Three stories exploring Wales at different times through history feature in the English-language books shortlisted for the Tir na n-Og Children’s Book Awards 2021 announced today (12 March 2021) on the Radio Wales Arts Show.

The periods of history range from the early Middle Ages when Welsh national identity was gathering strength in The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott, to a family emigrating from Wales to the USA at the turn of the twentieth century in The Quilt by Valériane Leblond, and a contemporary story set in the Celtic rainforest of north Wales in Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth.

Organised by the Books Council of Wales and sponsored by CILIP Cymru Wales, the annual awards celebrate the best books for children and young adults published in 2020.

There are three main categories: Welsh-language books for primary school age, Welsh-language books for secondary school age, and English-language books with an authentic Welsh background for children and young people.

This is the first time Jess Butterworth and Elen Caldecott have been shortlisted for the awards and the first time Valériane Leblond has been nominated as both an author and illustrator. The Short Knife has also been longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021.

English-language Shortlist

  • Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth (Orion, 2020) for ages 9+ centres around the character of Cara who lives on a houseboat with her mum, siblings and a dog called Willow. Her dad used to live with them but now lives in a remote part of Wales. The adventure starts when Cara and her siblings find a locked safe one day when they are helping with a clean-up of the canal where they live. A fire destroys their houseboat one night, and while her mum is in hospital and Cara is looking after her siblings, a thief comes to steal the safe. The children leave the house they are temporarily living in to travel in their houseboat with the safe to go to their dad, and then on foot on a journey of survival across Welsh mountains in the snow.
  • The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott (Andersen Press, 2020) for ages 12+ is a story set many centuries ago, in the early Middle Ages, 454, at a time when a new Welsh identity was just starting to emerge, when the Romans had left and the Britons and Saxons were battling to take hold of different territories. It is narrated through the voice of the main character, Mai, a young girl, who up until now, along with her sister Haf, has been kept safe by her father. The story starts with the arrival of Saxon warriors at their farm, forcing the family to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. From here we see Mai surviving in a dangerous world where just speaking her mother tongue could lead to her death, and where she comes to mistrust even the people she loves the most.
  • The Quilt by Valériane Leblond (Y Lolfa, 2020) for ages 5+ is a beautiful, lyrical story about a little girl who lives with her parents on a farm near the coast in rural Wales, around the turn of the twentieth century. Life is hard and the family decide to emigrate to America. To pay for the cost of their journey they sell their possessions but keep a black and red quilt hand-made by the mother from pieces of fabric left over from clothes she has made for the family. Leaving everything familiar behind brings homesickness and a longing – hiraeth – for the little girl, and it is the memories and love contained in the quilt that help her overcome these feelings and adapt to her new life.

Jo Bowers, Chair of the English-language judging panel, said: “All three books had their stories set against a rich authentic Welsh background, which is a central criteria for this award, and each one did this in a very different way to the others. Each book stood out for many reasons: the sense of place and time in Wales and Welsh history; the overall design as each book had very attractive front covers and either illustrations or design features in the body of the text, and each surprised and engaged in both the style and content of the story. We felt that each one brought new aspects about Wales in children’s literature.”

Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, Helgard Krause, said: “My warmest congratulations to all those involved in bringing these three shortlisted titles to readers. It is so important to ensure that young readers in Wales have a choice of high-quality books which reflect the country and culture in which they live.”

Welsh-language Shortlist

The Welsh-language books shortlisted for the Tir na n-Og Awards 2021 was announced on the Heno programme on S4C on Thursday, 11 March.

The shortlisted titles in the Welsh-language primary age category are Ble Mae Boc – Ar Goll yn y Chwedlau (‘Where is Boc – Lost in the Legends’) by Huw Aaron (Y Lolfa, 2020), Mae’r Cyfan i Ti (’It’s All For You’) by Luned Aaron (Atebol, 2020) and Sw Sara Mai (‘Sara Mai’s Zoo’) by Casia Wiliam (Y Lolfa, 2020).

The books shortlisted in the Welsh-language secondary age category are Y Castell Siwgr (‘The Sugar Castle’) by Angharad Tomos (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2020), Llechi (‘Slates’) by Manon Steffan Ros (Y Lolfa, 2020), and #helynt (‘#trouble’) by Rebecca Roberts (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2020).

The winners of the Welsh-language categories will be announced on S4C’s Heno programme at 19:00 on Thursday, 20 May, while the winning English-language title will be revealed on the Radio Wales Arts Show on 21 May at 18:30.

Further details about the awards and the shortlisted books are available on the Books Council of Wales website.