Last night I went along to Foyles, to the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, with Catherine Bruton, who was shortlisted in the Children’s Fiction category for her beautiful middle-grade novel, No Ballet Shoes in Syria.
The competition in Catherine’s category was unbelievably fierce – also shortlisted were Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone, Pages and Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James, Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell, and Malamander by Thomas Taylor – and just to have a book shortlisted in such a strong field felt like a real accolade.
And so we were unbelievably happy when No Ballet Shoes in Syria WON the Children’s Fiction Award!
I could not be more pleased for Catherine – I feel incredibly lucky to have acquired and edited the book, and to see Catherine’s beautiful storytelling recognised in this way is such a wonderful moment. There are some books that we all feel particularly proud to have worked on or published, and this is one of those for me: I hope and believe that it is a story that will be read and loved for many years to come. And it feels especially gratifying to see the book win this particular award: The Books Are My Bag Readers Award shortlists are curated by bookshops, and the final outcome is decided by public vote – and so to see the book celebrated by both book sellers and members of the public is hugely rewarding. No Ballet Shoes in Syria is one of those special, rare books that readers have truly taken to their hearts – a book that is hand-sold by booksellers and shared and championed by readers – and if you pick it up and start reading you will fall in love with it.
Here’s what some people have said about it:
“Wise and kind and unputdownable.” – Hilary McKay, Costa Book Prize-winning author of The Skylarks’ War
“A perfect balance of tragedy and triumph.” – Natasha Farrant, author of The Children of Castle Rock
“A moving story about one of the big issues of our time, told with wonderful clarity, and incredibly touching.” – Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo
“A moving, textured story; a Ballet Shoes for the 21st century, if you like.” – Alex O’Connell, The Times
“A gem of a book.” – Natasha Harding, The Sun, Children’s Book of the Week
No Ballet Shoes in Syria tells the story of Aya – eleven years old and newly arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship. But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria. Perfect for fans of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series, and Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain, this is beautiful, classic storytelling.
If you haven’t yet discovered the book yourself, you can read the opening chapters of No Ballet Shoes in Syria below:
You can also listen to the first chapter of the audiobook edition below:
And here’s Catherine discussing the inspirations behind the book:
Thank you to everyone who voted in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards – and congratulations, Catherine!