On a shortlist that reflects the current boom in original, inventive, well-written books for children aged 8 – 12, M G Leonard’s thrilling adventure of a boy and his beetle, and the array of wonderfully villainous adults lined up against them, stood out for its humour, characters and plotting and because of Leonard’s special understanding of her young audience.
Beetle Boy fuses science and sleuthing. When Darkus’s dad goes missing a giant beetle called Baxter comes to his rescue, but can the two solve the mystery of his dad's disappearance, especially when links emerge to cruel Lucretia Cutter and her penchant for beetle jewellery?
The book is already an international bestseller with rights sold in more than 30 different countries and has thousands of young fans in the UK who love this rollicking adventure.
On winning the award Leonard said:
‘My heart is brimming over with joy and delight that Beetle Boy has won the Branford Boase Award. I would never have dreamed such a prestigious award was within my reach, because my literary beginnings were extremely humble. I wrestled unsuccessfully with the English language at school and didn't get to university until my late twenties, doing my first degree with the Open University. My route into higher education, writing and storytelling was provoked and inspired by my love of the theatre.
The language of entomology was new to me when I began writing Beetle Boy, and the vocabulary alien. I worked for the best part of a decade, researching coleoptera, writing and rewriting the story to introduce the reader to this new language without alienating them. I love my subject, I love my characters and I'm over the moon that the award will help put the book into the hands of more children. I hope the story will inspire children to go outside, turn over a stone, or look amongst the flowers and marvel at the wonder of the insect world.
I am particularly happy that this award is shared with my editors Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon. Everyone who writes a book knows it is a team effort. My editors have taught me a great deal, and helped me to develop confidence in my writing. I am excited about our partnership and what stories we might bring into the world together in the future.’
Last year’s winner, Horatio Clare, a judge for the 2017 award said: ‘Beetle Boy is a wonderfully funny, energetic and involving story. It combines classic story-telling with a tremendous sense of fun and excitement. I expect children will be reading it with huge pleasure and interest for many years to come.’ He added, ‘This win is good news for books and beetles!’
Chair of the judges, children’s literature expert Julia Eccleshare said, ‘The UK children’s book market is booming, and our shortlist reflected all the new vigour and excitement in the market. M.G. Leonard is a classic storyteller, in the tradition of Roald Dahl or Dodie Smith, but an original voice. We predict that once again the Branford Boase Award judges have recognized an author who will be thrilling young readers for decades to come.’
The Branford Boase Award is the only award to recognise the role of the editor in nurturing new talent.
Winning editors Rachel Leyshon and Barry Cunningham said: ‘We were so lucky to find in Maya one of the best debut authors we’d ever come across – one who knew the story she wanted to write, and who was then so willing and able to beetle away on it, editorially speaking. We are thrilled that she has received this hugely important recognition of her talent and originality, and feel sure that this marks not just a celebration of one book, but also the launch of a famous career.’
The 2017 winners of the Award were announced on Wednesday 5 July at a ceremony at Walker Books in London. Frances Hardinge, who won the Branford Boase in 2006 and went on to win the Costa Book of the Year Award, presented M.G. Leonard with a cheque for £1,000 and both Maya and Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon received a unique, hand-crafted silver-inlaid box.