Emily Lamm, Commissioning Picture Book Editor at Orchard Books set this challenge.


"A twist in the tale". 

The picture book world is one where anything can happen. I'm looking for a fantastic picture book story with a really original twist (or several). Perhaps the characters don't act quite as we'd expect. Perhaps magic yields unexpected results. Perhaps a well-known tale takes a surprising turn... Your story can be funny, thoughtful or downright surreal. The twist might be cleverly subtle or hilariously over-the-top. Being underpinned by a great message for preschool children (friendship, kindness, belonging, teamwork etc.) is always a plus. I'm looking for 600 words maximum, strong visual possibilities, and a whole lot of flair. Good luck and have fun! 

Emily Lamm

We received seventy-six entries from members across British Isles and Europe for this competition. Emily agreed to read all of the submissions and now we have a winner! This is what the editor told us when announcing the results:

“A twist in the tale” was a broad brief, and lent itself to an enjoyably diverse selection of stories. A lot of authors chose humour (hurrah!), but there were also entries that explored love, being true to oneself, prejudice, among other important themes. There was huge variety in style and voice, and I was particularly impressed by the quality of the verse storytelling. Rhyme is such a strong selling point in the UK – particularly for funny stories (yes, picture book editors ARE commissioning texts in rhyme!).

Without further ado…

I’m delighted to announce that my winner is THE PRINCESS AND THE FLEA by Steve Howson, in which plucky stable lad, Pip, and his (ahem) flea rescue Princess Poppy from eternal sleep, succeeding where wizards and the annoyingly perfect Prince Dave have failed… I love a fairy-tale mash-up, and this one is brilliantly funny and original.

The verse is pacy, the scansion flawless; there’s plenty of tension throughout and lots of great dialogue. It’s got bags of visual potential too – crucial for a strong picture book. Great stuff! 

I’d like to give a special mention to WHEN YOU WERE BORN by Ruth Grearson. Stories about parental love are so hard to pull off and this lovely text hits all the right notes.

There’s another special mention for THIS BOOK IS NOT UPSIDE DOWN! by Frances Tosdevin. It uses delightfully engaging characters to deliver a strong message about the importance of looking at the world a little differently from time to time (AND sharing), while offering an unexpected and very effective twist!

I was impressed by the strong messages on offer in many of the stories, and the lightness of touch by which they were delivered. The weaker stories were generally those where the message was unclear or absent, and I’d urge all writers to keep this at the front of their minds; a strong message doesn’t need to mean didacticism (and there is always that potential twist to play with...).

I’d also suggest authors take a look at titling. Many stories, even some of the strongest, I felt were undersold by their titles. It can help focus the mind: is it clear what my story’s about? Does it say “bestseller”? Is the title memorable or does the story sound like one that’s been written before? (In which case … has it been written before?!) Titles are tricky, but get it right and it makes a world of difference when the manuscript hits an editor’s desk. The stories I've chosen above happen to have great titles too! 

Finally, very many congratulations to everyone who took part in the challenge. Reading your stories over the past few weeks has been so much fun. Thank you!

Congratulations to Steve Howson from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope he's well on his way towards getting his stories published.

Well done to the two writers for getting a special mention, Ruth Grearson and Frances Tosdevin.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Keep writing and we hope you will be encouraged to try your hand at appropriate competitions.

Emily Lamm is a Commissioning Picture Book Editor at at Orchard Books, part of the Hachette Children’s Group. She has previously undertaken editorial roles at Scholastic, Pan Macmillan, and Walker Books. 

Hachette Children's Group is one of the largest children's publishers in the UK, with an excellent trace record in creating bestselling and award-winning books for children of all ages and interests. This group comprises the imprints Hodder Children's Group, Orchard Books, Orion Children's Books, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Quercus Children's Books, Pat-a-Cake, Wren & Rook, Franklin Watts, and Wayland. The group is also the publisher of Enid Blyton and the owner of Enid Blyton Entertainment

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over four years and loves to write picture books, junior fiction and middle-grade. She lives by the sea and has two soft and silly cats.

Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge for writers.

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