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Before I Die by Jenny Downham, edited by David Fickling and published by David Fickling Books, has won the Branford Boase Award, awarded for an outstanding debut novel for children. Managing to be both heart breaking and life-affirming, it is the story of a girl trying desperately to fit a life time of experiences into the few weeks left before she dies. For David Fickling, it is two winners in a row, with A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd having taken the prize last year. Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine, edited by Stella Paskins at Harper Collins, was Highly Commended.
Philip Pullman presented Jenny Downham with her award (a cheque for £1,000 and a hand crafted silver-inlaid box) at the ceremony, hosted by Walker Books at 6.30pm on Wednesday 9th July. The glittering line up of past winners, many of whom attended, includes Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet, both of whom have gone on to win the Carnegie medal.
Philip Pullman observed of the winner: “Before I Die is a truly remarkable book, and one that shows that as well as being able to pick authors of startling and undeniable talent, David Fickling has lost none of the enormous tact and skill that makes him such a fine editor. I very much look forward to seeing what Jenny Downham goes on to write next – as well, of course, as seeing what David Fickling discovers!”
David Fickling’s enthusiastic response was “Winning The Branford Boase once was a great honour. Winning it twice in a row, this time with Jenny, has left me nearly speechless. I love this award because it recognises the finest of our new writers for young children and in my view is chosen by people I deeply respect according to criteria which my own publishing heart responds to (if publishers can be said to have a heart!). Jenny Downham’s book is an absolute wonder and Jenny herself a real writer. You could say she sprang into our midst like Athena from the head of Zeus, at any rate, one moment she wasn’t there and then suddenly there she was on our children’s book Mount Olympus!”
Jenny Downham’s reaction on hearing the good news: “I am deeply moved to have won the Branford Boase Award. For any children’s novelist whose first book is out there in the world, but whose next is still only half-realised, it provides an enormous confidence boost. Unique in honouring the author/editor relationship, this award is also a tribute to David Fickling - a sensitive and energetic champion. He tells me, ‘I believe in you, keep going.’ This award seconds that in the most wonderful way possible.”