Optimistic penguins, fake news and a city disguised as a wolf: this year's Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist

Now in its fourth year, the Klaus Flugge Prize was set up to honour the influential publisher and founder of Andersen Press, Klaus Flugge, and highlights the most promising and exciting newcomers to picturebook illustration. There are six debut books on this year's all-female shortlist and they cover an impressively wide range of subjects. Within a few short but gloriously illustrated pages you can admire the optimism of a little penguin, observe what happens when a king throws his power around, unleash your inner mermaid, help Little-Red-Riding-Hood stay on the path, re-wild a city and enjoy a gentle joke about Daddy -  and that's the kind of power that definitely needs sharing.

As Chair of the Judges Julia Eccleshare said, this is a list that "demonstrates how much picture books give children – reassurance, knowledge and understanding of themselves and the world as well as that first appreciation of art and realisation that images can tell us more than words", and it's one that is definitely "worthy of Klaus Flugge who has always nurtured new talent and understands the power of picture books to open up the world for children.”

The shortlist will be judged by Former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne and last year’s winner Kate Milner, amongst others, and the prizewinner will be announced in September.

It’s great to see a CoT featured book on the shortlist – Julian is a Mermaid has been a stand-out book for me this year (click here for ideas and resources) so I thought I’d take a look at the other titles on the list. Let me know which book you think should win!

The King Who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth, published by Pavilion (2018)

A little boy is afraid of the dark. There’s nothing unusual in that, you might think. But this child grows up to be a King with the power to ban things he doesn’t like, and life is about to get very difficult for his subjects.

This immensely entertaining fable raises fundamentally important questions about truth, power and unintended consequences in a way that makes sense to younger readers and will prompt discussions about citizenship, the use and abuse of power and how to make the right decisions. Good-humoured black-and-white line drawings are enlivened by washes of bright yellow, and graphic-novel-inspired techniques draw attention to other viewpoints and perspectives

Exploring this book with children

Why do people call for the dark to be banned? Is it what they really want? 

What happens as a result of the ban? Did the King expect this? How do the people get the decision overturned?

Why is sunlight important? Find out how it affects plants and animals.

Investigate coloured light using torches covered with acetates, or find out what happens to shadows cast by a bright light.

Is there anything you think should be banned? Discuss in groups, then tell everyone else about your idea and try to persuade them that you’re right. Once you’ve heard from each group, vote on whether or not these things should be banned. Could something unintended happen because of your ban? Write a newspaper article reporting on your decisions and illustrate with graphs showing how everyone voted. 

Looking After Daddy by Eve Coy, published by Andersen Press (2018)

Meet William, the narrator’s little boy. Looking after him is an all-encompassing task because William is full of energy and doesn’t always look where he’s going. There's such a lot to do when you’re at home all day with a toddler! Maybe a little rest would be a good idea for everyone? But William is, of course, the narrator’s Daddy, and it’s the little girl who really needs a nap…. 

There’s a hugely entertaining contradiction between words and pictures at the heart of this warm-hearted and beguiling book, and nobody reading it will be left out of the joke. With plenty to observe and a refreshingly inclusive approach to stay-at-home Dads and the work they might eventually return to outside the home, this is a great big hug of a book to savour with young readers and will prompt all sorts of games and discussions. 

Exploring this book with children

Who or what do you care for, and how do you look after them?

What do the pictures in this book tell you that the words don’t?

What makes this book funny?

Find the cat in these pictures. Can it see things that we can’t? How would the cat describe what’s happening and what might it say about the events in this book? Pretend you’re the cat and tell or write the story from your perspective.

Look at the endpapers as well as the main body of the book to find out how the little girl and her Dad play with the box. Make your own disguise or costume using a big cardboard box. 

The action in this book takes place over the course of one day. List the events and use to construct a picture timeline. What happens during your day?  How is it similar to / different from the events in this book?

Red and the City by Marie Voigt, published by Oxford University Press (2018)

You may think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood inside out, but this retelling puts a different and really quite surreal spin on it. Red is charged with the familiar task of taking cake to Grandma and warned not to stray from the path. But in this version, it’s a furry-eared and shaggy-tailed city environment that’s out to get her and she is soon tempted by shiny toys and lollipops. Luckily Red wakes from her nightmare before too much damage can be done, and heads for Grandma who tucks her up safely with a story.

In this enjoyable retelling, the moral may take centre stage but that doesn’t stop the fun and there are lots of possibilities for participation and engagement. Voigt’s stylized characters and stark colour contrasts catch the eye and have a freshness about them that's appealing.

Exploring this book with children

How does this story match the Little Red Riding Hood story that you know? How does it differ?

Where, how and why are we invited to think about wolves?

Draw a diagram showing the main plot points of the traditional tale, then draw a similar diagram for this story and compare the two. How much can you change when you retell a story, and how much has to stay the same? Tell another version of RRH set in a different time or place.

What is the creator of this book saying about cities, do you think? List the positive and negative aspects of living in a city. Can you suggest solutions to any of the less positive aspects? How can we improve city living for everyone?

