Winner of children’s picture book illustration competition announced

Winner of children’s picture book illustration competition announced

Winner of children’s picture book illustration competition announced

The Books Council of Wales is delighted to announce the winner of a special competition organised with Urdd Gobaith Cymru to find new talent in the field of children’s book illustration.

The prize is awarded to 21-year-old Naomi Bennet for her ‘exceptionally executed’ artworks and her ‘command of narrative illustration’.

The task for entrants aged 18 to 25 was to create original artwork illustrating a short children’s story by one of Wales’ leading children’s authors, Casia Wiliam. ‘Y Gragen’ (The Shell) is the subject of the narrative, and as part of the prize, the winning poem and illustrations will appear as a story-and-picture book, and will be included as part of Barddas’ publishing programme.

It is intended that ‘Y Gragen’ will be available in bookshops and libraries throughout Wales, as well as in e-book format via the Books Council’s website.

Naomi Bennet, originally from Thatcham, Berkshire, who will be graduating this summer with a BA Hons in Illustration from Cardiff Metropolitan University, said: “It’s been so exciting to have been selected to work on this project. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to start my creative career with a book in print.”

The competition was judged by Derek Bainton, a freelance graphic artist and Higher Education illustration examiner living and working in Cardiff. “Naomi’s use of colour and brushstrokes follow the energy, honesty, and hopeful undertones of the story,” he noted. “The illustrative approach is suggestive and dreamy; both surreal and figurative. The drawings and depiction of the young narrator are so open they invite the reader into the narrative, with enough space to bring the reader’s own impressions and memories of the beach and sea to the story. Naomi’s handling of the relationship between words and pictures is both refined and refreshing.”

Helen Jones, Head of the Department of Children’s Books and Reading Promotion at the Books Council of Wales, said: “Warmest congratulations to Naomi Bennet, and many thanks to everyone who has entered this special competition. Illustrations can make an immeasurable contribution to the art of storytelling and broaden the appeal of books, especially children’s books. It is vital that we continue to nurture and promote new talent and standards in this field in Wales.”

Siân Eirian, Director of the Urdd National Eisteddfod, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with the Books Council of Wales on this competition and to include it in our Syllabus. The Urdd Eisteddfod’s main purpose is to give young people new opportunities within the arts, so we are delighted to announce Naomi Bennet’s success, and look forward to celebrating the publication of Y Gragen at next year’s Eisteddfod.”

“It will be an exciting opportunity to lead on this project,” noted Alaw Edwards, Creative Editor and Head of Publishing at Barddas, “and the book will be a valuable addition to our publishing programme. As part of our aim to promote and nurture new writers and illustrators, this project has been a great opportunity to invest in young, new talent. I’m sure that working with Casia and Naomi will be an absolute pleasure.”

The Books Council will continue to work with the Urdd on the competition for young illustrators at the 2023 Urdd National Eisteddfod. Further details will be published in September 2022.

Schools Love Reading Programme is launched

Schools Love Reading Programme is launched

Igniting a love of reading: a book for each pupil to keep as the Schools Love Reading programme is launched

All pupils aged 3–16 in state schools in Wales will be receiving a book of their own to keep as the Books Council of Wales and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, launch the Schools Love Reading programme today, Thursday, 26 May.

Pupils from Ysgol Hamadryad in Butetown, Cardiff were amongst the first to receive their new books. Around 70 pupils celebrated the occasion with author and illustrator Huw Aaron in a special workshop to discover how much fun reading can be … and that in books anything is possible. Ysgol Hamadryad was one of the schools across Wales that contributed to the book selection consultation during the development of the campaign.

The visit took place as the Books Council of Wales launch their Schools Love Reading campaign to celebrate reading and the benefits it brings to readers of all ages and abilities, with the free books starting to arrive in schools.

Welsh celebrities such as presenter and writer Mel Owen and blogger Charlotte Harding (@Welsh Mummy Blogs) shared their own experiences of escaping into the world of books, and the important role books play in their own lives and families. Alongside artist Mace the Great and TikTok creator Ellis Lloyd Jones, they are supporting the campaign by sharing their love of reading in a short film created for the Schools Love Reading programme.

Mel Owen said: “Reading can help with your creativity and your confidence because it opens your mind to experiences that aren’t just your own. Whether we read for relaxation or read for inspiration, having access to books and stories expands all our horizons.”

