Mark of the Cyclops

NSTBA Past Winners- Quality Fiction Category


We love a good book which inspires both teachers and children to produce amazing work and are constantly on the hunt for those special texts we think will achieve this. There are so many lovely books available, but it takes something special to make a book a quality text. Here are the wonderful titles that have won this category over the past four years.

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Beautifully written, ‘The River Singers’ was our first winner in this category. The adventures of Sylvan and his siblings are a compelling read, full of stunning descriptions and lyrical language. Tom was able to join us for the awards with his lovely wife in 2015 and they were absolutely lovely. You can read our review here.

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In 2016, this category was won by Horatio Clare with his extraordinary book, ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’, a very powerful, moving story. You can read out review here. Horatio and Jane were not able to attend the awards due to other commitments, but I caught up with them at Hay Festival and gave them their award then.

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Hilary and Martin won again- this time in the Quality Fiction Category with their poignant and beautiful book, ‘A Song for Will and the Lost Gardeners of Heligan’. Based on historical evidence, it tells the story of the gardeners of Heligan who went to the First World War, some of whom returned and others who did not.

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Both Hilary and Martin were able to come to the awards and you could not meet two nicer people. Each of their books is written from the heart and with the greatest attention to detail. You can read our review here.


Last year’s winner was Saviour Pirotta’s novel, ‘Mark of the Cyclops’. Saviour came all the way from Yorkshire to join us at the awards ceremony and was delighted to win. His book is a fabulous mix of historical detail and mystery, perfect for engaging children with work on the Ancient Greeks. You can read our review here.


Each of these books has been widely used in our schools and each has ideas for a book event and /or teaching notes to go with them which are available to our members. It is a pleasure to see them being used in classes and enjoyed by so many children! If you haven’t read any of them, give them a try- each one is really wonderful! What will this year’s long list bring?

2018 Quality Fiction Shortlist

So here it is...

the NSTBA 2018 Quality Fiction shortlist.


A Story Like the Wind      Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver

OUP     ISBN: 978-0192758958

You can read the long list review here.


Song of the Dolphin Boy  Elizabeth Laird

Macmillan Children's   ISBN: 978-1509828234

You can read the long list review here.


Mark of the Cyclops: An Ancient Greek Mystery     Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury     ISBN: 978-1472934147

You can read the long list review here.



Just Jack    Kate Scott 

Piccadilly    ISBN: 978-1848126244

You can read the long list review here.

Congratulations to all! The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 10th November. 

LONG LIST REVIEW: Mark of the Cyclops An Ancient Greek Mystery


Set in Ancient Greece, 'Mark of the Cyclops' follows the adventures of Nico and Thrax. A freeborn apprentice, Nico is a scribe who works for Master Lykos and when new slave, Thrax, joins the household, the two are sent with his son, Ariston, a poet, to a very important wedding in Corinth. On this trip, the boys show a flair for detecting when a precious wedding vase is broken and a slave girl. Gaia, is blamed. A mysterious stranger with the mark of the Cyclops on his face keeps appearing- is he involved in the mystery somehow?

Books like this are a real gift to teachers. The historical content is not incidental, but woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story, making it rich in detail about the period. Most things are explained naturally within the context of the writing, for example...

We found the agora teeming with people, like a anthill at the height of summer. There were stalls laden with fish, still gasping from being pulled out of the sea... We spied cheap jewellery and blue amulets shaped like eyes to ward off sickness and bad luck. I found the stall selling papyrus and stopped to admire it. It had lots of other wonderful things for sale too. Reed pens and styluses and inkwells in various shapes and sizes, some of them with cork stoppers to stop the ink drying up.

"Look at these little knives," said Thrax. "They have beautiful bone handles."

"They're sharpening knives. Scribes use them on their kalamos."

A glossary, a section explaining the many and varied pots used at this time and information about Greek Gods and Goddesses are included at the end of the book to ensure nothing is missed. Vividly described scenes and the use of correct terms really help to immerse the reader in the world of the Ancient Greeks.

But this is not 'just' a historical novel. It is also a very convincing detective story with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader completely engrossed in the action. The classic Poirot and Hastings, Holmes and Watson combination of detective and sidekick who records their brave deeds is cleverly developed with Thrax, a slave boy with a knack for problem solving and observation, teaming up with Nico, a scribe who dreams of writing his own stories. 

There is so much work that could stem from this fabulous story- meaningfully linked to Ancient Greece if that happens to be the class topic- or as a novel in its own right. Discussions about slavery and its role in Ancient civilisations could be linked to reading books like 'Kick' (one of our Moving On titles) which raises the topic of modern slavery. With 'individual liberty' being one of the core British values, this could easily form part of their SMSC work. 

The book offers numerous opportunities to develop oracy skills as well as reading and writing opportunities.The historical and geographical links are obvious, but there are also science links which could be made, particularly around changes of state. Saviour Pirotta is the author of many other books, including some of my favourite re-tellings of myths and legends from many countries which having read this, children are sure enjoy exploring for themselves. 

The book is full of atmospheric, black and white illustrations which, as well as adding to the story, could be used as a starting point for work. They are full of details from the story, well worth lingering over!

A thoroughly enjoyable story which thankfully is part of a series so the further adventures of Nico and Thrax can be enjoyed as they solve further mysteries in the Ancient Greek world.

Mark of the Cyclops: An Ancient Greek Mystery     Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury     ISBN: 978-1472934147