Well-established authors line up on this year's Carnegie Medal shortlist. J K Rowling (for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, published by Bloomsbury Children's Books) and last year's winner David Almond (now on the list for his second novel, Kit's Wilderness, published by Hodder) are the relative newcomers.
Three impressive books which were not selected by the panel of librarians in their search for "outstanding" writing published last year were The Eclipse of the Century by Jan Mark, The Stones are Hatching by Geraldine McCaughrean and I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman: all titles which work on several levels and do not have completely straightforward narratives.
However, Aidan Chambers's Postcards from No Man's Land (Bodley Head), a novel for teenagers about a boy's coming-of-age summer and his bond with a dying woman, has made it on to the shortlist and is my favourite for the medal.
Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley (Orchard Books) and The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (Doubleday) are the best works to date from two prolific school library favourites. Ashley transports a child soldier from Central Africa to south-east London; Wilson follows two sisters' attempts to cope with their mothers' mental illness. Gillian Cross's Tightrope (Oxford University Press), a thriller about a graffiti artist and the small-time crook who is the big fish in her small pond, is also a new departure. The Rinaldi Ring by Jenny Nimmo (Mammoth) and King of Shadows by Susan Cooper (Bodley Head) make up the shortlist.
Non-fiction and poetry books are eligible for the Carnegie Medal but have not appeared on the libraries' longlist in recent years. This year both are represented on the shortlist for the Kate Greenaway Medal, the parallel award for illustration. Chris Riddell's"illuminations" for Castle Diary(pictured right), a 13th-century pageboy's account of a year in a knight's service, were commended for their "superb characterisation and a sophistication that will entice children into this period of history". The book is published by Walker Books, as is 75 per cent of the Greenaway shortlist. Simon James's illustrations for his poetry anthology, Days Like This (Walker)were said to "sum up the child's world with a light touch". The other Walker contenders are: Patrick Benson's illustrations for Russell Hoban's tale The Sea-Thing Child ("captures a fundamental growing experience with a simple power"); Helen Oxenbury's edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ("it does Lewis Carroll's text a great service, opening it up to contemporary children"); Kathy Henderson's The Storm, which pits a boy, his mother and their home against the elements; and Kevin Hawkes's pictures for Paul Fleischman's Weslandia, which recreate the new civilisation founded within a lonely boy's head.
From the rest of the publishing world come the remaining two titles: Clarice Bean, That's Me!, a first book by Lauren Child (Orchard) introduces a contemptuous heroine and her trying family; Wombat Goes Walkabout (Collins Children's Books) features Christian Birmingham's stunning scorched-earth paintings of the Australian bush and its creatures. My money's on Alice, and my vote for the one that got away goes to Christina Balit for Atlantis (Frances Lincoln) - "a real triumph", said one of its supporters.
While the Carnegie and Greenaway winners (to be announced in July) just get the glory (and books for a school of their choice), the Aventis Junior Prize for Science Books 2000 (formerly the Rhone-Poulenc) offers pound;10,000 to the book that best helps under-14s to understand science. The judging panel chaired by David Bellamy has settled on a shortlist of six: The DK Guide to Space by Peter Bond (Dorling Kindersley); The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World, an introduction to physical geography by Felicity Brooks; Evolve or Die, a Scholastic Horrible Science paperback title by Phil Gates; The History News in Space by Michael Johnstone, the story of early space exploration (Walker); The Kingfisher Book of Planet Earth by Martin Redfern, which looks at the influence of natural forces on Earth; and Brainwaves in the Bedroom by Richard Robinson, from the Oxford University Press Science Magic paperback series, full of experiments that demonstrate special effects. Pupils at 31 schools are now choosing the winner, to be announced on May 23.