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Former Speciss school girl named Author of the Year at British Book Awards 2024

KATHERINE Rundell, who grew up in Zimbabwe, was named author of the year at the British Book Awards, held last month at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House in London.
The darling of publishers in Britain, and the first children’s writer to be crowned author of the year since 2018, Rundell won the award for her fantasy epic Impossible Creatures, the first in a trilogy of adventure stories for children.
Christoper, the hero of Impossible Creatures, journeys to a remote island in Scotland to visit his grandfather, and discovers a portal to Archipelago, a fantasy world inhabited by dragons, sphinxes, ratatoskas and many others.

Katherine Rundell, crowned Author of the Year at British Book Awards

He meets Mal, a young girl with a flying coat, and together they embark on a dangerous quest to discover why the animals are dying, and why the magic that supports the environment in Archipelago is fading.
The powerful themes of love and hope come to the fore in the face of evil in this page turner, and it’s no coincidence that the perils facing this magical world call to mind the existential threats facing humans today.
That the author of the year should be a children’s writer, highlights the importance reading to your toddlers, and helping them to become socially engaged adults.
Literacy and the ability to read provide the foundation for all other academic knowledge and skills, helping us to understand the world.
Reading aloud to your baby will build a network of words and background knowledge in his brain; reading aloud to your toddler will ignite his creativity, stimulate his imagination and prepare him for primary school.
You can probably remember the thrill of learning to read, and the excitement of opening up a whole new world every time you turned the pages of a book.
Katherine Rundell, recently in Zimbabwe, told me at an interview that her earliest memories, aged three or four, were of playing with her siblings, and the wonderment of listening to the stories her Mum and Dad would read to them.
‘I had a life full of stories’, said Katherine, ‘so I learned to read only at the age of six or seven. Suddenly it clicked, and I could read anything . And thereafter I never stopped reading!’

Home schooled when the family left England to live in Zimbabwe, Katherine was nine years old when she enrolled at Harare International School.Three years later Katherine moved to Speciss College, where she made ‘brilliant friends’ and was inspired by an exceptional English teacher.

These were happy formative years, and the schoolgirl who was destined to become a prolific author, says that ‘Zimbabwe had all the things I loved – the beauty of the landscape, the intimate relationship you can have with living things, and wonderful friends.’
When the Rundell family moved again, this time to Belgium, Katherine was despondent. ‘It felt like it rained all the time’, she said, and her classmates seemed ‘more invested in a teenage life’ than in her own favourite pursuits, such as climbing trees and exploring nature in Zimbabwe.
Reading provided a distraction from Belgium’s damp climate, and after becoming absorbed in Gaudy Night, a mystery novel set in a fictional women’s college at Oxford, written in 1935 by Dorothy Sayers, she read more and more novels set in Oxford. This was the fiction, Katherine said, that ‘ made Oxford look wonderful, and full of people reading books and sharing ideas’.
Katherine Rundell received a degree in English Literature at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, in 2008, and was studying for a doctoral thesis on the poet John Donne, when she began writing her first novel.
On hearing the book had been accepted by a publisher, she cartwheeled down the length of the library where she was studying.
Now an established author, playwright and academic, she’s best known as the top-selling author of children’s books.
While Rundell’s children’s books explore different worlds, distinct storylines and a variety of characters, they all include strong and brave heroines with a keen sense of justice.
They are often rebellious (only for a good cause) refusing to follow the rules if they find them unreasonable.
In The Good Thieves, Vita is a young girl who sails to New York to help her grandfather reclaim his stolen property
Before long she meets up with two young boys, Arkady, from Russia, and Samuel, from Zimbabwe, both artistes in the touring Lazarenko Circus.
They become firm friends with Vita, and team up with her to recover her grandfather’s castle, stolen by the mafiosi Victor Sorrotore and his villains. This is a great story of derring-do, trust and friendship.
Katherine explains how fictional characters in her stories are often versions of herself or of her best friends – the evil characters might represent elements of ones own darkness, while the noble ones portray courage and a desire to help others.
While Katherine, who is based in England, says her time there is taken up by attending literary festivals, giving interviews and visiting schools, she finds Zimbabwe conducive to writing.
Every year she visits her parents in Harare, and finding a sunny spot on the veranda, surrounded by birds, insects and trees, she sets up her laptop and lets inspiration take over.
When she leaves Zimbabwe some weeks later, she will have written 30 000 words for her next book.
Avid readers between the ages of nine and twelve will be looking forward to the sequel to Impossible Creatures, due later this year.

Book Review By Diana Rodrigues