Dyslexic scoops top book prize

16th December 2005 at 00:00
When Sally Gardner was a child with dyslexia, her parents were told she was unteachable. Now her first full-length novel for children has won a top prize. Children in 50 primary schools have chosen I, Coriander, a story of love, loyalty and fundamentalism set in the 17th century, as the Nestle Children's Book Prize winner for fiction for nine to 11-year-olds.

Sally Gardner is well-known as an author and illustrator of picture books and short fiction for younger primary children, including books to introduce newly-confident readers to stories in chapters. One of her chapter books, The Countess's Calamity, won a Nestle prize in the category for six to eight-year-olds in 2003.

She was encouraged to write by Judith Elliott, her editor at Orion Children's Books, soon after she started illustrating in the Eighties following a career in theatre design. In an article for The TES in July, she said about her early career: "I had imagination and ideas by the bucketful: what I lacked was confidence."

During her early adult life she saw her dyslexia as "a tin can hanging round my neck, tripping me up or clattering every time I turned a corner".

Now she believes it could be the key to creativity.

I, Coriander was one of a shortlist of three chosen by an adult panel.

Coriander is the child of a fairy and a mortal, who grows up near London Bridge in the early days of the English Civil War. When the fairy queen brings about her mother's death, her royalist father is forced into an arranged marriage with a Puritan woman who, with Arise Fell, her corrupt witch-finder associate, brings misery and danger to Coriander's life until she finds a route to the fairy kingdom.

The Whisperer by Nick Butterworth, (HarperCollins) won the Nestle award for six to eight-year-olds.

This is a powerful and often funny picture book about the causes of conflict between gangs and tribes, dedicated to Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is a Romeo and Juliet story with a twist, set in an edgy urban landscape where the black and white cats are enmeshed in turf wars with the ginger cats.

When ginger Amber and black and white Monty fall in love, The Whisperer, a rat whose survival depends on the continued fighting, moves in. But the end of the book shows small steps towards tolerance triumphing over the rat's manipulative tactics.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, pound;10.99), the winner in the Five and Under category, is a bedtime story (also recommended for children up to seven to read alone) about the march of a lost penguin (with a boy companion) to his home at the South Pole.

* geraldine.brennan@tes.co.uk

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