I Can’t / Can Fly by Fifi Kuo, published by Boxer Books (2018)

Little Penguin wants to fly. Gull tells him it’s impossible, but Little Penguin has wings, just like the other birds, and they can fly. If Little Penguin tries hard enough, surely he’ll soar into the air like them….?

This book has its feet firmly in the real world, and as we know, penguins don’t fly. But they do swim – and as Little Penguin discovers with Dad’s help, swimming is also pretty cool.

This charmingly understated picturebook from Macmillan Prize-winner Fifi Kuo already feels like a classic. Blue and black pastel drawings on white backgrounds evoke the cold clarity of the Antartic air and allow readers space and quiet to engage with everything this book is offering them.

Little Penguin’s inability to meet his own aspirations and his determination to have a go anyway will be recognized by many younger and smaller readers, but this book avoids trite messages. At its heart is something really quite complex – the realisation that sometimes we can try as much as we like and our goals will remain stubbornly out of reach. But as this book also shows, the very act of trying can unlock all sorts of hidden benefits.

Fifi Kuo’s depictions of the sparse and forbidding Antarctic landscape and the movements and emotions of the penguins are beautifully realized with an economy of line that perfectly matches the mood of the book.

Exploring this book with children

Where is the Antarctic and what do you know about it? Find out as much as you can and create a display or non-fiction booklet.

How has Fifi Kuo depicted movement in this book? Do penguins really have four wings? Why has Kuo drawn Little Penguin like this, do you think? Copy some of Little Penguin’s postures and expressions. Can you move like a penguin? Invent a penguin dance?

Draw an animal or bird from life, trying to capture lots of different positions, perspectives and activities.

What would you like to do that seems impossible? Could you do it if you tried hard enough? Tell or write a story about what happened when you decided to do something really challenging.

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, published by Tate Publishing (2018)

Joe lives in a grey apartment block in a grey city, but his imagination colours his surroundings. Is there a way for Joe to bring all the beauty that's inside his head into the real world? Taking his cue from a book, he plants an apple pip and waits, but nothing happens. Then, just as he’s given up hope, Joe realizes that the seed has become a tree. Joe grows more plants and his neighbours are enchanted. If they work together, can they transform the entire city?

There's a powerful message at the heart of this book about personal responsibility and action. Joe’s story is full of warmth and hope and offers lots of opportunities for creative activities but it’s the illustrations that really take centre stage. The grey cityscape – created using techniques including washes, resist work, splatters and collage – forms a visually-accommodating backdrop for Boughton’s detailed pencil drawings of its realistically diverse community. And once the colour begins to escape from Joe’s imagination and onto the streets, the transformation cannot be stopped.

Exploring this book with children

Have you ever planted a seed? What happened? What do seeds and plants need to grow? 

Where are the green areas and gardens in your neighbourhood? Mark them on a map and go on an expedition to visit one of them.

Inspired by Sam Boughton’s artwork, create large-scale painted and printed cityscapes, then add tiny characters using sharp pencils. Create character profiles and backstories for the characters in your picture (or those you can see in the book)

What do you think the people in this book are thinking and saying? Add post-its to individual spreads to record your ideas, then bring one of the scenes to life using freezeframe and roleplay. 

Plant some seeds. Make careful notes and drawings about the changes you observe.


Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, published by Walker Books (2018)

Out and about with his Nana, Julian sees three enchanting mermaids on the New York subway and is catapulted into a wonderful daydream. What if he, too, had long hair and a tail and could swim like a fish? Back at Nana’s house, Julian ignores her instructions to be good and uses whatever he can find to transform himself into the most fabulous creature – until Nana returns and fixes him with a severe eye. Will she be angry?

Luckily Nana’s heart is big enough and wise enough to understand exactly what Julian needs, and together they set off for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade where there are lots more mermaids just like Julian.

This lovely and important book invites everyone to share Julian’s experience and creates opportunities for insight and understanding. It’s beautifully illustrated, with an unusual colour palette and a dramatic sense of space and place, and the pictures express emotions and ideas that go far beyond the text.     

Whether you’re reading this book with an audience that shares Julian’s love of drama and dressing up, or one with strong ideas about gender roles, you’ll have plenty to talk about, and there are lots of inspirational starting points here for creative activities of all kinds. 

Exploring this book with children

Why does Julian’s Nana tell him to be good? Does he do what she says? What is being good, anyway? Does everyone agree on what you have to do to be good?

Julian loves mermaids. What do you love and enjoy? How do these things make you feel?

Have you ever worn special costumes for a play or parade? A family or cultural occasion? How did it feel to dress up or pretend to be someone else? Draw yourself taking part.

Look at the pictures showing Julian swimming with the fish. Can you move like Julian? Join your movements together to create a sequence and perform it to some watery music. 

Put together a dressing-up box of fabulous items (such as old party clothes, feathery boas, strings of beads, swatches of fabric and net curtains) and use for roleplay. Create character profiles and dialogues and use to kickstart writing activities. Follow up by staging your very own Mermaid Parade!

For ideas and resources inspired by Julian is a Mermaid click here to read our CoT feature  




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All Dressed Up

Thu 04 Mar 2021



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