Interview with the winner of the 2019 Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize!

The 2019 Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize has been a great success. We received 175 entries overall, from throughout the UK, which we managed to whittle down to a shortlist of 9 titles. Eventually, after much deliberation (and tea and biscuits), a winner was chosen: Manlu Tu's Forgetful Daddy, the charming story of a father hedgehog who loses his glasses and his child, only to find both again at the end. The judges said: ‘Manlu's story was delightful and is brought to life by charming images. She clearly has huge talent. Like some of the best stories, it was based on truth - her father really did lose her when she was small - which makes it all the more appealing! It stood out in a strong field!’

 

It has all the elements needed for a successful children's picture book: loveable characters, delightful illustrations, lots of humour, a touch of suspense and a heartwarming conclusion. It was a very deserving winner. We asked Manlu to answer a few questions for us on the inspiration behind her winning book:

 

 

1. What is your background? Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am the only child of a sweet Chinese family. In my spare time, I love drawing little animals. My family is where most of my ideas come from. Before I came to the UK, I used to be a graphic designer at Amazon.cn. However, my passion for illustration was always present, so I came here to the UK to study illustration.

 

2. What made you want to write a children's book?

I just love the fun and lighthearted feeling of children's picture books, whether they make you laugh or make you cry.

 

3. What were your inspirations for your winning picture book?

My Forgetful Daddy project is based on my father’s incredible reactions when he lost me when I was young. He tried to use a long stick to stir the pond near where I disappeared to check whether I had fallen inside or not! His behaviour sounds funny (my mother still laughs about it now), but I know that it shows how much my father loves me. So I wanted to create a project for my father to say 'Thank you!' to him (I have another project for my mother.)

 

4. How did you go about writing and illustrating Forgetful Daddy? What is your process?

I got this idea after I dived deep into my summer sketches and thought about what story would best express my personality. I did some sketches near a public pond in the summer. I was reminded of some stories between my father and myself (told by my mother). I am very close to my father because I lived with him throughout most of my childhood (my mother worked in another city). I wanted to create a memorial to this love, so I decided to create a project based on one of the dramatic incidents when my father lost me.

 

 

 

I believe that love is mutual. I hope that the love in my book not only comes from daddy hedgehog, but from little hedgehog’s viewpoint as well. How to show, in a humorous way, the anxiety of a father who has lost his baby was my first plan. Based on my father’s experience (stirring the pond water), I thought of other ways to make the story quirky and a little crazy. So I came up with daddy hedgehog blowing the hoover, stirring the water and checking owl’s sausage shop (because an owl is a hedgehog’s predator). Later on, I was struggling with why little hedgehog disappears and how to show his love to his father. I tried different versions, like little hedgehog’s trick or hide and seek. Finally, I chose the version that little hedgehog disappears because he is looking for something precious to his father - his glasses. For me, it’s very touching when someone cares deeply about the things the person they love cares about. Children can show their love for their parents in all sorts of small ways, and finding daddy hedgehog's glasses was the one I chose to include in this book.

 

When I designed the daddy hedgehog character, I tried to recall my father’s personality. That’s why daddy hedgehog is always forgetting where his glasses are (my father has 3 spare sets of glasses because he never stops losing them) and always wears an apron (my favorite picture of my father is of him wearing an apron whilst cleaning).

 

I didn’t want this story to be very 'heavy'. I hope readers know that little hedgehog is safe even though daddy hedgehog doesn’t. That’s why I decided to use the little hedgehog as the narrator. Also, I introduced the character of Ms. squirrel. In the picture on every page, you can see Ms. squirrel is catching up with hedgehog daddy to let him know his baby is inside her basket, but she is completely ignored by daddy hedgehog, maybe because he isn't wearing his glasses or because he is too focused on looking for his baby. Readers can get more enjoyment out of a picture book when there are surprises and additional information hidden in the pictures.

 

 

 

We congratulate the author and illustrator Manlu Tu on her winning entry, along with all of the other shortlisted authors: Alison Gates, Kathryn Williams, Jo Dearden, Karen Swann, Kate Dalgleish, Maria Cano, Sarah Hand and Tabitha Marsh. And a very big thank you to everyone who entered the competition!

 

And a big thank you to all of the judges:

Annie Ashworth, Director of the Stratford Literary Festival

 

David Salariya, Founder and Managing Director of The Salariya Book Company

 

Nick Butterworth, author and illustrator (Percy the Park Keeper series and many other titles)

 

Smriti Prasadam-Halls, children's author

 

Steven Lenton, children's author/illustrator

 

Tamsin Rosewell, bookseller at Kenilworth Books

 

And Jodie Hodges, literary agent for children's books at United Agents.

 

The 2017 Stratford-Salariya Children's Picture Book prize winner, Luna and the Moon Rabbit by Camille Whitcher,  is available in hardback and will be published in paperback in May 2019.