First Children's Title Wins Whitbread Book of the Year

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On Tuesday, January 22, judges for Britain's prestigious Whitbread book awards conferred the title of Book of the Year on the sophisticated children's fantasy tale The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (Knopf/Del Rey). The Book of the Year is selected from among the winners of five categories -- Novel, First Novel, Poetry, Biography, and Children's Book. The Amber Spyglass is the first children's book to win the Book of the Year Award.

Commenting on the award, Pullman, 55, said, "I am absolutely thrilled to win this award because it shows what I have always believed -- that children's books belong with the rest in the general field, in the general marketplace for books and the general conversation about books," as reported by the Associated Press. The annual awards, established in 1971, are one of Britain's longest-running literary competitions and are open to residents of the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.

The Amber Spyglass was a Book Sense 76 pick and has been a Book Sense bestseller.

The book, the third part of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, deals with the biblical theme of the Garden of Eden and presents a parallel universe and the creation of a "republic of Heaven."

Jon Snow, TV broadcast journalist and chairman of the nine-person judging panel, termed The Amber Spyglass an "astonishing" book with an epic sweep and "an eye for minute detail, too." He said that the decision of the judges took only two minutes once they had decided to give Pullman the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year prize.

The Book of the Year award carries a $35,750 prize; Pullman also received $7,150 as the winner in the children's category. Also competing for the award were: Novel -- Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate (Viking); First Novel -- Something Like a House by Sid Smith (Picador); Poetry -- Bunny by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe Books); and Biography -- Selkirk's Island by Diana Souhami (Weidenfeld).

Pullman, a former teacher who writes in a garden shed at his home in Oxford, England, also won acclaim for the first two parts of His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.

-- Nomi Schwartz