Cats, community, cakes and the butterfly of hope: exploring the Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist 2023

The Klaus Flugge Prize was founded in 2016 to celebrate the most promising newcomers to picture book illustration. The current shortlist includes five titles by debut illustrators and it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for something exciting and intriguing to share with your kids. 

All five books are singular and distinctive, both in subject and style – you won’t mix them up! – but there is much that links them, including a sense of vision, integrity and ambition, together with a lightness of touch that’s evident in every aspect of the finished book. 

From a cautionary tale about rising floodwaters, a moving account of young refugees rebuilding their lives and a homage to a vanished way of life in a fishing village via two wildly different stories about urban cats, these picturebooks address some the most important issues of our time with humour, playfulness and optimism, and have the interests and needs of their young audiences firmly at heart. 

“From a very strong longlist, our judges have selected a shortlist that celebrates community, creativity and adventure. Here are books that are sophisticated, playful, serious. The five illustrators are technically accomplished but bring a freshness which is very exciting,” says Julia Eccleshare, Chair of this year’s judging panel. “At a time when it is particularly hard for new talent to break through, we are grateful to Klaus Flugge for his generosity in sponsoring the Prize and for his lifelong support of authors and illustrators.” 

Klaus Flugge is a hugely influential figure in children' books. Born in Hamburg a few years before the Second World War, he emigrated to America in his early twenties speaking only German and Russian, then moved to London. In 1976 he launched Andersen Press, where he worked with illustrators including David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Michael Foreman, Susan Varley, Emma Chichester Clark, Sir Quentin Blake, Chris Riddell and many others. In 1999, Klaus Flugge became the first publisher to receive the Eleanor Farjeon Award and in 2010 he became the first (and so far only) publisher to be awarded Honorary Membership of the Youth Libraries Group. In 2013 Klaus was made an honorary citizen of the City of Bologna in recognition of his commitment to children's books abroad, and in April of this year he received the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award.

Klaus Flugge funds the award personally and it is run independently of Andersen Press. For more information, visit the Klaus Flugge Prize website HERE 

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 13th September 2023 and will receive a cheque for £5,000. Watch this space for updates! 

A guide to this year’s shortlisted books

Saving the Butterfly written by Helen Cooper, illustrated by Gill Smith, edited by Denise Johnstone-Burt, designed by Louise Jackson, published by Walker Books 
There were two of them left in the boat... Washed up on a distant beach after a terrifying experience at sea, two siblings are taken to what we assume to be a refugee camp. The “bigger one” does the speaking, and “somehow sorts everything out” - but it’s her younger brother who forgets more easily and makes new friends first. 

We’re not told the details of the children’s experiences in Helen Cooper’s sparsely poetic text, but Gill Smith’s affecting illustrations fill in (some of) the gaps. Pops of colour lighten the smudgy grey shadows, and are particularly affecting in the patchwork blanket that the older sister uses to protect herself. Despite the straight-talking and suggestions of harsh reality that give this book some of its edge, the hope and possibility of a brighter future is always present, and the final two spreads – one close up, the second panning out to show children reasserting their right to play – are full of joy and hope.

Gill Smith is a freelance illustrator, living in Liverpool. She completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at The Cambridge School of Art in 2019. Ordinary life and wondering about people’s experiences preoccupy Gill a lot and motivate her illustrations. Gill also works with the collective More Than Minutes, who capture conferences and events through large scale, live drawing. All of these experiences have brought Gill into contact with fascinating people and stories which feed into her illustration.

Click HERE for an interview with Gill Smith on the Walker Books blog at Picture Book Party 

Flooded written and illustrated by Mariajo Ilustrajo, edited by Lucy Brownridge, designed by Karissa Santos, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books


It’s business as usual for the animals in this story, even though their town is being slowly flooded. Preoccupied by their own concerns, they ignore the rising water or deal with its practical inconveniences in humorous and inventive ways. Amidst a constant chatter of questions, theories and complaints, those offering valuable ideas are drowned out by the noise until the situation becomes critical. Finally, the animals decide to listen to a quieter voice - but it’s going to take everyone to pull that plug! 

Drawn and washed in tones of grey, then flooded with a deep turquoise overlay, this striking picturebook shows what happens when a problem is ignored, and sends powerful messages about the importance of teamwork. The animals are depicted in all manner of intriguing situations as they interact - gleefully, resignedly, humorously, anxiously, to the best of their ability or otherwise - and every spread invites exploration and response. 

The quirky characters in this book are charmingly imaginative, but their anatomy and movements are based on a huge amount of observational work at London Zoo: it was very important to Mariajo that they were as firmly rooted in real life as possible. Drawn with a quick ink line, with a couple of bespoke colours to highlight the important parts of the story, every spread feels fresh and vital, with a hand-lettered font and effective use made of the blank page. 

Mariajo Ilustrajo created Flooded as part of her MA in Children’s Books Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, and it won the New Talent category at 2020's World Illustration Awards. Her chosen subject could have weighed the story down, but it doesn’t: humour lightens every page, and the takeaway message ("the only way to fix a problem was together") delivers an upbeat, can-do sense of possibility and hope. 

Find out more about this book HERE 

Watch and listen to Mariajo Ilustrajo talking about her book HERE. This video includes insights into her working style and sketchbooks 

A version of this review was first published in Books for Keeps, the online magazine about children’s books. Click HERE to read it 


Mildred the Gallery Cat written and illustrated by Jono Ganz, edited by Cherise Lopes- Baker, designed by Roanne Marner and published by Tate 


Everyone thinks Mildred the Gallery Cat is the laziest creature in the world. But late at night, when all the staff and visitors have left, she spends hours prowling around the galleries where the art prompts unusual feelings and ideas. Could a cat become an artist, she wonders, or is that role doomed to be the privilege of the special few? 

