Nadia Mikail has been named winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for her debut novel The Cats We Meet Along The Way, which was inspired by her experience of worrying about her family during the pandemic.
The young author, who is originally from Sarawak in Malaysia and currently studying law in London, was awarded a £5,000 prize and a commitment from the book retailer to support her writing career.
Set in Malaysia, her novel tells the story of Aisha who embarks on an eventful road trip with her family in a bid to find her estranged sister June as the world is due to end imminently.
Mikail said: “I was really missing my family when I started writing this book, and constantly worrying about them during the pandemic, so I wrote it 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.”
The Cats We Meet Along The Way also saw off competition from five other novels to also win in the older reader’s category.
Florentyna Martin, Waterstones head of children’s department, said: “In a phenomenal and tender debut, Nadia Mikail’s prose 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.
“Mikail has ultimately crafted a novel of hope, set against an eventful road trip, that encourages us to share stories and dreams.”
Now in its 19th year, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize is voted for solely by booksellers.
Rachel, from Waterstones Canterbury, described The Cats We Meet Along The Way as a “stunning, gently moving read”.
Meanwhile, Charlie – from Waterstones Fareham – praised the tale as “life-affirming and heart-breaking” with “luscious and lyrical writing”.
MT Khan’s Nura And The Immortal Palace took home the prize in the young readers category.
A magical adventure rooted in Muslim culture and folklore, the story follows a young girl’s journey from modern-day Pakistan into an underground world where trickster jinns hold sway.
Kim Hillyard’s Gretel The Wonder Mammoth won in the category for illustrated books, which encourages children to embrace their feelings as they follow the story of the last woolly mammoth on earth.
Last year’s overall winner was Hannah Gold’s debut novel The Last Bear, an Arctic adventure tale with an environmental message.