If you'd like to add a little extra something to your reading - a sense of possibility, a dash of energy, an unexpected burst of joy - it makes sense to check out debut books. Not only will you be supporting the next generation of makers and encouraging publishers to push the boundaries, you'll enjoy the buzz of exploration and discovery, too. It's a special kind of fun to share a 'find' with children and know you're building something that will last.
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 is remarkably diverse. From an early-years ‘counting book with a twist’ to a non-fiction retelling of Darwin’s ground-breaking classic, via an exploration of childhood sadness and two short but well-rounded stories - one urban, the other rural - there's a real breadth and depth of themes and approaches in this collection for you to explore.
All five books are singular and distinctive - you won’t mix them up! - but there is also much that links them, from vision, integrity and ambition, to a lightness of touch that makes them immensely beguiling.
“What stands out about the shortlisted books is the incredibly assured and distinctive style each of the illustrators has,” says Jake Hope, one of this year's judges. “It happened naturally, but it feels like the shortlist as a whole offers a fantastic breadth of the roles illustration can provide - helping to lay the foundations for early learning (One Fox), conveying an irresistible sense of energy and fun (Where is your Sister?), capturing a child-like sense of adventure and awe (The Star in the Forest), helping readers to better understand and make sense of feelings (When Sadness Comes to Call) and conveying complex information in a way that's easy to access and digest (Darwin's On the Origin of Species)!”
Here’s an introduction to this year’s finalists. It’s followed by a personal reflection on why I think prizes like this matter in a busy marketplace. I'd love to hear your views, too, so do get in touch!
Klaus Flugge funds the award personally and it is run independently of Andersen Press. This year’s winner will be revealed in September 2020. For more information, visit https://www.klausfluggeprize.co.uk
“No hens or foxes were harmed in the making of this book…”
Hens don’t usually outwit foxes, but the three plump ladies in this counting book receive unexpected sisterly back-up when one famished fox decides to pay a call.
Telling a fully-rounded story within the confines of a traditional counting book is quite a feat, but one that Kate Read accomplishes with style. Painted papers are cut and collaged to create dramatic (and hugely appealing) artwork, and the minimal text - forty words across thirteen spreads - shows how much can be built and resolved when images are given the right framework and allowed to take the lead.
This edge-of-your-seat counting book bursts with life and humour, and really will take you on a journey. But be warned – younger audiences will ask for it repeatedly!
What the judges said:
“Visually stunning. There’s real drama here and the way the story is told is joyous. She’s done a very clever thing and created a counting book while keeping within the beats of a story.”
For more information about Kate Read together with some great downloadable activities (think origami and fox ears!) visit kateread.co.uk Here
When a bright light streaks across the sky, Maisie urges her sister to join her in a night-time quest. But what are they really searching for? A fallen star? A rocket? Or the wonders of the forest that are always there for those who take the time to look?
Illustrated with lovely watercolours that make the most of shadowy depths and glowing light, this gentle adventure about two sisters visiting their grandparents makes a really satisfying read.
Helen Kellock’s traditional approach to illustration is matched by a timeless sense of solidity and family love. This may be a debut, but everything about it is reassuring and assured - one to share and share again.
What the judges said:
“Few books these days use light and tone or traditional watercolour skills to tell stories; it’s worked into something quite magical here.”
To find out more about Helen Kellock and her work click here
Mum takes Harriet and her twin sister to a department store. ”We don’t have time for cake today….” Mum says. “We need to get a new saucepan.”
But Harriet’s interest in other people (and their dogs) leads to mayhem and a frantic whole-shop search. By the time Mum finds her, cake is back on the menu.
Puck Koper creates her own little eccentric world for Harriet to explore, full of energy and charm. Clear, white space is used at moments of high tension to pause the action, but otherwise the spreads have a busy, slightly hectic feel and form a stylish backdrop.
Searching for the red-and-white-spotted Harriet amongst crowds of (highly expressive) shoppers helps us to slow down and enjoy the details, and we emerge dizzy but smiling. This urban romp bursts with good humour, and it’s infectious.
What the judges said:
“Goes at a wonderful pace, with laugh-out-loud moments. It’s stylish and feels very sophisticated for a first book.”
See more of Puck Koper’s work here
A strange green blob of a creature with a downward gaze has arrived at the front door. It’s Sadness - an unexpected visitor with no concept of personal space that “sits so close… you can hardly breathe” and drains the joy from every activity. What’s to be done when Sadness follows you around and just won’t leave?
