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Open Very Carefully Wins the Picture Book Category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize

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We are so pleased!

Last night, Open Very Carefully by Nicola O’Byrne with words by Nick Bromley won the picture book category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

Above, you can see Nicola, left, with (left to right) Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers, winner of the 7-12 category and overall winner and the subject of Nosy Crow’s reading group discussion next week ; Holly Smale, whose Geek Girl won the teen book category; and Waterstones Managing Director, James Daunt.

With these prizes, now in their 10th year, Waterstones neatly draws attention to two things. First, they draw attention to the importance of the children’s departments to the chain (James Daunt referred to them as “the most important departments in stores”, and the resilience of the children’s print market compared to the adult fiction market is remarkable). Second, they draw attention to Waterstones’ commitment to finding and supporting new talent, particularly under the buying eye of passionate, literate and commercially savvy children’s book buyer, Melissa Cox, a Waterstones employee girl and woman.

We were in Waterstones Piccadilly, a really gorgeous bookshop and scene of a relatively recent unplanned spending spree for me. Camilla, Louise, Steph and I were joined by Nicola and her husband and our other author/illustrator, Elys Dolan, whose utterly brilliant book Weasels was shortlisted in the picture book category too, with her partner. Also there were both of the author/illustrators’ agents and Catherine and Robert from our sales agency, Bounce. After the event, we all went back home for dinner, cooked by Adrian.

I think that Nicola won’t mind me saying that Open Very Carefully had a long and not entirely painless genesis. The book began as Nicola’s final project for her degree at Edinburgh College of Art. I remember seeing it and really, really liking it when Vicki Willden-Lebrecht, Nicola’s agent, showed it to me at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2010. The core idea of the crocodile stuck in the book was there, and so many of the great images of the beast stuck in the book were there too. But the bird was very different, and the words were too. The crocodile was called Arnie, and for ages after we bought the book, that’s how we referred to the book. As it happened, Nick Bromley, a previously unpublished writer, sent in a text that we felt that we could adapt to Nicola’s book and we were able to acquire it. That wasn’t the end of the story of the making of the book, though – far from it! With great patience, Nicola worked hard on the art, reworking page after page while we finessed the book. Initially, it had many more novelty elements than it has now (it just has a die-cut hole in the final page and in the back cover), but we really didn’t feel that they were adding to the story. So we got rid of them. Instead, we added things like asking the reader to shake the book to see if they could dislodge the crocodile that way. In fact, we proofed the book – a record for us – three times. Only the last proof is like the final book. We changed the paper and the size of the book as we went along too. The book was finally published in hardback in February 2013 – nearly two-and-a-half years after I’d first seen it – and it came out in paperback this month.

This image of the crocodile (above) was a constant from Nicola’s original dummy through to the published book. But you can see that we changed the words from one of the sets of proofs to the final book (the final book is below the proofs in the photograph of the two open spreads above) and its position in the book changed too: it was closer to the end in one of the.

This image (above) has changed completely from one version of the proofs to the final book (the final book is below the proofs in the photograph of the two open spreads above). You can see that we changed the words too.

Honestly, this isn’t the easiest or most efficient way to make a book in terms of time or money, and I know it was very tough, at times, for Nicola. But Nicola and Nosy Crow were united in our conviction that Open Very Carefully could be a really excellent book, and so it felt worthwhile for all of us to work at it until it was the really excellent book that it is now. Our creative process on Open Very Carefully, with Nicola at its heart, conformed to most of Pixar’s Ed Catmull’s secrets of successful creativity. We were honest with one another and we made mistakes, and those of us at Nosy Crow tried to nurture and protect the new creative talent – Nicola’s – that was central to the project.

The book has been published in 12 languages, and when it won last night it felt like such a fantastic validation of talent, persistence, hard work, patience and the power of creative teamwork for Nicola and for Nosy Crow. And I felt a bit lumpy-throaty, to be honest.

Writing in The Telegraph, Lorna Bradbury said, “Of the category winners, I’d like to single out Nicola O’Byrne’s Open Very Carefully (Nosy Crow), the winner of the best picture book prize. This is a free-wheeling reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling in which a crocodile gets in on the action. Like David Wiesner’s classic The Three Pigs, which deconstructed the traditional story until it was close to collapse, O’Byrne has fun with her basic material as the crocodile starts to eat the letters in the story, and the reader is encouraged to rock the book to send him to sleep and to shake it so he falls out. This is also a just recognition of one of our most dynamic new publishers.”

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No Responses to “Open Very Carefully Wins the Picture Book Category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize”

  • Thank you for your fascinating and honest recounting of the story behind the story. It might be my computer, but I can’t see the final version at the bottom to compare them. I’d love to see it. I’m looking forward to reading (and shaking!) the book. Huge congratulations! All the best, Clare.

  • Hello, Juliet. Sorry for the lack of clarity – I’ve changed the text of the captions to make things clearer, I hope. In the photographs, the upper opened “book” is one of the three sets of proofs – we can’t remember which one – and the lower opened book is the finished book.

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