Charlotte said: “For children, having access to books and stories makes such a difference to their wellbeing and helps to grow their imaginations. My son found comfort in books throughout lockdown. There’s nothing better than holding a real book in your hands, and there are so many books available out there – there’s one for everyone.”

The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said: “It’s wonderful to be at Ysgol Hamadryad today to see the books arrive as part of the Schools Love Reading programme, and for the children to be able to choose their books. I’d like to thank everyone involved in delivering this ambitious project which is the result of a huge joint effort and collaboration between publishers, schools, booksellers, Welsh Government and the Books Council. I’m looking forward to seeing more books being delivered to more children over the coming months.”

Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, said: “The Schools Love Reading programme is all about igniting a lifelong love of reading and helping everyone find the right book for them. Developing a habit of reading has lasting benefits and having access to books is so important for children and young people. That’s why the final stage of the programme later this year will be delivering a selection of around 50 free books for school libraries so that pupils can continue their reading journey.”

You can watch the Schools Love Reading films, get reading inspiration and follow the campaign on the Books Council website

Announcing the winner of the 2022 Tir na n-Og Award

Announcing the winner of the 2022 Tir na n-Og Award

Heartfelt wartime novel wins 2022 Tir na n-Og English-language Children’s Book Award


The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr (published by Bloomsbury) is this year’s winner of the 2022 Tir na n-Og English-language award for children’s and young people’s literature.

The winning book was announced on the Radio Wales Arts Show at 18:30 on Friday 20 May, with the author receiving a cash prize of £1,000 sponsored by CILIP Cymru Wales, as well as a specially commissioned award created by Cardiff-based designers The Patternistas.

Established in 1976, the annual Tir na n-Og Awards celebrate the best books for children and young adults in Wales. They are organised by the Books Council of Wales and sponsored by the librarians’ association CILIP Cymru Wales.

The Valley of Lost Secrets, a novel for readers aged 8–12, is a gripping wartime drama set in the south Wales valleys. Jimmy, his little brother Ronnie and their class have been evacuated to Llanbryn from London. Their hosts Gwen and Alun Thomas offer a warm Welsh welcome, but it’s a completely alien landscape and Jimmy finds it hard to settle into the community.

Up on the mountains Jimmy finds a skull hidden in a tree and needs to share the mystery with someone. His best friend is no longer an option; his brother is too young. Instead, he discovers an ally in someone unexpected and they unearth secrets, find friendship, and heal the past.

Simon Fisher from the judging panel said: “Lesley Parr has written a beautiful, tender and totally absorbing debut with characters to care about. You are drawn into this captivating story from the beginning, connecting immediately to the authentic characters.

David Dean’s beautiful cover and illustrations add something rather special to the book. At the start of each chapter there is a tree spreading out over the page. As the story develops items of relevance are added to the tree. These additional puzzles make for an intriguing and utterly beguiling read.

Despite being a fictional name for the valley, the landscape and community are totally authentic, evocative and lovingly described. A book which will stay with you and you will want to return to the Valley again and again.”

Lesley Parr said: “I’m absolutely landed (as we say in Port Talbot!) to have won a Tir na n-Og Award for my debut book, The Valley of Lost Secrets. This feels extra-special as I’m very proud to be Welsh, and love setting my stories in the sort of valley community I know so well.”

Amy Staniforth from CILIP Cymru Wales said: “Many congratulations to Lesley on her terrific achievement. We are proud to sponsor the Tir na n-Og Awards again this year, and to continue helping children and young people to discover the very best of books from Wales and about Wales.”

Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales said: “The Tir na n-Og Awards have been celebrating the very best books for children and young people in Wales since 1976, and the quality of the entries just keeps getting better and better. I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved in this year’s competition, which has been a wonderful showcase of the talents of writers and illustrators in the field of children’s literature in Wales.”

The winners of the two Welsh-language category Tir na n-Og Awards 2022 will be revealed at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Denbighshire on Thursday 2 June 2022. Three titles are shortlisted for the prize in each category. They are:

Primary age category

  • Gwil Garw a’r Carchar Crisial by Huw Aaron (Broga)
  • Sara Mai a Lleidr y Neidr by Casia Wiliam (Y Lolfa)
  • Gwag y Nos by Sioned Wyn Roberts (Atebol)

Secondary age category

  • Fi ac Aaron Ramsey by Manon Steffan Ros (Y Lolfa)
  • Hanes yn y Tir by Elin Jones (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch)
  • Y Pump, ed. Elgan Rhys (Y Lolfa)


Announcing recipients of New Audiences Grant

Announcing recipients of New Audiences Grant

New opportunities for publishing across Wales as Books Council of Wales announces recipients of New Audiences Grant

The Books Council of Wales, alongside Creative Wales, has today announced the recipients of £186,000 of grant funding to create new opportunities and develop new audiences within the publishing sector in Wales.

