Peter Marley, Senior Commissioning Editor, Picture Books at Oxford University Press set the following challenge:

"Write a picture-book text that stars an irresistible central character that will instantly appeal to children and look great on a book cover – whether that is a human child, animal, fantastical creature or inanimate object! The story could be any theme at all but something that the picture-book readership and their parents can relate to. Text length to be around the 400-750 word count mark; and paginated in 12 spreads if you can."  

Peter Marley

We received ninety-seven entries from members across British Isles and Europe for this competition. Peter
 agreed to read all of the submissions. This is what Peter told us when announcing the results:

“There was huge variety in style and voice, and of different types of characters, but what underpinned all the entries without exception was a sense of the writers having a genuine love of picture books and an impulse to tell stories with children’s best interests at heart.

I’m delighted to announce that my winning text is WHEN THE HUGGALUMPH HULLABALOOED by Zoë Armstrong – a story featuring an enchanting character, a magical setting, and a reassuring message for children whose innocent behaviour (in this case, a tendency to be very loud indeed) might cause friction with others and lead to feelings of isolation.  

The premise of this story is unique and drew me in, the voice is bold and distinctive, the language is musical and lyrical, there is tension throughout, and the story contains meaning that young children will be able to relate to. Furthermore, the imaginative setting and originality of the characters provides strong visual potential too, which is incredibly important for picture-book texts.

Honourable mentions must also go to PRINCESS JACK by Liz Kashyap – a really attention-grabbing and intriguing character and premise that seems ripe for further development; CROC-A-DOODLE-DOO by Becky Wilson – an amusing story about a crocodile egg that rolls into a hen’s nest, with a lovely message about belonging; THE UNICORN WHO WOULDN’T YAWN by Kerry Trickett – an enchanting tale of a little unicorn whose magical bedtime routine mirrors that of a child’s in the real world; and, finally, JUST ANNA by Helen Dineen – which tackles the complicated subject of Asperger’s syndrome in a simple way without feeling patronising or tokenistic.

Additionally, I was really impressed by how many of the rhyming texts featured a clear message (in my experience, this vitally important if they stand any chance of being translated). With rhyming texts, I often find that the rhymes themselves take over and drive the narrative, causing the plot to wander off in different directions that don’t serve the initial premise. But that wasn’t the case here – so many of the writers managed to marshal the rhymes to serve the plot.   

The stories that I found least successful generally lacked a message or clear purpose. I’d urge all writers to think about the core message of their story in terms of protagonist’s journey or psychological transformation. For me, the best picture books are driven by the character going on a journey – physical or geographical but also spiritual and emotional – and, during that journey, undergoing a personal metamorphosis. I’d recommend that writers consider their stories from this perspective as they develop them further.

Many congratulations to everyone who took part in the challenge. I very much enjoyed reading your stories over the last few weeks. It’s clear how much fun you’ve had and I hope you all continue to pour your passion into writing for children.” 

Congratulations to Zoë Armstrong from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope she is well on her way towards getting her story published.

Well done to the four writers for getting a honourable mention – Liz Kashyap, Becky Wilson, Kerry Trickett and Helen Dineen.

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

Peter Marley has fifteen years’ experience in commissioning and editorial roles across children’s publishing, including picture-books, pre-school publishing, licensed-character brands, and novelty formats, Prior to his present role, Peter has been an editor at Egmont UK and Top That! Publishing. At Oxford University Press, Peter's role as Senior Commissioning Editor, Picture Books, is commissioning and editing picture books and implementing strategies for growing the picture-book list both in the UK and internationally.

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over five 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.

1 comment:

  1. congratulations Zoe and well done the runners up. I didn’t get a mention but just wanted to say thanks to Peter, and also for the very helpful comments you took time to include.


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