Balham illustrator wins Waterstones Children’s Book Prize

A Balham-based illustrator was named the winner of the Illustrated Books category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021 earlier this month.

Bethan Stevens, 29, was delighted to receive the accolade and a £2,000 prize for The Grumpy Fairies – a light-hearted cautionary tale that aims to flip the traditional image of fairies on its head. 

The Grumpy Fairies, published in August 2020, is about a group of comically grumpy fairies who abandon their chores for adventures in the woods without knowing there’s a hungry goblin not far behind them.

Stevens said: “I still don’t think it’s sunk in. It feels really incredible and I was absolutely not expecting it. 

“It was a surprise to be on the shortlist – never mind to win the actual award.

“I really didn’t think I was going to, because everyone’s books are so incredible.”

The Grumpy Fairies is Stevens’ debut children’s book, which she began creating immediately after finishing her MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art in 2019.

Stevens was writing her dissertation on gender in picture books and thinking about the idea of subverting typically ‘girly’ children’s literature tropes when fairies came to mind.

She was also regularly drawing grumpy characters in her sketchbook for fun, and so decided to marry the two ideas together with an ambitious new illustration style.

WINNING AUTHOR: The Grumpy Fairies was the first children’s book Bethan Stevens ever worked on

Stevens added: “I really do love picture books. I just think they’re such a beautiful art form.

“As an illustrator your style is always developing, which is exciting but also scary. 

“I really only started using watercolours and paints at the end of my MA, so I’m still on a steep learning curve.”

Stevens was born on a British naval base in Germany but has lived in England most of her life, moving to Balham in 2018 during the last six months of her MA.

She mentioned completing a lot of brainstorming and sketching for her debut novel in Apple Blue Patisserie near Balham Station and described their almond croissants as “excellent”. 

Stevens also revealed that she is excited to be working on a follow-up book, which she hopes will come out sometime in 2022. 

The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize has been championing emerging talent in children’s literature for 17 years and is unique in that it is voted for solely by booksellers. 

Florentyna Martin, Waterstones Children’s Buyer, said: “Between the fairies’ comical expressions and the plot’s light-hearted sense of peril, Bethan’s marriage of text and illustration crafts an entertaining tale.

“The Grumpy Fairies is a book that children gleefully request on repeat.”

A Kind Of Spark author Elle McNicoll also won the overall prize and Young Readers’ category prize, while Darren Charlton won in the Older Readers’ category with his book Wranglestone.

Featured image credit: Illustration by Bethan Stevens

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