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BfK Rising Talent 2011

As the reach of a more international publishing culture extends beyond Europe and the US and now that time has allowed the emergence of more British born ethnic minority writers, who are today’s stars coming into their own? Books for Keeps presents 12 rising talents from the new generation of writers and illustrators.


or the last 15 years each issue of Books for Keeps has highlighted the work of a new author or illustrator with a review slot called ‘New Talent’. Debut authors and illustrators whose first book was

featured in Books for Keeps’ ‘New Talent’ slot in the past include a roll call of excellence: J K Rowling (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone); Jane Simmons (Come On, Daisy!); David Almond (Skellig); Cressida Cowell (Little Bo Peep’s Library Book); William Nicholson (The Wind Singer); Marcus Sedgwick (Floodland); Bali Rai (Unarranged Marriage); Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions); Oliver Jeffers (How to Catch a Star); Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines); Stuart Hill (The Cry of the Icemark); Emily Gravett (Wolves). These are some of the writers and illustrators who went on to become the most important children’s book writers and illustrators of their generation.

Looking back at this eclectic list of debut talent, it is perhaps not surprising that it does not suggest the emergence of a style or a movement, an ‘-ism’. There was an emphasis on fantasy and science fiction but contemporary realism also got a look in and amongst picture books the emergence of Lauren Child and Oliver Jeffers heralded the acceptance of an increasingly sophisticated visual approach from which British publishers no longer shied away, children’s capacity to appreciate demanding illustration no longer underestimated.

A proliferation of ‘must-read’ debut children’s books

BfK’s ‘New Talent’ slot was launched all that time ago in the hope of encouraging the publication of new voices at a rather fallow period when children’s publishers appeared reluctant to invest time in developing new writers or money in publishing one-off literary novels.

This modest encouragement, together with other larger scale innovations such as the Branford Boase Award (set up to reward the most promising new writers and their editors), the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize (for new and emerging talent) and Cambridge University’s Best New Talent Award (for illustrators on their MA course), has certainly borne fruit. Irony of ironies, there are now far more ‘must-read’ debut children’s books than can be accommodated solely in a ‘New Talent’ slot.

This embarras de richesses is a wonderful cause for celebration and the raison d’être for this selection of 12 writers and illustrators at the beginning of their career. Here we showcase these ‘rising talents’ of the new generation, those with the potential to consolidate the promise demonstrated in their first published work and continue to make an impact. The work of our 12 rising talents also

presents a revealing snapshot of the literary landscape (not a vampire in sight…) as well as an insight into a new generation of writing for children which shows, beside its talent, what bothers and inspires the imagination of contemporary youth.

Picture books

Of the 12, four are illustrators whose debut picture books present confident and accomplished visual narratives that will engage young readers. Nicola Killen, Alison Murray and John Fardell’s work has the confidence to eschew the showy, rejecting the clashingly gaudy palette favoured by too many new children’s book illustrators. Their work is child centred and subtly clever while also very accessible. Grahame Baker- Smith is a picture book artist whose challenging, complex and emotionally powerful work has great appeal to older readers and will help to enlarge the audience for illustrated books. More excellent illustrated books can be confidently anticipated from these artists.

Nicola Killen was the winner of The Best New Talent Award 2009, a prize given to the most promising prospect on Cambridge University’s MA course in Children’s Illustration. Her debut picture book, Not Me!, is aimed at the very young. From its spot laminated cover to its gently rhyming text with the repeated refrain ‘not me!’, this well thought out narrative fits its landscape format beautifully as each small person denies being the one to eat all the cake, leave handprints, make the carpet dirty etc. Young readers will delight in identifying with such naughtiness! Killen’s stylish minimalism – round faces, dots for eyes – works well with her patterned and textured use of colour with its muted palette. An intrinsic part of the design, her hand lettered text emphasises the humour and drama of each incident, until the friends relent and help tidy up. Perfect!

Nicola Killen

Also for the very young, Alison Murray’s debut picture book Apple Pie ABC and subsequent One Two, That’s My Shoe! are clever retellings of well known nursery rhymes beautifully paced within the format. Apple Pie ABC follows the fortunes of an apple pie as is the tradition with ‘A was an apple-pie’ rhymes. In her version, the (A) apple pie has been made by a little girl and, while (B) baking in the oven and then (C) cooling, it attracts

Alison Murray Books for Keeps No.187 March 2011 3

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