Lauren Child: Why I've set up a fabulous new award for young illustrators

Published on: 01 March 2018 Author: Lauren Child

The UK's Children's Laureate wants to find the illustrators of the future – which is why she's set up the Lauren Child Poetry Illustration prize, which brings young people, children and teens together creatively. 

When I judged the Betjeman Poetry Prize, which is for 10 to 13-year-olds, in 2015, I was really struck by the quality of the poems they wrote. There are competitions that we set for children, whether they are drawing or writing, that don’t work, for whatever reason. But the Betjeman Poetry Prize does work. I think it’s because it takes children seriously and and doesn’t talk down to children.

Children are given a theme, which is "Place". "Place" is a lovely broad word that can mean anything, so it stops children from thinking they have to do something very particular – poetry is something that is beautifully abstract and there are so many ways of approaching it. Poetry is in us and I think that’s why poetry continues to be a very popular medium. We’ve done it forever because it speaks to us inside and we feel we are capable of communicating something.

Poetry is a like a song – something that makes sense to us as human beings, so children tend to be very good at it. I think children like it because they are abstract thinkers, as long as you don’t try to direct them too much.

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'How would I illustrate that?'

So, on balance, the Betjeman competition tends to get incredible entries. It encourages children to use language in a way that they never would when they’re writing a story, which is why I think poetry can be a better way into writing. You aren’t worrying about the form of it, the beginning, middle and end thing. And you’re not worried about plotting and getting caught up with that. Just the words.

As soon as I started reading the poems, I thought how beautiful it would be to have them illustrated. When you read a poem, something comes into your mind and you react to it. Whether you see something very definite like a place or you feel something and think: “How would I illustrate that?”

When I became Waterstones Children’s Laureate, I knew it was the right time to make a very special competition happen. I knew I didn’t want to give the poems to children to illustrate; I wanted to give it to young illustrators, recent graduates or people still in college. This is because I want them to take these poems as seriously as the judges. I also wanted people at the beginning of their career, who have a really tough time, to be taken seriously, too.

'Creating something new'

I think illustrating poems is one of the best exercises on your route to becoming an illustrator. You’re actually trying to get into the head of poet, but you’re also giving something of yourself, because you react to it. I think that’s what illustration is – it’s this amazing collision of thought and ideas.

I never thought of illustration as an extra to the words; it’s taking them and creating something new. You see that with former Children's Laureate Quentin Blake’s work all the time and see how clever he is to draw something out, to express what he feels, as well as the writer’s feeling. I thought that would be the perfect way of showing how brilliant these poems were, but also how brilliant the young illustrators are.

I feel very passionate about the next generation of illustrators and I think it’s so difficult to get started. I’m really looking forward to meeting the 12 commended illustrators for this award, and working with them to create a beautiful exhibition at St Pancras Station in September 2018.

If you are or know a young illustrator aged 18 to 25, why not enter your work in this wonderful prize? The deadline for entries is 1 May 2018.

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