It was a strong year in children’s fiction, with both brand-name authors and newcomers making up this shortlist. Stories range from wartime Britain to rural China and follow friendships, superheroes and dragons. What they did all have in common was beautiful illustration and design, backed by impressive campaigns and retail support.
Thanks to COVID-19, JK Rowling rediscovered an unfinished tale that she had written for her own children ten years ago “in fits and starts” between the seven Harry Potter books. During lockdown she put it online for free, inviting the millions of children stuck at home around the world to contribute illustrations. Now, and in our darkest hour, it is published; and just like Harry Potter, it is a light for when other lights go out.
She asked readers to send in illustrations for an eventual publication. The winners, as chosen by her team, have been included in this beautiful hardback edition published this week (with a slightly less beautiful price tag to match).The Ickabog sits somewhere between fairytale, fable and political allegory. Harry Potter fans should not expect hidden references to that world. The only crossover is Rowling’s continued ability to tell a story. Her imagination is a marvel and her plotting ever-sophisticated in what could otherwise be deemed a simple tale.
The Ickabog is, in the end, a bit exposition-heavy, without the immersive pull of the opening chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But it’s more than worth being given a chance.
A shallow, blond king, controlled by wicked advisers who pile lies upon lies and spread fear of a monster, destroys his happy kingdom. It is left to suffering children and families to dislodge the tyrants. The tale gets dark, but this is zinging storytelling with bite and a twist. It also has extraordinarily skilled and apt illustrations, some a little enhanced with a fine line, chosen from 18,000 pictures submitted by young artists from around the world.