The judges of the Branford Boase Award (BBA) for outstanding first novel for young people have noted an emerging trend in writing for readers aged seven and up: Instead of setting off for adventures in Narnia or where the wild things are, protagonists are staying home.
A significant amount of children's literature now takes place in an emotionally complex domestic setting. Julia Eccleshare, the award's co-founder and chairperson of the judging panel, points out in The Bookseller that increasingly, main characters are facing challenges such as death, depression, and divorce, which are "impossible for a child to resolve as the issues are insurmountable." Protagonists are trying to untangle internal family drama, not embarking on quests to catch thieves or right wrongs.
Although they might not fit the traditional understanding of adventure, these tales still offer excitement, as tension stems from internal monsters like mental health problems rather than the more literal wild-eyed furry giants with sharp teeth and claws. In more and more children's novels, Ms. Eccleshare explains, the action is in interaction, which invites readers to develop their sense of compassion and empathy.
She pinpoints the rise of more claustrophobic settings as coinciding with mobile phones and restrictions on children's freedom to roam without parental supervision. It is clear that at least the BBA judges still fancy some fresh air: Children will find a fair amount of outdoor adventure in the shortlisted titles below.
The winner of the Branford Boase Award, worth £1,000, will be announced On July 4th.
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