Just as Mildred’s introspection is about to overwhelm her, the appearance of a mouse sets off a madcap chase, and a series of chaotic paint-related accidents ensue. Will Mildred patch things up in time? And what will the visitors make of her efforts? 

There’s an appealing strand of realism running through this book: Mildred really does exist - she’s the resident cat at Tate Modern in London - and the varied jobs of the gallery staff are accurately portrayed. But you’ll also find exuberant flights of fancy, artistic insights and a wicked sense of humour in this book. Mildred dances, contemplates and sniffs her way past recognizable works of art before creating her own masterpiece. Visual energy and jokes abound, but Ganz controls the chaos with careful page design, a muted palette and a strong sense of direction and pace. 

My favourite part of this process was taking works of art that I know and love and trying to see them as an inquisitive cat might - Jono GanzJono Ganz is a former Tate Shop employee, who now draws and writes in his home in London, which he shares with his partner, cat and a 19th century weaving loom.
He has previously illustrated for music videos, and enjoys working using a full-spread approach. His characters are constructed as though making a puppet, so that their limbs can be articulated as he draws, and he uses a digital collage approach informed by his love of Eric Carle. 

Watch and listen as Jono Ganz introduces his book HERE


The Baker by the Sea written and illustrated by Paula White, edited by Ruth Symons, designed by Genevieve Webster, published by Templar Books 


Set on the land’s edge where rolling countryside meets the sea is a fishing village. Blacksmiths and basketmakers, sailmakers and fish smokers still make a living there, but a young boy thinks that the fishermen have the most important job until working in his father’s bakery changes his mind. Thanks to their deliveries of bread and cakes, everyone in the village will have full bellies and a warm glow for the challenges ahead. 

With a gentle confidence, The Baker by the Sea shows how everyone’s work is valuable – from the men who brave the weather on the boats and the tough fishergirls sorting the catch to the tradespeople who build the boats and barrels and nets and sails, and everyone who supports them. 
When I am older, I am going to be a baker, just like my father, in the village by the sea... 
Paula White was awarded the 2019 Templar Illustration Prize for a non-fiction story inspired by her granddad Percy and the fishing heritage of Lowestoft, and it was subsequently published as The Baker By The Sea. The old village beneath the cliffs where Paula’s family lived no longer exists, but a model in a local heritage centre enabled her to create a 3D layout from which she drew. Paula chose pencil as a medium because it felt “honest and true” in a way that “reflected the village and its people”, alongside an ink wash to add softness and atmosphere. 

Drawn in a limited palette of greys and blues (with the occasional yellow glow of baking bread) Paula’s artwork evokes memories of old-fashioned films. There’s enough specificity and detail to bring the characters and their occupations to life, but the landscape and settings that they occupy have a smudgy, insubstantial look: this is a place that we can only visit in our dreams, but by the time we reach the final spread, we’ll feel as though we know it in our hearts. 

Paula White grew up by the sea and still lives in Lowestoft. She has worked as an artist and textile designer and as a teacher of drawing and printmaking, and graduated with distinction from the Cambridge School of Art in 2018. 

Listen to Paula talking about this book and her creative process HERE 

And if you’d like to taste the Hot Coconut Buns that the fisher-girls enjoyed at 11 every morning, Grandad’s recipe is given at the end of the book! 

Lost in the City by Alice Courtley, edited by Elaine Connelly, designed by Izzy Jones, published by Orchard Books


Maya is a quiet, reflective child who is used to being tucked away at home with just her granny and Sammy the kitten for company. Gran has led a busy life and can’t wait to make an exciting visit to the city, but Maya doesn’t relish the prospect and smuggles Sammy into her backpack. When her stowaway does what comes naturally and dashes off, Maya has to follow. Sammy leads Maya and Gran through all sorts of exciting urban situations, and by the time they locate him amongst the sculptures at the museum, Maya has found her city courage and feels ready for anything. 

Alice Courtley’s text is pleasingly minimal, with plenty of humour in the contrast between what’s being said and what’s being shown. Sammy’s orange fur pops against a dark palette, and even on the busier spreads we’re able to spot what’s important. Alice’s artwork was created digitally using an ipad and Procreate, and recurring background characters are included, such as a man and his dog who have their own wholly visual adventure. 

“It’s a book about stepping out of your comfort zone and finding the courage to do new things,” says Alice, who began Lost in the City during the pandemic, and for those who remember the emotional complexities of lockdown, tits influence is evident. Younger children will bring fresh minds to the story, but anxiety about new experiences is something most of them will experience and understand 

Alice Courtley is an author and illustrator based in Cambridge. While studying on the Cambridge MA in Children’s Book Illustration, she developed a passion for character, texture and experimenting with unusual formats. Her work has been recognised for prizes such as the Batsford Prize 2019 and featured in exhibitions such as the AOI’s ‘Inspired to Innovate’ in London. 

Watch and listen to Alice talking about here book HERE 

A hugely influential figure in children’s books…

Klaus Flugge was born in Hamburg a few years before the Second World War. In his early twenties he emigrated to America speaking only German and Russian, then moved to London. In 1976 he launched Andersen Press, where he worked with illustrators including David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Michael Foreman, Susan Varley, Emma Chichester Clark, Sir Quentin Blake, Chris Riddell and many others. In 1999, Klaus Flugge became the first publisher to receive the Eleanor Farjeon Award and in 2010 he became the first (and so far only) publisher to be awarded Honorary Membership of the Youth Libraries Group. In 2013 Klaus was made an honorary citizen of the City of Bologna in recognition of his commitment to children's books abroad.
For a personal reflection on the Klaus Flugge Prize and why this award matters, click HERE

And here’s my post about the 2019 shortlist
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