ILLUSTRATION FEATURE The Stratford-Salariya Children's Picture Book Prize 2018

The Salariya Book Company's founder David Salariya tells us about this year's exciting Stratford-Salariya Children's Picture Book Prize for unpublished picture book writers and illustrators.

The Stratford-Salariya Children's Picture Book Prize 2018 is now underway, having been launched last year to great success. It offers previously-unpublished writers and illustrators the chance to have their book selected by a panel of esteemed judges from the world of children's literature and published by a leading independent publisher of children's books. The judges are myself, David Salariya, Founder and MD of The Salariya Book Company; Annie Ashworth, Director of the Stratford Literary Festival; the award winning author/illustrator Nick Butterworth; children’s author Smriti Prasadam-Halls; children’s author/illustrator Steven Lenton; literary agent for children’s books Jodie Hodges of United Agents; and Vanessa Lewis, co-owner of the award-winning Book Nook Children’s Bookshop, Hove.

When the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival first approached us with the idea of partnering on this prize, we immediately saw its potential. It's very difficult for budding children's authors and illustrators nowadays to break through the noise and get someone to take a chance on their work as there's so much competition. We thought this prize would be a great way of giving someone that first opportunity. The fact that it's a joint venture between a publishing house and a literary festival means that the winner gets double the help: their book is shepherded to final book form by a highly-experienced children's publisher who can help to hone and perfect their vision, and when it's ready to enter the wide world it will be given the publicity and attention that a leading literary festival can provide.

This and the following two images are from the 2017 winning Luna and The Moon Rabbit by Camille Whitcher, which is to be published in April 2018 with a launch reception in London and an event at the Stratford Literary Festival

But what is it we're looking for in the book that will eventually win this year's prize? It's hard to get too specific when it comes to determining what makes for a great children's picture book: as with all creative endeavours, you don't want to be too prescriptive because it might put off someone who has an unusual but brilliant idea. It could be funny, it could be thought-provoking, it could be fantastical or realistic – the possibilities are vast. Importantly (and rather obviously) it should be fresh, original and memorable. There are only really a limited number of simple stories and messages that can be communicated to young children via a picture book, so creating something that is original in its presentation is challenging but necessary. It should have re-readability and be something that neither children nor their parents tire of reading. It should also be fun for children and parents to read aloud together, so it's a good idea to recite the story as you're writing it to ensure that this is the case and that the flow and rhythms of the text are right.

It's also worth challenging the received wisdom that a children's picture book has to be ceaselessly carefree and happy from beginning to end. Some of the real classics in the genre take children out of their comfort zone in the middle of the story by introducing a crisis or something mildly scary, but they're also always careful to bring the characters and the reader back to a place of safety and reassurance by the story's end.

Another vital component of a picture book is that both the text and the illustrations must each pull their weight; it's not enough for the text to merely describe what is already represented in the pictures, nor is it enough for the illustrations to reproduce only what is in the text. Instead, the two elements should complement each other: each should bring something unique and enriching to the experience of reading through the book. A good way of determining whether the text is doing its job or not is to read it in isolation from the illustrations and see if it tells the story effectively on its own. If it does, it's probably strong enough. The illustrations need to have something that helps the book stand out from the competition, whether this is a very distinctive style, a great sense of humour and wit, or great visual beauty.

Another point it's worth reiterating is that the story should be relevant to the current generation of children. Too many picture books adopt an exclusively middle-class perspective that can prevent them from appealing or speaking to children and their parents from outside of these circles. The trick, of course, is to break out of this sometimes parochial mindset and create engaging and entertaining picture books that deal with the experiences of modern life and of minority communities without coming off as preachy or sanctimonious.

So, bearing these tips in mind, if you think you have it in you to be our next prize-winning author-illustrator or author and illustrator team, you can find out more about how to enter the competition here.

Good luck!


 Author bio: David Salariya is the founder and managing director of The Salariya Book Company, an award-winning children's publishing house.

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