As the child in this story discovers, Sadness may be unwelcome but ignoring it won’t work. Much better to call it by its name and get to know it. Who knows, you might find a way of living comfortably together…
Not only does Eva Eland suggest practical action, she also manages to alter our perception of sadness and how we might react to it. This ‘masterpiece of minimalism’ strikes just the right balance between sincerity and charm, and is affecting and memorable.
What the judges said:
“The page layouts seem sparse and crisp but the work the illustrations are doing is quite extraordinary in terms of the message”
Find out more about Eva Eland and download her teaching resources here
This beautiful non-fiction picturebook for older readers tells the story of Darwin’s famous work, carefully framing the scientific and historical context so that children are drawn in and able to make sense of the broader picture. Each spread adds to our understanding of the subject and motivation to read on.
With its mid-century vibe, there’s more than a nod here to current trends, but Radeva’s artwork is livelier and more idiosyncratic than many books of this type. Not only are her illustrations decorative and visually appealing, they create atmosphere, enable participation and deepen understanding. It’s a joy to browse the pages of this book and absorb its many worlds.
A molecular biologist by training, Sabina Radeva has an ear for the music in her text, and Darwin’s own words are introduced throughout.
What the judges said:
“It’s full of detail and really reflects the beauty of nature…. mining the depths of inventiveness to convey information through few words and wonderful pictures”
Find out more about Sabina Radeva here
Listening to past winners talking about this prize, it’s obvious how much it means to them. But what about the rest of us? What’s in it for adults working with and for children, in schools and libraries and museums, at home, and in the community?
There are so many awards and prizes. Why should we pay attention to this one?
A word-of-mouth recommendation can be a great way to deal with anything that feels overwhelming – and working your way through every title in a publishing catalogue definitely comes into that category. A longlist of sixteen titles is manageable - and if you’re time-poor, a shortlist of half a dozen or so is even better.
That’s something you have to earn, and it can take time. But recommendations from a trusted source are really valuable. The Klaus Flugge Prize judges don’t shortlist every book worth looking at, but so far, I’ve found it worthwhile to look at every book they’ve shortlisted.
If you’re looking at a debut picturebook, it’s new. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good – sometimes emerging illustrators play it safe, replicating what’s already been successful, and sometimes they just miss the mark. But many new illustrators pour everything they have into their books, which makes their debuts fresh and raw and full of the kind of energy and commitment you really want to have around. So ‘new’ quite often means ‘different’ - an opportunity to be surprised, explore somewhere you haven’t been before, or get your head around a new idea.
This combination of possibility and challenge reminds me of the way children experience their world. Almost everything is new to them, but they’re willing to give it a go – and their excitement when they discover something they love is wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to share a bit of that? And modelling a ‘step outside our comfort zone’ approach to reading can be pretty powerful, too.
Children’s books still need to be more inclusive and representative, and there’s a long way to go before awards like this are reflecting a thoroughly diverse offer. It’s easy to say the right things but make little real-world impact, but the Klaus Flugge Prize does seem to care about these issues. Two of the winning titles so far have explored the refugee experience and it looks as though the award is trying hard to represent different viewpoints and experiences on its judging panel.
When you’ve got your head down and you’re hard at work, it can be tricky to look up, make connections and form a bigger picture. Every book is its own little world, and being lost in them is wonderful. But there are themes and ideas and trends that link children’s books, even when those links are not immediately obvious. Individual worlds are part of a bigger landscape, and taking a tour around that landscape can be fascinating and revealing.
I like the way that the Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist helps illuminate some of those links. The books have things in common, even when it doesn’t seem that way at first glance, and their differences are just as interesting as the things they share.
I also like the way this prize brings illustrators together and connects them with their audiences.
A handful of new books fizz their way onto the shelves and dazzle all who glance their way. Most step out shyly, even when they’re bringing something new and wonderful to the party, and stand on the sidelines wondering who’s going to ask them to dance.
Great books need our attention, but many just don’t get the publicity and interest they deserve. Big marketing budgets and the limited ranges stocked by many retailers means smaller publishers and many debut books remain almost invisible.
I like the way the Klaus Flugge Prize helps some of them catch our eye.
So there we are - some of the reasons why I enjoy exploring debut books and pay attention to this prize.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this – and other – prizes. Please leave comments at the bottom of this post, or email me via the contact page here
To read my blog about last year's shortlist, click here
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