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ARU graduates lead the way at national awards

Published: 9 February 2024 at 15:00

Logo for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2024

Four former Children’s Book Illustration students make the Waterstones shortlist

Talented Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) graduates have dominated this year’s Illustrated Books category for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2024.

Four of the six shortlisted author-illustrators – Ellan Rankin, Kate Rolfe, Chloe Savage and Natalie Labarre – are graduates of the world-leading Children’s Book Illustration MA course at ARU’s Cambridge School of Art.

Now in its 20th year, the prestigious Waterstones Children’s Book Prize is decided by Waterstones’ expert booksellers, who vote for the books they believe are the very best in new children’s writing and illustration.

Chloe Savage, who was born and raised in Stevenage and now lives in Hitchin, is shortlisted for her playful picture book The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish, a tale of grit, endurance, and self-belief. 

Chloe said: “The Search for the Giant Arctic Jellyfish is deeply inspired by my own experience of failure and resilience. I love to make my work highly detailed, so that regardless of your reading ability, you will be able to find something to enjoy in the book. 

“It is very important to me that my work is inclusive in this way. It is a huge honour to have my debut picture book recognised by the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. I am so grateful that I was able to make this book and share it with the world. Thank you.” 

Kate Rolfe, who lives in Framlingham, Suffolk, is shortlisted for her book Wolf and Bear, which is a heartfelt story about kindness and hope. Kate, who already has several major awards to her name, including best New Talent in Children's Publishing at the World Illustration Awards and Student Illustrator of the Year at the V&A Illustration awards, said: “Wolf and Bear was very much inspired by my own neurodivergence and my friendships. 

“I often find myself ‘being Wolf’ and wanting to do it all, while other times my need to retreat into my own mental space leads me to seek solitude like Bear, and push others away. I wanted to create a story suitable for all ages, that allowed us to empathise with both characters equally, and show that it really is okay to not always be okay.”

Meanwhile, fellow ARU Children’s Book Illustration MA graduate Ellan Rankin is shortlisted for The Secret Elephant, and New York-based Natalie Labarre, who graduated from ARU in 2018, has been recognised for her book Incredible Jobs You've (Probably) Never Heard Of. Natalie’s background is in animation, and she is currently a director at an animation studio.

Ellan, who is from Belfast and has previously won the Picture This! competition, the Carmelite Prize and The Sebastian Walker Prize, said: “This book has meant so much to me and it’s always thrilling to see it on the shelves of a bookshop I grew up visiting. But being shortlisted for this award is mind blowing, I am still in shock! I’ve been a fan of so many past shortlistees, and now to be among them is amazing. Thank you so much! And thanks to everyone who got my book to here.”

Shelley Ann Jackson, Associate Professor and Course Leader of the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at ARU, said: “We are so thrilled that four of the six shortlisted illustrators for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2024 are MA Children’s Book Illustration graduates! We couldn’t be prouder of the successes of Natalie, Chloe, Ellan and Kate. 

“With this prestigious award being voted on by booksellers, it is recognition of the impact these graduates have already had on the UK book publishing industry and a hint at their future potential. We can’t wait to see where their careers take them next.”

The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize sees six books compete in three categories to be crowned category winner, with the three winners then vying for the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Winner 2024. The winner of each category receives £2,000, and the overall winner receives an additional £3,000. The awards will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday, 21 March.