Guardian children's fiction prize
Julia Eccleshare introduces the longlist of eight titles
David Almond at his home in Humshaugh, Northumberland. Photograph: Mark Pinder for the Guardian
There are eight books on the longlist for this year's prize. Established in 1967, the award has an outstanding list of previous winners, including Leon Garfield, who won the inaugural prize for Devil-in-the-Fog, Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Ted Hughes, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, Meg Rosoff, Patrick Ness and, last year, Michelle Paver. It is the only children's prize to be judged by writers; I was chair of this year's judges Michelle Paver, Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick.
Mina was Michael's thoughtful, resourceful and spiky neighbour in David Almond's prizewinning Skellig. This is the story of her life before his arrival, in a series of stunningly individual essays, poems, written dreams – each in a narrative style carefully chosen to catch the mood. Together they capture her confusion and sometimes anger about many aspects of her life, including the death of her father and her antipathy to school. They also celebrate her love of language and her passionate understanding of how it works. Seeing the world through Mina's eyes and hearing it through her voice is a journey of unbridled imagination and touching honesty.
Small Change for Stuart, by Lissa Evans (Doubleday, £10.99). 8+
Small Stuart embarks on an awfully big adventure in this quirky puzzle-solving novel. Uprooted from London by his kindly but distracted parents, Stuart finds himself with nothing to do in his seemingly lifeless new home town. The only interest comes from the confusion caused by the identical triplets next door, and that just makes things worse. But a long-lost letter from a long-lost great uncle sets Stuart off unlocking one baffling puzzle after another. Each more curious than the one before, the far-fetched solutions they require bring the book to a hugely satisfying conclusion.
Twilight Robbery, by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan, £9.99). 11+
Mosca Mye, born under a malign star and orphaned early, ducks and dives her way through a new adventure with her unusual travelling companions, the smooth-talking but hapless Eponymous Clent and the ferocious goose Saracen. In the city of Toll, where the good live by day and the bad by night, Mosca and her crew get trapped as the last scraps of luck evade them. Floridly recounted, how they spring their prison and release the whole city is a triumph of vividly imagined invention.
Momentum, by Sacci Lloyd (Hodder, £6.99). 12+
From its breathtaking opening, which conjures a dystopian London in a not-too-distant future, this is an action-packed thriller with a warm heart and a disturbing message about a broken society. The city is disintegrating; after a global fuel crisis, society has fragmented into warring factions of ruling Citizens, disenfranchised Outsiders and gun-toting Kossaks who keep the peace violently. Teenage Citizen Hunter shrugs off the comfort of his privileged existence for the "reality" of the favelas, home of the Outsiders. Meeting Outsider Uma challenges everything he has believed as he is drawn into the desperate fight to help those who still understand what really matters in society.
Moon Pie, by Simon Mason (David Fickling, £10.99). 10+
How love is tested, challenged and threatened, but can ultimately hold families together is at the heart of Moon Pie. Martha is used to managing her father's sometimes erratic behaviour after her mother dies. Dealing with his oddities and caring for her small brother Tug seems not much stranger than her friend Marcus's obsession with Hollywood movies. But finally, even for her, it is all just a bit too much. This is a beautifully told story that is long on affection and short on preaching.
Return to Ribblestrop, by Andy Mulligan (Simon & Schuster, £6.99). 10+
Ribblestrop, boarding school extraordinaire, opens for a new term. Ribblestrop is renowned for its endearingly chaotic buildings, unusual headteacher, eccentric teachers and, most particularly, its extraordinary pupils, such as Millie and Sanchez. When they are reunited, along with some circus animals and a suitably unusual school chaplain, many hilarious and wildly improbable capers follow. All reflect the Ribblestrop ethos: it is a school full of warmth, generosity, kindness of spirit and the love of learning – of a kind . . .
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, by Annabel Pitcher (Orion, £9.99). 10+
Heartbreaking and funny in equal measure, 10-year-old Jamie's direct and wide-eyed account of the emotional chaos he and his family live through following the death of his sister in a terrorist attack is poignant and warm-hearted. Beginning a new life in the Lake District with his older sister and his father, who mourns his daughter through alcohol and a wild rage against her killers, Jamie knows he should feel sadder than he does. The truth is, he can hardly remember his sister; and what is happening with his new school and new friends, especially Sunya, is more urgent – as is his yearning for his absent mother. Emotionally charged, this is a wonderfully touching story which never slips into worthiness.
Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout, by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman (Egmont, £5.99). 7+
The revolting Mr Gum (pictured) – who hates Christmas, pop music, animals, comics and children – has terrorised Lamonic Bibber through several books already. Now he has gone missing, and the town is enveloped in a cloud of disgusting, filthy smoke. Are the two connected? Almost certainly. How Polly and Friday set about investigating the unusual happenings that always seem to surround Mr Gum is a corkscrew of hilarious impossibility.