Walker Books has acquired Karl James Mountford's author-illustrator debut, The Circles in the Sky, after a "hard fought" four-way auction.
The picture book is described as a "beautiful and sensitive exploration of grief, loss and hope."
The story will be told through three central characters: Fox, Moth and Bird. One day, Fox is drawn to something in the forest; it’s something small, something silent, perhaps forgotten. It’s a bird, as still as can be. Fox is confused, upset and angry—is the little bird broken? But then a little moth comes along. Kind and wise and comforting, Moth shares a gentle philosophy: the story of the circles in the sky.
Commissioning editor Tanya Rosie acquired world rights in all languages for two books from Arabella Stein at the Bright Agency, after a limited number of publishers were offered the project. Publication is slated for September 2022, with Candlewick Studio publishing simultaneously in the US.
Rosie said: "Death and grief affect everyone, but remain so challenging to talk about—and especially in a book for young children. But then a story like The Circles in the Sky comes along, which shows all of us what the fearless and honest bookmaker can do. I admire Karl so much. In his first foray into writing for children, his tone is so hopeful and gentle and wise. He is clear about the philosophy he wants to communicate, and it’s impossible not to be comforted by his words. And his artwork is truly a thing of power and beauty. He has created timeless and memorable characters in Fox, Moth and Bird, and gifted us with a new way of looking at the world. Folk tales have always helped us confront our fears, and process the difficult, and I see this book as a folktale for modern times—a very special piece of storytelling that Walker is privileged to publish."
Mountford commented: "I remember being about eight or nine and generally having this almighty thought about death and wondering, 'What is it?' Being told different things about it as a kid was confusing and just left me with more questions. I would have appreciated someone saying, 'We don’t know, we’re guessing and that’s OK. But it will happen and it will be all right, whatever is next.'
"Oddly enough, when I was 15, I found a dead blackbird in the garden among the flowers. The following day I found out my grandad had passed away. It was the first time I‘d ever lost someone and the first time I’d been in the company of grief. But it was that small meeting with a dead bird that was the seed of this story.
"It means a heap that Walker want to publish this book and believe in it. I was basing everything on gut feeling when looking for a publishing house. It’s the first book that’s mine—like, I wrote it and drew it! So I care about it like a Momma Bear, and it had to go into the right hands. And it just so happened that Walker had that relaxed trust, belief and support that I was looking for."
Mountford has previously illustrated Jennifer Bell's series The Uncommoners (Corgi), Katherine Woodfine's Taylor and Rose Secret Agents (Farshore) and Kieran Larwood's The Peculiars (Chicken House). The Circles in the Sky will be his debut as an author.
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