story of believing in the unknown.
Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver (Orion, £10.99). Age: 10+
Those who are new to the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness and those who are already fans will be equally delighted by this final instalment of Torak’s adventures in a richly imagined prehistorical world of snowy mountains, ice-bound rivers and seemingly impenetrable forests. Torak sets out on his quest to set his world to rights with the support of his friend Renn and his loyal companion and pack-brother Wolf. In the end, though, he has to make the final journey alone. And when it is over, what then? What choice will Torak make? The warm-hearted, dramatically tense, many-layered sequence of novels is brought to a most satisfying conclusion.
White Crow, by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion, £9.99). Age: 13+
Newly arrived from the city, Rebecca hopes that the small village her father has found to be their home will be a place of safety. Adjusting is hard but, when Rebecca meets Ferelith, it looks possible. Ferelith is strange, unpredictable and ever changing, but Rebecca is drawn into the dangerous plan she has which leads to a shocking discovery from the past. The chill of horror is never far below the surface in this gripping, blood-soaked gothic novel which questions life, death and friendship.
The Guardian children’s fiction prize will be awarded in September. Budding critics have a chance to prove their skills in our young critics’ competition. Full details are available at guardian.co.uk/books/guardianchildrensfictionprize. Or look for an entry leaflet at Hay.