Books tackling some of the big issues of the day have won the 2020 Tir na n-Og Awards for children’s and young people’s literature in Welsh.

Pobol Drws Nesaf (‘The People Next Door’) by author Manon Steffan Ros and illustrator Jac Jones took the prize for the best title in the Welsh-language primary age category. Aimed at readers aged 3–7, this picture book urges us to respect each other and not judge someone who looks or behaves differently to us.

The prize for the best Welsh-language book in the secondary age category was won by Byw yn fy Nghroen (‘Living in my Skin’), edited by Sioned Erin Hughes. The book collates the difficult experiences of twelve young people who have had to struggle with long-term illness and health conditions. Aged between 10 and 26, the contributors discuss their mental and physical illnesses in detail, including cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, spina bifida, visual impairment, OCD, depression and anxiety.

The chair of the judging panel for the 2020 Tir na n-Og Welsh-language books, Gwawr Maelor Williams from Bangor University’s School of Education and Human Development, said: “The Tir na n-Og Award is not judged solely on the basis of its innovation or uniqueness or because it fills a gap. Byw yn fy Nghroen is also literature, although that may not be its primary intention. Powerful writing and skillful editing are required in order to write with conviction and authenticity, and to draw the reader into the experiences and anguish of others. We have here an important volume in the field of literature for young people.”

Byw yn fy Nghroen (Y Lolfa) was on the shortlist for the 2020 Tir na n-Og Awards in the Welsh-language secondary category with two other books – Tom(Y Lolfa) by Cynan Llwyd and Madi (Atebol) by Dewi Wyn Williams.

The editor of Byw yn fy Nghroen, Sioned Erin Hughes, said: “I am overwhelmed and delighted that the book has achieved what I had hoped it would achieve, namely raising awareness, understanding and empathy around health challenges facing young people.”

The other two books shortlisted with Pobol Drws Nesaf (Y Lolfa) in the Welsh-language primary category this year were Y Ddinas Uchel by Huw Aaron (Atebol) and Genod Gwych a Merched Medrus by Medi Jones-Jackson (Y Lolfa).

Commenting on Pobol Drws Nesaf, Gwawr Maelor said: “This book is a little gem because of the way in which the narrative, the illustrations and the simplicity of the story weave such a natural thread from beginning to end. We see the craft of two people at work in the book. It is a story which is easy to understand at first reading for a young reader, reading alone. Multiculturalism or the Welsh language are not forced in any way, nor is the need to accept everyone as they are, in this concise, authentically Welsh story. But they are there without being expressed and that’s the feat of this partnership between an experienced author and a skilled illustrator in their jewel of a book, Pobol Drws Nesaf.”

It’s the fifth time author Manon Steffan Ros from Tywyn in Gwynedd has won the Tir na n-Og Award: “It’s an honour to win a Tir na n-Og Award for a book as close to my heart as Pobol Drws Nesaf. The story itself is simple and light, and I think that’s important because in reality it carries a big message – that we need to celebrate our differences and respect everyone. It was a huge pleasure to work with Jac once more. He always brings a touch of magic to his illustrations, and draws out what lies between the words.”

Jac Jones said: “When a child opens a book, any book, they begin a journey into the understanding of fun, sadness, fear, joy and the gift of making choices. Manon’s wonderful book, Pobol Drws Nesaf, is a touchstone for all of these. Whatever nature’s palette, colours mix.”

The Tir na n-Og Awards are organised annually by the Books Council of Wales to reward the best books for children and young people in Wales in both Welsh and English. They are sponsored by CILIP Cymru Wales, the library and information association.

The Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, Helgard Krause, said: “The standard of the winning and the shortlisted books in the Tir na n-Og Awards has been outstanding this year, and I would like to thank everyone for their valuable work and contributions – as authors, editors, illustrators and publishers. Thanks to them, we are able to ensure that the shelves of our bookshops, libraries and schools offer children and young people a rich choice that stimulates, inspires and encourages them to read. Warmest congratulations to everyone involved.”

Amy Staniforth from CILIP Cymru said: “Librarians across Wales will be thrilled to share Pobol Drws Nesaf, Byw yn fy Nghroen and all the other brilliant Tir na n-Og books with their patrons in 2020. It is important that libraries offer Welsh-language content that both reflects and challenges the Wales we see around us, and the Tir na n-Og Awards are a fantastic opportunity to remember and celebrate this. Congratulations to Manon Steffan Ros, Jac Jones and Sioned Erin Hughes. Please keep up the good work!”

The Welsh-language winners of the 2020 Tir na n-Og Awards were announced live on S4C’s Heno programme on Friday, 10 July, with the two winning titles receiving a cheque for £1,000 and a specially commissioned poem, written by Bardd Plant Cymru (the Welsh-language Children’s Laureate) Gruffudd Owen and illustrated by artist Ruth Jên.

Announced on the Radio Wales Arts Show on Friday, 3 July, the winner of the English-language category of the 2020 Tir na n-Og Awards was Claire Fayers from Cardiff for her fantasy adventure story Storm Hound.