Former journalist and editor Sophie McKenzie has scooped the overall prize in the prestigious Red House Children’s Book Award 2009 for her thrilling teen novel, Blood Ties.
The award is regarded as the most important children’s prize for literature because it is the only award voted for solely by young readers.
It is second time lucky for McKenzie, as her novel, Girl, Missing, won the older readers’ category in 2007.
Blood Ties (Simon and Schuster) won both the older readers’ category and overall prizes in the award, which is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.
The winning novel is a gripping thriller that explores issues of genetic engineering and personal identity.
Tightly plotted, readers said they empathised with the teenage characters Rachel and Theo who struggle with their sense of identity.
The fast-paced novel keeps readers on the edge of their seats as the protagonists race to survive against the odds.
McKenzie learned of her win at a glittering awards luncheon at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens yesterday (Saturday) which was attended by more than 200 people, including 80 children from across the country, all of whom were involved in the voting.
Stunned McKenzie, who won a silver trophy, said she was honoured to win this unique literary prize.
“Blood Ties is my favourite book so I am completely overwhelmed that the readers have chosen it as theirs, too,” she said.
“I am delighted and it is a huge honour, but this isn’t really about an award, fantastic though it is to have won it, it is a celebration of reading. It’s stories above everything.
“I passionately love stories as they help us understand the world around us and the work the Federation of Children’s Book Groups does in getting children to love books and reading cannot be underestimated.”
Two other category winners in the 29th annual award were also announced at the event: Allan Ahlberg’s beautiful picture book The Pencil (Walker), illustrated by Bruce Ingman, has taken the younger children category, while Kes Gray’s fun story, Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos (Random House) has clinched the younger readers’ category.
An incredible 143,295 votes were cast by children and young adults all over the UK both online and through ballots collated by regional co-ordinators of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.
Thousands of children from schools, libraries and nurseries spent 18 months devouring 838 titles to find the shortlistedten books, four in the category for books for younger children, and three each in the younger readers’ and older readers’ categories.
Announcing the winners, Sinead Kromer, national co-ordinator for the RHCBA, said: “The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only award that truly values the opinion of children and empowers them to make the decisions that collectively decide the winners.
“If you look back over the winners of the past 28 years most of them have become bestsellers and even modern classics.
“The children know what they like and know what they want to read. And it is children who have chosen the winners.
“The names of the winners are a closely guarded secret until the envelope is opened, the winners announced, the whistles blown, the poppers explode and the hall bursts into applause. It is an experience the children will remember for a very long time!”
Seni Glaister, CEO of Red House, said: “Congratulations to all the winners of the award, especially overall winner Sophie McKenzie whose exciting thriller Blood Ties has gripped children around the UK.”