•  Katya Balen becomes first ever to achieve back-to-back wins
  • Costa-winning The Crossing scoops Manjeet Mann her second UKLA award
  • Stunning debuts and diverse and inclusive choices celebrated

                                       @The_UKLA  #UKLA23   #teachersbookawards

For the first time in the history of the only national book awards exclusively judged by teachers, an author has achieved consecutive wins. Katya Balen follows her 2022 win in the 7-11+ category for October, October with what the judges praised as an “exquisite” novel in 2023. The Light in Everything, is a “gut-wrenchingly emotional and relatable” story which gives a really authentic portrayal of a modern blended family and the difficulties faced by the children, as well as dealing very sensitively and appropriately with the difficult issue of domestic violence. In awards which primarily seek “books in which the language is powerful, “the sophisticated but not condescending language” used was particularly commended by the judges.

Katya Balen responded to the news of her second win by saying: ‘The UKLA Book Awards and its community are everything I love about being a children’s author – their members and judges are so enthusiastic, dedicated and involved in making sure young people are reading for pleasure and exploring a wide range of books. So it’s an absolute honour and a privilege for them to recognise my work and to win the 7-10+ category with The Light in Everything”

The 11-14+ category features another returning winner. Manjeet Mann was joint winner in 2021 with her debut novel Run Rebel and went on to win the Costa Award with her next novel, The Crossing, which has now secured for her a second UKLA win. Judges commended this “important and powerful” verse novel for its “brilliant construction” and clever handling of the dual narrator perspective to reveal with “real emotional heart and soul” the topical and relevant tragedies of the refugee crisis. The verse novel format is really engaging and accessible, but equally provides a “deeply thought-provoking” read which “really lives with you”. Both Katya and Manjeet received Emeritus medals for winning their categories twice.

 In contrast, the 3-6+ category has been won by a stunning debut. Flooded by Mariajo Ilustrajo delighted the judges with its “unique style” of “quirky and original” illustrations with “lots to notice in the finer detail and a great use of a limited colour palette”. They noted that this is a book which “works on lots of different levels”, with older children able to access the underlying political messages about awareness of the disadvantaged in society, while all ages will appreciate the humour and the need for communities to work together. It will also provide an “excellent opportunity to talk about climate change.”

The judging criteria call for the selection to be from a “wide and inclusive range” of publishers and for books which “recognise a broad range of perspectives, experiences and voices” and this is certainly reflected in the outstanding books winning the Information Books 3-14+category. Judges had difficult choices to make, but selected as Winner, the “insightful and thought- provoking” Musical TruthA Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs written by Jeffrey Boakye with illustrations by Ngadi Smart, for itsuniquely accessible way to engage readers with Black History. “Interesting”, “informative”, “powerful and unflinching” are just some of the adjectives judges used to describe what they called a “masterpiece”. The judges also wished to Highly Commend Here and Queer written by Rowan Ellis with “bright and engaging” illustrations by Jacky Sheridan. “Informative, accessible and non-patronising,” fully “accepting of difference and identities” and based on” authentic lived experiences”, this was skilfully written to be a “personal dialogue between the writer and the reader” and overcoming “the isolation of the teen reader”.  Both books are “incredibly important” to have in schools.

As Chris Lockwood, Awards Chair said “It is a joy to hear the passion and enthusiasm from our teacher judges every year.  They approach the job of choosing the winning books with enormous care and consideration about the impact of these books on the children and young people they teach.  We are so lucky to have such wonderful shortlisted books to choose from

 From the 87 teacher judges involved in this unique process, twelve are nominated by their colleagues to go on to form the final judging panel which decides the eventual winners of the UKLA 2023 Book Awards. They read the shortlists from all four categories regardless of the age group they teach, which adds a fascinating insight to the impassioned debate.  As head teacher and judge Simon Pollard said “Being a final judge for the UKLA book awards is a privilege as it enables us to explore, in depth, the highest quality books for all ages. Sharing ideas for their use in the classroom and then ultimately to pass that knowledge onto many teachers and therefore the books into the hands and minds of countless pupils.”