The New Audiences Grant will fund thirteen projects initially, with projects ranging from setting up new publishing houses owned and run by editors and authors from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, to digital platforms for reaching new audiences, to mentoring authors from under-represented backgrounds, and community-based projects for collecting and telling stories.

Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, said: “We were delighted that Creative Wales responded so positively to our proposal to create new opportunities within the publishing sector in Wales. The purpose of the grant is to strengthen and diversify the parts of the publishing industry we at the Books Council currently support, and the grants specifically prioritise new publishing ventures, authors and audiences.

“The independent panel were looking for projects that would be catalysts for change wherever they are in the sector, and it was fantastic to see so many new and dynamic ideas in the applications – whether they are for new publishing businesses, launching new titles, diversifying professional networks, or working with local communities to ensure that under-represented voices are heard.

“We are pleased to have been able to award £186,000 of the funding immediately, with some projects identified for further development and collaboration later in the year.”

Dawn Bowden, the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, said: “I am delighted that Creative Wales have been able to provide this funding that will make a real difference in diversifying the publishing sector in Wales – and give under-represented groups a chance to tell their story. The Books Council have created a grants programme that will support an exciting and wide range of projects and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop over the coming months.”

Grants were available in 3 categories: Band A – up to £2,500, Band B – £2,501 to £15,000 and Band C – £15,001 to £40,000, and funding was awarded to projects in all three bands. The successful applications include:


Lucent Dreaming – new publishing house (Band C)

Lucent Dreaming will be Wales’s first funded book and magazine publisher led by and employing two full-time editors of colour. Founded in 2017, Lucent Dreaming began as a bi-annual volunteer-run creative writing magazine for new and emerging authors; however, with the new funding it will develop to include book publishing and aims to platform new and emerging writers and foster new editors and publishing professionals from under-represented backgrounds in Wales. Novel submissions for Lucent Dreaming are open.

Jannat Ahmed, Editor in Chief and co-founder of Lucent Dreaming, said: “After several years of volunteer-led magazine publishing, this fund will be transformative for me, and for the book industry in Wales. We look forward to publishing books from emerging authors and artists in the UK and bring Wales and Lucent Dreaming to international audiences.”

Just Another Poet – bringing poetry to new, younger, and more diverse audiences in Wales through digital and mobile platforms (Band B)

Just Another Poet is a YouTube channel founded by Cardiff poet Taz Rahman in May 2019. The channel features interviews with poets and filming of poetry events as well as an upcoming segment of accessible literary documentaries for an in-depth look at poetry and literature in Wales. Taz would be widening the scope of programming and introducing additional segments focusing on emerging literary talent in Wales, as well as highlighting the importance of bookshops and libraries to the literary culture. With the grant funding, Taz will target a new and diverse mobile device digital audience, utilise social media channels to broaden the scope of interest in poetry and literature in Wales, as well as increase the visibility of Welsh writers.

Graffeg – a new digital magazine to facilitate and encourage access to publishing for disabled people (Band B)

Graffeg are a Llanelli-based publisher, publishing non-fiction illustrated books and illustrated fiction for children. Their proposal – for a digital magazine facilitating access to publishing as a career – aims to address the under-representation of disabled people in literature, and barriers to working as a writer or publisher for disabled people.

Pontio, BLAS and North Wales Africa Society – Reading Club project (Band A) 

The aim of this joint project between Pontio Arts Centre in Bangor, its Arts Participation Project BLAS, and the North Wales Africa Society, is to encourage reading for pleasure and for families to read together. Over a series of workshops, families from the North Wales Africa Society will create a children’s book which they will then receive as a gift to keep and enjoy at home together. Writer Casia Wiliam and artist Jac Jones will work with the families, alongside sessions to be held with Welsh and African storytellers and musicians, to explore traditional stories, both spoken and in song.

The grant funding for the new projects was allocated in April 2022. The full list of projects can be found on the Books Council of Wales’s website, Grants | Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.