From historical novels set in Edinburgh's backstreet closes, to comic stories of eccentric families and painful issues of homosexuality and bullying, Scottish children's literature is flourishing, according to the shortlist committee for a major new literary award. The finalists are being announced today (Friday).
Out of 48 entries submitted for toddlers through to teenagers, the committee has drawn up a leet of nine candidates for the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books, sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council and The TES Scotland. Now they are inviting children from all over Scotland to read the three books targeted at their age groups and vote for the winners.
Teachers and librarians are requested to set up reading groups in three categories - under-eights, 8-12s and 13-16s, and to set the youngsters reading from August to November, when the winners will be announced.
Finalists from the first stage of the awards for the youngest age group are Charlie Cook's Favourite Book, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler; Little Lost Cowboy, by Simon Puttock and Caroline Jayne Church; and The Sea Mice and the Stars, by Kenneth Steven and Louise Ho.
Charlie Cook's Favourite Book was one that parents and children would go back to again and again, the judges said. "The illustrations and text offer perfect support to one another and together they present numerous opportunities for further storytelling."
Little Lost Cowboy was a heart-warming tale about a lost coyote pup.
"Humorous and well written with a host of other animals playing their support roles perfectly, this picture book reads aloud brilliantly," they said. The Sea Mice and the Stars was "a magical book in a lyrical style with illuminating illustrations".
There was a wide variety of topics and styles for older readers, and the finalists selected for 8-12s were Deep Water, by Debi Gliori; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by JK Rowling; and The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard.
Deep Water, the fifth in the popular series on the Strega-Borgia family, was "full of humour, adventure and captivating characters", the judges said.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the world-famous series, showed Rowling at her best. "It was," they said, "a fantastically well-written and gripping read that definitely lived up to expectations."
Joan Lingard's The Sign of the Black Dagger was, in the judges' view, "the perfect mystery suspense story".
The strongest category was for 13-16s, and the final selection was Green Jasper, by KM Grant; The Drowning Pond, by Catherine Forde; and Roxy's Baby, by Catherine MacPhail.
Green Jasper was, the committee said, "a really good, page-turning adventure" about the Crusades. The Drowning Pond was "a chilling dark experience of power games played out by girls, with an authentic teen voice". Roxy's Baby, meanwhile, was "a fast-paced, gripping thriller" for girls and boys.
Speaking on behalf of Braw (Books, Reading and Writing), the network for children's books in Scotland which is organising the awards, manager Anna Gibbons said the judges were impressed by the quality and range of what was on offer.
"It's confirmation that contemporary Scottish writing for children is thriving," she said.