Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola's “utterly joyful” picture book Look Up! (Puffin) has been crowned overall winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2020.
The book follows Rocket, a science-loving black girl with big dreams about becoming an astronaut, and explores subjects from the significance of role models and representation, to the amount of time some people spend glued to their mobile devices.
Bryon, a writer and actor who has written for animation “Rastamouse”, Bafta-winning “Swashbuckle” and “Apple Tree House”, said he penned the story partly as a message to himself.
He explained: “I was inspired to write Look Up! after walking around Hyde Park with my girlfriend. She wanted me to see the Peter Pan statue and I was too busy looking down at my phone, refreshing my emails. The book is a message to me to be more present, to 'Look Up!' and see all the wonderful things that are around me as my emails really aren't that important.”
Adeola said: “Look Up! was visually inspired by one of my nieces. I tried to capture her curiosity and zest for knowledge in Rocket’s mannerisms, as well as her innocently self-assured attitude to problem-solving—traits that should be celebrated in both boys and girls.”
The pair were announced winners of the award, alongside the picture book category, today (30th July). The awards are voted for solely by booksellers, with category winners receiving £2,000, and the overall winner pocketing an additional £3,000. They also receive the promise of ongoing commitment to their writing and illustrating careers from the retailer.
Florentyna Martin, Waterstones children’s buyer, said: “The mould of traditional picture book storytelling is redefined for a new era in this joyful and energetic tale; an inviting narrative plot is interspersed with nuggets of non-fiction, satisfying curious young minds with a multifaceted experience away from screens. More than ever before, we are exploring non-fiction and inspirational characters at younger ages, and we champion Rocket’s boundless enthusiasm, curious nature and kind spirit as a hero for us all. She is a little person with big dreams, who has captured our hearts.”
The winner of the Younger Readers prize was High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson (Knights Of), a “fresh, pacey and exciting” whodunit for children. It follows a murder on The Tri, the high-rise home of sleuthing sister duo Nik and Norva, and the two girls decide to investigate.
Jackson says: “I wanted to see if mystery’s codes and conventions could be transposed to today in a new context, to a working-class setting, led by two contemporary clever and funny black girls. I like to think that winning this prize means that the experiment was a success, so thank you!”
The Older Readers prize went to Bearmouth by Liz Hyder (Pushkin Children's Books), a “hugely atmospheric” dystopian novel for young adults.
Hyder said: “Bearmouth was originally inspired by a trip down a slate mine on the Welsh coast some years ago. I vaguely remembered learning about Victorian children working in the mines at school, but I’d forgotten just how brutal and exploitative the conditions were. I wondered if I could set a story entirely in that world, a page-turning thriller in the depths of a mine that would feel as if the walls were closing in, but [a story] that also contained within it a spark of rebellion.”