The fact that these shortlists are judged by class teachers and can be heartily recommended to their peers makes them particularly useful as co-sponsor Deborah McLaren, Director of Lovereading4kids said:  “Now that was a shortlist! We know at LoveReading4Kids, how challenging it is to select a winner from such a brilliant list of children’s books. But the UKLA has done it again, and we wholeheartedly endorse the list and would like to say a hearty congratulations to the winners.

The only national awards to be judged entirely by teachers, the UKLA Awards are a special thing and we love being involved. It’s wonderful to know that these books have been shared with children in the classroom, and they’ve had such a huge impact. Reading for pleasure is so critical to the outcomes of our children and helps us create readers for life. To everyone involved with the UKLA, your trustees, your members, your teacher judges, thanks for all that you do to encourage  reading for pleasure in our children.”

Sue Polchow, Library Advisor at co – sponsor Reading Cloud, said: “Encouraging reading for enjoyment and improving literacy are very much at the heart of Reading Cloud, so we are delighted to support these worthwhile and unique children’s book awards as co-sponsors again this year. We are always heartened to see so many dedicated teacher judges all over the UK working with the longlisted, shortlisted, and winning books to inspire a love of reading in their pupil groups and beyond. A big congratulations to the winning titles.”

For UKLA, giving classroom practitioners the opportunity to read high quality new children’s books is as important as finding an overall winner. Research carried out by members of UKLA (Cremin et al 2008) clearly demonstrated the links between teachers’ knowledge of children’s books and the likelihood of pupils becoming successful readers. Despite this evidence, teachers are seldom given time to read new books or funding to purchase them when they do.

Once again teachers, student teachers and schools across the UK have been shadowing the final judging and are currently involved in voting for their favourites. Their winners will be announced live at the awards ceremony on June 23rd at the UKLA International Conference in Exeter

The Shortlists in full


Saving Mr Hoot written and illustrated by Helen Stephens (Alison Green)

Who are you? written by Smriti Halls and illustrated by Ali Pye (Farshore)

The Comet written and illustrated by Joe Todd- Stanton (Flying Eye)

Flooded written and illustrated by Mariajo Ilustrajo (Frances Lincoln)

Small’s Big Dream written by Manjeet Mann and illustrated by Amanda Quartey (Harper Collins)

We’re Going to Find a Monster written by Malorie Blackman and illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Puffin)


All to Play For written by Eve Ainsworth and illustrated by Kirsty Beautyman (Barrington Stoke)

The Light in Everything written by Katya Balen   (Bloomsbury)

The Lion Above the Door written by Onjali Q Raúf (Orion)

The Elephant in the Room written by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Piccadilly)

Little Light written by Coral Rumble (Troika)

The Chime Seekers written by Ross Montgomery (Walker)


Tremendous Things written by Susin Nielsen (Andersen)

In the Wild Light written by Jeff Zentner (Andersen)

The Blue Book of Nebo written by Manon Steffan Ros (Firefly)

Truth Be Told written by Sue Divin (Macmillan)

Julia and the Shark written by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and illustrated by Tom de Freston (Orion)

The Crossing written by Manjeet Mann (Penguin)

Info 3-14+                                

Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs written by Jeffrey Boakye and illustrated by Ngadi Smart (Faber)

Amazon River written by Sangma Francis illustrated by Rômolo D’Hipólito (Flying Eye)

Bandoola: The Great Elephant Rescue written and illustrated by William Grill (Flying Eye)

Here and Queer written by Rowan Ellis and illustrated by Jacky Sheridan (Frances Lincoln)

The Greatest Show on Earth written and illustrated by Mini Grey (Puffin)

I am the Subway written and illustrated by Kim Hyo-eun. Translated by Deborah Smith (Scribble

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