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I was excited to hear about the inaugural Spark! Kingston and Richmond Children’s Book Awards, especially when three of the four shortlisted books in the 9-11 category were already on my to read pile. Here are my reviews:

A Clock of Stars by Francesca Gibbons

I went for the biggest book first, and the one I’ve been looking forward to reading the most.

Imogen and her little sister Marie follow a silver moth through a door in a tree to a different realm. There they meet Miro, a lonely prince, in a world of monsters. They must confront the king of the monsters in order to find their way home, but perhaps they can also help restore peace to the City of Yaroslav and the surrounding Kolsaney forest.

A Clock of Stars is full of charmingly quirky and authentic characters, is beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, and alight with magic and wonder. A pitch-perfect portal fantasy from a gifted storyteller. I adored it.

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson

I don’t read a lot of funny books, so this was a complete change of pace but the author made me laugh out loud almost immediately (at something tragic that you wouldn’t laugh at ordinarily), so it was off to a great start.

When something sad happens at the beginning of Freddie’s summer holiday he makes a plan to go on a quest with his friends…but they hadn’t prepared for an onion-eating competition, losing their clothes, being chased by criminals or being mistaken for superheroes. Freddie doesn’t believe in miracles, but will his super-miraculous journey change his mind?

I loved this laugh-out-loud hilarious, madcap romp with a surprisingly warm heart. A book that makes you laugh and cry is always a winner.

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

I’d already bought this book after the virtual SCBWI Mass Book Launch last year, so I was looking forward to reading it.

Clara lives in the small village of Sycamore in Jamaica where nothing ever happens. But that’s not entirely true – something happened last summer but Clara doesn’t remember it. All she knows is that her best friend Gaynah doesn’t believe her amnesia is real. But then a new girl arrives on the island from England and, as Clara shows her around, they delve into old family secrets and grudges and Clara’s memories start to come back. 

This book sucked me right in. You’re immediately immersed in the tension between Clara and Gaynah and compelled to read on to find out out what catastrophe was that led to Clara’s memory loss. When Life Gives You Mangoes is a wonderfully atmospheric, voice-driven narrative, with a clever plot and a stunning conclusion.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

The final book has a real nostalgic look (it reminded me of the cover of The Skylarks War), which I suspect may appeal to adults more than children.

In the aftermath of World War One, Lotti’s horrible aunt and uncle want to send her away to boarding school, and the police won’t let Ben stay alone in his narrowboat when his older brother is declared missing in France, presumed dead. Lotti and Ben hatch an ambitious plan to sail the Sparrowhawk across the Channel to France to find his brother. Along the way they have to contend with bad weather, suspicious lock keepers, quite a lot of dogs, and a determined police officer, tracking them every step of the way.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is an exciting and heartwarming Enid-Blyton style adventure about friendship and family.

All four of the shortlisted books are excellent and it’s incredibly difficult to pick a favourite. I’m really looking forward to finding out which one the children go for. If I had to choose a winner, I think I’d go for the Mangoes – mainly for that gasp-inducing ending! But best of luck to all of the shortlisted authors.