Jessica Love wins Klaus Flugge Prize with 'barrier-breaking' tale

Jessica Love wins Klaus Flugge Prize with 'barrier-breaking' tale

Jessica Love has won this year's Klaus Flugge Prize for the most promising newcomer to children's picture books with her "barrier-breaking" and "heartwarming" tale, Julian is a Mermaid (Walker Books).

Partly inspired by a trans friend of Love, Julian is a Mermaid is the story of a young boy who loves mermaids and how he finds a way to become one, with the help of his nana. The book was also shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

Love told The Bookseller: "I'm completely amazed. I didn't imagine this book would have even a tiny amount of success much less the kind of reception it has received. I thought I would self-publish and give it to my friends. I've been really lucky and I'm just over the moon. It was an incredible year for picture books and I would have been delighted to just be mentioned in the same sentence as these authors and illustrators."

This year's shortlist featured Fifi Kuo's I Can Fly (Boxer Books), The Extraordinary Gardner by Sam Boughton (Tate), Looking After Daddy by Eve Coy (Andersen Press), The King Who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth (Pavilion Children’s Books) and Red and the City by Marie Voigt (OUP).

The shortlistees at the event

Reflecting on the all-female shortlist, Love said: "There's something exciting about it - to have all these bright lights by women especially this year given what feels like a global hostility towards women. It feels like a special thing to be honoured." 

Before the publication of Julian, Love studied printmaking and illustration at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then went on to study acting at Juilliard. While working as an actor she spent five years completing the book, which she says contains lessons for adult readers. 

"I've always shied away from explicitly didactic art for children. If I smelt a whiff of teaching as a child I would run for the hills. I wanted it to feel like the kind of artwork and story that belongs to a young reader. I wanted it to feel like one of those stories they can really inhabit without the help of a grown-up reading to them. I wanted dit to feel like a portable celebration, a joyful room to take in when the world felt bleak. I wanted it to be an alternative refuge, a little party in a tent," said Love. "The lessons are more for the adults. I conceived it as a celebration that can be appropriate for an audience at any age. There's a reading that children's have and a reading that adults have and I wanted it to function on both levels. Grandma sees Julian all dressed up and adults assume it's what he's wearing and children think it's because he has made a mess that made her upset. Children don't even consider it's because he is wearing a dress." 

Brooklyn-based Love is now pursuing writing and illustrating full-time  and is working on another story featuring Julian - this time at a wedding. 

(L-R) Walker Books' art director Audrey Keri-Nagy (who accepted the award on behalf of Jessica Love), Klaus Flugge and Anthony Browne

Commenting on the award-winning book, judge Derek Brazell of the Association of Illustrators said:  “A sense of expressive freedom rises from the pages of Julian Is A Mermaid. A young boy choosing to dress and act the way he wishes is delivered by Jessica Love with humour and sassiness. Her story and illustrations deliver characters and situations with joy and an inclusive warmth – this is a book that dismisses standard conventions and embraces a different outlook – and it’s fun! Having the Klaus Flugge Prize awarded to a picture book newcomer is a fantastic, empowering launch pad. It offers a spotlight to new work from creators starting out in this essential part of the publishing world, and gives a great personal boost to the illustrators on the Long and Shortlists as well as the final winner. It’s one for picture book makers to aim for!”

Fellow judge Farrah Serroukh, of CLPE, said the book is a "stunningly beautiful, heartwarming debut." She said: “The illustrations say things that it would be difficult for words alone to express. The layers of meaning that can be inferred through each spread are rich, sophisticated and plentiful."

Judge, former Children’s Laureate and multi-award-winning illustrator Anthony Browne added: “Julian is a Mermaid is an astonishingly beautiful book. It’s amazing to realise this is Jessica Love’s first attempt. She has quickly realised how picture books work - the understated words fit so brilliantly with the stunning illustrations, never getting in the way, never trying to do the same job. It’s a perfect picture book.”

Love was awarded the prize at a ceremony in London tonight (11th September). The Klaus Flugge Prize was founded in 2016 to honour publisher and Andersen Press founder, Klaus Flugge. Last year's winner was My Name is Not Refugee (Barrington Stoke) by Kate Milner