Apocalyptic road trip story wins the Waterstones children’s book prize

·2-min read

A “phenomenal and tender debut” novel about a family who embark on a road trip across Malaysia before the world ends has won the Waterstones children’s book prize.

The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail won the older readers category as well as being named the overall winner.

The winner of the illustrated books category was Kim Hillyard for Gretel the Wonder Mammoth while the younger readers award was won by MT Khan for her fantasy adventure story Nura and the Immortal Palace.

The awards are voted on by Waterstones’ booksellers, and Mikail has won £5,000. The Cats We Meet Along the Way was inspired by the pandemic and Mikail being away from her family; she is from Sarawak in Malaysia and is now studying law in London.

She said she wrote the book “as sort of a worst-case scenario situation, like what would happen if the apocalypse was about to happen, and I was away from my loved ones”.

“In the midst of trying to kind of work out those anxieties through writing, I realised the only thing we can do is care for the people we love every day and hope for a better future for them even when things seem hopeless,” she added.

Florentyna Martin, Waterstones head of children’s, said the prose of The Cats We Meet Along the Way “sparkles in the growing market for older readers”.

“Booksellers were overwhelmed by the tenderness woven through each chapter; the moments of silence between the characters are as truthful and evocative as their conversations,” she continued. “Mikail has ultimately crafted a novel of hope, set against an eventful road trip, that encourages us to share stories and dreams.”

Hillyard’s Gretel the Wonder Mammoth is about the last woolly mammoth, who starts to get a bit nervous about her place in the herd. Hillyard has worked as a music journalist and a drama and arts facilitator, and is the author of books including Mabel and the Mountain.

Martin said “Hillyard’s creatively sharp storytelling is as encouraging and vibrant as her protagonist”, calling the author-illustrator a “rising star in picture books”.

Related: The best children’s books of 2022

Khan’s Nura and the Immortal Palace is rooted in Muslim culture and folklore. Khan is from Pakistan and now lives in Canada, where she is studying mechanical engineering. The book follows two children who work in a mica mine, and find themselves transported to a world of jinn.

Martin said: “Nura is a driven, fiery and truly admirable protagonist, whose unwavering loyalty to her family will inspire and resonate with children and parents alike.”

The Waterstones children’s book prize is now in its 19th year. Last year’s overall winner was The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, which saw an increase in sales of 434% across Waterstones after its win.