Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award for their ‘absolutely joyful’ picture book about a science-loving black girl, Look Up !, at a time when only 4% of UK children’s books contain a black or minority ethnic group character.
After Rocket’s adventures, a little girl who tries to convince her phone-obsessed teenage brother to look up at a meteor shower, Look Up! was named the winner of the £ 5,000 prize, chosen by Waterstones booksellers, on Thursday evening.
Bryon, writer and actor, made up the story after visiting Hyde Park in London with his girlfriend to see the Peter Pan statue. There he spent all his time refreshing his phone. He had originally planned for the work to be a short animation, but was convinced by his agent to try writing a book instead.
“Long story short, after a tax bill went through, I was like, ‘I need to learn how to write books.’ So I went to Waterstones and studied hell in a few picture books, ”he said.
He then approached his friend Dapo Adeola, illustrator and character creator, and asked him to draw the character of Rocket. “I just told him she was a black girl, with big hair and glasses – it was like he had a cable to my brain,” Bryon said.
Adeola said her portrayal of Rocket was inspired by one of her nieces. “I tried to capture her curiosity and taste for knowledge in Rocket’s ways as well as her innocently self-assured problem-solving attitude, traits that should be celebrated in boys and girls. Back then, I looked around and the space in the picture books was dominated by young boys, young white boys, to be precise. I wanted to see what I could do that was original and stood out.
Bryon said reading the book to children at events was “amazing.” “When you read the story aloud to the children, they don’t lie, if they find it boring, they will tell you. We got exactly the opposite, ”he said. “We read it to groups of schoolchildren, a hundred at a time. Many of them, the minute they see Rocket and his big brother Jamal, especially young black children, their eyes light up. When you see something that represents you, it’s a really powerful moment. “
Waterstones children’s buyer Florentyna Martin says Look Up! had reshaped the “mold of traditional picture book storytelling for a new era,” and that Rocket was “a little person with big dreams, who captured our hearts,” praising his “boundless enthusiasm, inquisitive nature and his benevolent spirit as a hero for all of us ”.
Search! won the General Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year Award and the Illustrated Books category. Bearmouth, Liz Hyder’s Young Adult Dystopia, won the Older Readers category, while High-Rise Mystery, Sharna Jackson’s thriller starring inmate sisters Nik and Norva, won the Younger category. readers.
Bearmouth, in which the protagonist, Newt, has worked in a coal mine since he was four, is a “powerfully atmospheric story … with an addicting narrative,” Martin said, while High-Rise Mystery has been hailed as “A new, fast and exciting angle for the genre”.
Jackson said she had loved the mystery genre since she was little, but felt that “the typically chic, vintage, white and sultry characters and settings needed to be updated.”
High-Rise Mystery was an experiment “to see if the codes and conventions of mystery could be transposed to today in a new context, in a working-class setting, led by two contemporary black girls, intelligent and funny”.
“I like to think that winning this award means the experience was a success, so thank you,” she says.