Wednesday December 14 2005 15:52 GMT
An author with severe dyslexia, who did not learn to read until she was 14, has beaten Philip Pullman to this year's Nestle children's book prize. Sally Gardner's fantasy adventure, I, Coriander, was chosen by a panel of schoolchildren as the best book in the nine-to-11 years category.
Speaking after the lunchtime ceremony at the British Library, Gardner said that she was "bowled over and completely flabbergasted" by her gold medal win. "If some of my teachers could see me now, they would not believe it," she added.
Gardner was labelled as unteachable and sent to a special school as a result of her dyslexia, which remained undiagnosed until she was 12. She changed her first name from Sarah to Sally because it was easier for her to spell and she believes that her learning difficulty helps her to write for the preteen age group.
"I really have to think about long words," she explained. "If I can't spell them I won't include them unless they are really necessary or are simply wonderful words."
Her winning novel tells the story of Coriander, the daughter of a 17th-century London silk merchant, who endures a miserable childhood in the care of a Puritanical stepmother. Escaping to a "fairy kingdom", she learns about herself and her mother's heritage and returns to Cromwell's London charged with a task.
Maddie Toole and Laura Palmer, both 10, of Beccles middle school in Beccles, Suffolk, were part of the 55,000-strong children's judging panel for the prizes, and attended the ceremony with their classmates. They both voted for I, Coriander. "The description of the characters and the fairy world is really good," Maddie said. "And the plot was really good too - I couldn't put it down!" agreed Laura.
Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant won the silver medal in the age category, with Livi Michael's The Whispering Road taking third place.
In the six-to-eight years category, Nick Butterworth's The Whisperer, a tale of two cats who fall in love, won the gold medal. Corby Flood by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, who won the gold last year with Fergus Crane, came second this time and Michael Rosen's marvellously brave and mould-breaking Sad Book, based on the author's own pain after the death of his son Eddie, was awarded bronze.
In the five-years-and-under picture book section, Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers won the gold medal for a book described by the chair of the adult judging panel, Julia Eccleshare, as "an emotional and beautiful journey" by a penguin. The Dancing Tiger by Malachy Doyle won the silver and Wolves by Emily Gravett, the bronze.
The Nestle prize is now in its 21st year and previous Nestle prize-winners include all the children's laureates - Anne Fine, Quentin Blake, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson - while JK Rowling and Lauren Child have each won three medals.