Think Swan – Dundee Picture Book Award 2018


This week I have been on the road. Scotland.

More specifically, Dundee. Home of wonderful cakes, The Discovery, the V&A Dundee, the timeless tyrant that is Mr Dennis The Menace, Oreo Cheesecake and Assasin’s Creed masters (unofficial).

We (myself and author Michelle Robinson) were invited to attend the Dundee Picture Book award, as our book School For Little Monsters had found it’s way onto the shortlist. Unfortunatly, at last minute, Michelle was very sadly was unable to join us due to a nasty bug.

At Edinburgh airport we went by taxi to Dundee, crossing two spectacular bridges— the Forth and the Tay. A really pretty route by motorway that winds it’s way through flat, open farmland, bookended by some wild, moorland hills. A  nice change from the urban sprall of London.

Arriving in Dundee, I found myself with a spare afternoon, so stumbled around town and into a local Episcopal church (as you do!) I was confronted by cavernous ceilings, hard-hitting artwork and strange otherworldly sounds. They were tuning the organ, at least, I think that was what they were doing! It was somewhat surreal… not exactly cat-strangling or Hans Zimmer Interstellar soundtrack or anything traditionally worshipful as we may know it. I don’t think it was Bach… though who knows, they may have been playing his deep-cuts.

I then had a walk around The Discovery (Scott’s ship) for a couple of hours, then a catnap before dinner.

In the evening I met the other shortlisted authors John Kelly, Tom Jamieson, Alex English and Emma Levey. Fantastic books, all them- so well done, warm, funny and beautifully illustrated.

We also met the organisers Elaine and Moira, who looked after us so well, and plied us with food, wine and hilarious left-field stories.

Next morning we were whisked over to The Whitehall Theatre, starting the day with a quick run through with the children. What was most notable about this event was that it was simple and entirely presented by children. They introduced each book, we then saw a film of the book with pictures on the projector, narrated by children. Then scripted questions for each of us… with some amazing answers!

Next, the winner was announced.
And would you believe it?


I have been an illustrator for a long time (17 years) and have never won an award before. I have been on award shortlists many a time, but never had a win. So this is a first for me, and it means much.

So after the initial surprise and elation, and with no Michelle, a quiet HORROR dawned on me that I’d actually have to make the acceptance speech. You remember the old adage of public speaking? Think Swan. Calm, graceful, elegant, poised— yet under the surface… PADDLING LIKE MAD. That was me, or at least the paddling bit. Flabergasted, off-the-cuff, swan it.

I have illustrated a few picture books in my time, but School for Little Monsters was no normal picture book to make. Making this book was far from simple and incredibly hard work for all concerned, with endless revisions, changes, twists, turns, colour revisions to tell the story, phonecalls and deep discussion. A real labour of love.

I want to thank to Team Scholastic for their hard work in knocking this book into shape, enabling it say what it needed to say, simply and effectively. Special kudos to Sarah Malley my designer and Emma Drage our editor, and of course Michelle. (Who is a picture book sign and wonder. Have you seen her books? Check them out immediatly!)  What a team.

The most heartening thing about the event was the incredible enthusiasm from both children and adults. Knowing well that our schools system is in drought (financially and on other levels), it was wonderful to meet people so clearly passionate about reading for pleasure, and who carried it all with such gusto, humor and vision.

Huge big thanks to all involved, and to the brilliant kids.