An endearing tale about a koala who finds change a bit worrisome has become the fourth winner of Oscar’s Book Prize.
The Koala Who could, written by Rachel Bright and illustrated by Jim Field, captured the hearts of this year’s judging panel, which included presenter Claudia Winkleman, Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of the 2015 memoir The Last Act of Love, Dan Mucha, Director of Books at Amazon and Oscar’s parents Viveka Alvestrand and James Ashton.
Bright accepted the £5,000 prize from Oscar’s Book Prize patron HRH Princess Beatrice at the annual award ceremony at The Ned in London on 15 May.
Bright and Field were nominated for the prize last year for their book The Lion Inside.
The 2016 Story
An empowering tale of a brave cow called Tina who – despite the misgivings of her older sisters – dares to follow her dreams won Oscar’s Book Prize in 2016.
London-based author-illustrator Gemma Merino’s story won the hearts of the judging panel.
She was awarded the £5,000 prize by HRH Princess Beatrice in a ceremony in London on 23 May 2016, where Culture Minister Ed Vaizey also made a speech.
The 2015 Story
A children’s book about the Queen chasing her hat across London was chosen as the second winner of Oscar’s Book Prize.
The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony was selected by a judging panel including actress Gillian Anderson and former Pearson chief executive Dame Marjorie Scardino.
The ceremony took place at the restaurant Hubbard & Bell, part of the Soho House Group, in High Holborn. Guests at the event included publisher Baroness Rebuck and literary agent Ed Victor. In the winning book, published by Hachette Children's, a gust of wind takes the Queen's hat from her head, so she pursues it past several landmarks with the Queen's Men.
Illustration from The Queen's Hat: The Queen's Men and her corgi in hot pursuit of the elusive hat
Anderson, who presented the £5,000 cheque, said Antony’s book was "clever, shiny and I love all the little soldiers", while Dame Marjorie described it as "charming". The other judges were Rupert Thomas, marketing director at Waitrose, the prize sponsor, and Oscar's parents Viveka Alvestrand and James Ashton, who is a columnist for the Evening Standard.
Oscar's Book Prize 2015 winner Steve Antony is presented with his prize cheque by prize judge Gillian Anderson
Also on the shortlist were Hedgehugs, written by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper, Dangerous! by Tim Warnes, This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne, and The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull.
Reflecting on his win almost a year later, Antony said: “Winning the Oscar’s Book Prize for my debut picture book, The Queen's Hat, was overwhelming and a huge honour. The recognition led to many exciting opportunities which I’m so grateful for. I've visited schools, libraries and festivals across the country, and the book was recently adapted into a musical concert by the London Symphony Orchestra.
2015 Oscar's Book Prize winner Steve Antony
“I've since released several more picture books, including a sequel to The Queen's Hat called The Queen's Handbag, which takes HRH and a bevy of bobbies on a wild swan-chase across the UK. The most rewarding moments come when I see children pick up my book and enjoy reading, and I really admire Oscar's family and the Evening Standard for creating this very special award which celebrates how picture books can be a wonderful part of everyday life.”
A lonely boy’s friendship with a whale won the inaugural Oscar’s Book Prize. The Storm Whale by first-time author Benji Davies scooped the £5,000 award for his story of Noi, a boy who finds a baby whale washed up on the beach and brings it home.
More than 50 stories were whittled down by a judging panel consisting of former Pearson chief executive Dame Marjorie Scardino, Rupert Thomas, the marketing director of prize sponsor Waitrose, Charlotte Ross, deputy editor of the Evening Standard, and Oscar’s parents James Ashton and Viveka Alvestrand.
From left: Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands, judge James Ashton, prize winner Benji Davies, judge Marjorie Scardino, judge Viveka Alvestrand and Rupert Thomas, judge and marketing director of prize sponsor Waitrose
Praising The Storm Whale as she presented the prize at a party at the Waitrose Cookery School in Finchley Road, Dame Marjorie said: “It is simple and timeless. It covers ideas of friendship to conservation to the complicated relationship between children and working parents. It's a book that doesn't try too hard and that made it very soothing.”
2014 Oscar's Book Prize winner Benji Davies
The Evening Standard's editor Sarah Sands said: "At the Evening Standard we have been running a campaign to get London reading and we know Oscar loved reading. We thought we would put the two together. We are here for Oscar but this is his gift to all children."
The other short-listed books were The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty, The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers, Open Very Carefully, written by Nick Bromley with illustrations by Nicola O'Byrne and Spaghetti with the Yeti, written by Adam and Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Lee Wildish.
Oscar's Book Prize 2014 shortlist, from left: Nicola O'Byrne, Helen and Thomas Docherty, Charlotte and Adam Guillain, Philippa Leathers and Benji Davies
Talking about the prize almost two years on, Davies said: “Exposure is important for any picture book writer, to push your name and your work into the hands of your readers. The Storm Whale was the first picture book that I both wrote and illustrated, so winning Oscar’s Book Prize was not only an incredible honour but also a superb platform. The recognition also swelled my confidence as a writer and spurred me on to write my next picture book - it’s been a huge stepping stone.”
Noi, the whale-rescuing hero of Benji Davies's The Storm Whale. Copyright Benji Davies