SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE January 2022 Results


Christabel McKinley of David Higham Associates set and judged the January 2022 Slush Pile Challenge.



Christabel set the challenge with the theme of New World. She had “a real yearning for adventure (probably from being cooped up so much over the last two years!)” so wanted “a picture book text that shows the magic of discovering the world is bigger than you think.” Entrants could interpret ‘world’ in a literal, metaphorical or figurative sense – Christabel just wanted to “feel the surprise and delight of discovery in it. Texts should be a maximum of 800 words.


We received 81 entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Christabel read all of the submissions. This is what Christabel told us when announcing the results:


“A huge thank you to the 81 authors who sent in a picture book text over the very busy start of this year: I asked you to take me to New Worlds, and you delivered! I loved seeing how people interpreted this differently – from both the literal discovery of new cultures, countries and even planets, to becoming part of a growing family or a new community. One of the things that draws me most to a text is sensing an authentic connection to the way young people experience the world around them, and the picture book age range is one that’s so full of wonder and discovery. So thank you for joining me on this journey – I hope you all enjoyed the trip!


After careful consideration of all your texts, the one that lingered most strongly in my mind was JINGLES ALL THE WAY by Meredith Vigh, in which an ambitiously considerate elf decides to take on the task of spreading Christmas cheer to children throughout the galaxy. Seasonal texts are always a bit of a gamble, given how difficult it is to sell them for three out of four seasons of the year, but the message at the heart of this story touched me deeply. Particularly coming from a mixed faith background myself, I don’t think I can recall seeing another text that celebrated the beauty and validity of all types of celebration, without needing to choose one over the other. In the ever more diverse cultural landscape we live in, this message rings warm and true – and the vibrant, fun-filled rhyming adventure it comes wrapped in just makes it all the better!


I loved the diverse range of characters in all of the texts submitted – from toddlers to trolls, and crows to clouds. A strong character-driven story is hard to ignore, as it pulls you directly into the action and helps you share the feelings of the protagonist as well as their journey. And so I’d like to award runner-up positions to TOO GHOUL FOR SCHOOL by Bruna De Luca and TRAP DOOR TREVOR by Suzanne Meikle, each starring exactly a loveable oddball learning about life in the most relatable of ways. In a charmingly uncharacteristic sort of haunting, Gilbert Ghoul discovers a love for learning that gives him the exact tools he needs to help others just like him. And Trevor doesn’t really mind living alone in his cosy little alcove – until he decides that maybe, just sometimes, he does - and that’s okay, too. These stories were both such a pleasure to read because the characters were a joy to meet – imagining their world was exciting, and their approaches to new discoveries were easily relatable.


While the messages of these stories all moved me, my best advice is this: no matter what, the story has to come first – and message second. As adults we may retain the message we take away, but a small child will want to enjoy the act of being read to, so the story has to be vibrant and satisfying enough to want to hear it over and over again. This means taking care to make each spread hold its own, and keep the readers visually engaged as well as invested in the outcome of the story – also one of the reasons why we like a good twist or surprise at the end. It can be tempting to try and make a text stand out by trying to do something ‘new’ with it, but at the end of the day: simple works best. Present your text in a way that’s easy to read and easy to imagine on the page, and you’re connecting directly with the agent or editor who will want to help bring it to life.



Congratulations to Meredith Vigh from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope you are well on your way towards getting your writing published.


Well done to Bruna De Luca and Suzanne Meikle for being placed as runners-up.


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



Christabel joined David Higham Associates in 2018, having previously worked in translation rights and at a scouting agency. She graduated with a degree in Russian and English Literature from Trinity College Dublin, after which she spent a year teaching English in South Korea.


Christabel is building a list of children’s authors and illustrators, from picture books to Young Adult fiction. She is particularly drawn to writing that feels authentically child-oriented with clear insight into the way young people feel and think. Among her favourite picture book authors, she enjoys the warmth and wit and clever rhyming of Anna Kemp’s texts, and the playfully subversive nature of Bethan Woollvin’s storytelling.



Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over six years and loves to write picture books, chapter books and middle-grade. She loves writing about food. She lives by the sea and has a dog and a cat. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge for writers. Connect with Elaine on Twitter: @elaineccline


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