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Welsh author shortlisted for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2023

LLANELLI-based author, Lee Newbery, has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2023. Newbery is nominated in the Books for Younger Readers category for his debut novel, The Last Firefox: a heartwarming story about family, friendship and finding your inner fire.

Every year Waterstones’ expert booksellers vote for the books they believe are the very best in new children’s writing and illustration. Now in its 19th year, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize has evolved into one of the most prestigious accolades for children’s books in the UK, launching the careers of many authors and illustrators.

Last year, The Last Bear by Hannah Gold shot to the top of the bestseller charts after being announced as Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Winner 2022 and saw an increase in sales of 434% across the Waterstones estate.

In The Last Firefox a boy befriends a very special fox whose uniqueness leads them both on a whirlwind adventure. The firefox of the story was inspired by the hours Newbery spent devising his own friendly magical Pokemon-style creatures but the story took shape later when Newbery and his husband were going through the adoption process and noticed that many of the children’s book featuring adoption didn’t include families that looked like theirs. He says: “I wanted to offer representation to all the non-traditional family units out there, to show that there are a million ways for a family to come together, and that the only thing that matters is love.”

Lee Newbery is originally from Swansea and now lives with his husband, son and dog in West Wales. By day he helps vulnerable people look for jobs and gain new skills, and by night he sits down at his laptop to write.

Lee Newbery says: “Despite being a writer, I can’t really find the words to summarise how much this shortlisting means to me. I never dreamt that my debut would create such a splash – or, rather, in Charlie and Cadno’s case, an explosion! But it runs deeper than that, because to be shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize is giving families like mine a platform and a voice. It’s telling people that we’re here and we exist and we’re bursting with love! And so for that, I will always be grateful to Waterstones and their bookselling superheroes for their support.”

Florentyna Martin, Waterstones Head of Children’s says: “Books have the magical power to aid personal development in safe, supportive spaces, whether readers are exploring on the page or visiting a bookshop.

With the rise in mental health topics in children’s books, and studies showing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social media on young people’s wellbeing, it is notable that we see reflections on mental health and identity on the shortlists. Our booksellers have chosen a list of exceptional new writing that offers something for everyone.”

The shortlists consist of eighteen books across three categories. Six books will compete within each category to be crowned Category Winner, with the three category winners then vying for the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Winner 2023.

Illustrated Books

The Fairy Garden by Georgia Buckthorn (author), Isabella Mazzanti (illustrator) (Ivy Kids)

What Do You See When You Look At a Tree? by Emma Carlisle (Big Picture Press)

I am NOT a Prince by Rachael Davis (author), Beatrix Hatcher (illustrator) (Hachette Children’s Group)

Gretel the Wonder Mammoth by Kim Hillyard (Penguin Random House Children’s)

The Station Cat by Stephen Hogtun (DK)

The Missing Piece by Jordan Stephens (author), Beth Suzanna (illustrator) (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Books for Younger Readers

The Book of Stolen Dreams by David Farr (Usborne Publishing)

Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan (Walker Books Ltd)

Small! by Hannah Moffatt (Everything with Words)

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery (Penguin Random House Children’s)

Ajay and the Mumbai Sun by Varsha Shah (Chicken House)

The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries: Drama and Danger by J.T. Williams (author), Simone Douglas (illustrator) (Farshore)

Books for Older Readers

All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown (Hachette Children’s Group)

Welcome to St Hell by Lewis Hancox (Scholastic)

The Cats We Meet Along The Way by Nadia Mikail (Guppy Publishing Ltd)

Ellie Pillai is Brown by Christine Pillainayagam (Faber & Faber)

If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So (Stripes Publishing)

Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker (Chicken House)

The winners will be announced on Thursday, March 30, 2023. The winner of each category will receive £2000, with the overall winner receiving an extra £3000. In the event that the prize is awarded to a partnership, then the prize money will be split equally between the joint winners.