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The Waterstones Children's Book Prize Blog: Dapo Adeola

Posted on 30th July 2020 by Mark Skinner

Congratulations to Dapo Adeola, illustrator of the spectacular picture book Look Up! which has triumphed in the Illustrated Books category of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2020 and also been crowned as the Overall Winner. In this exclusive piece, Dapo reveals the books and authors that unlocked reading (and illustration) for him.

This is a bit of a tricky one for me as I’m not quite sure as to which particular book opened up reading for me. I do remember falling in love with Roald Dahl’s writing at an early age though, that was the first time I remember wanting to read everything written by one particular author and also the beginning of my book collecting habit. Dahl’s work was deliciously humorous, fantastical and just dark enough for me to be thrilled by it with The Witches and The Twits being my two faves from him. This was also my introduction to the amazing artwork of Quentin Blake and I believe the spark that would lead me to my current role of illustrator was ignited here as well. From this I went on to pick up C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, tearing through them in chronological order (although The Magician’s Nephew threw me off a bit as it’s a prelude to the whole series), then on to Brian Jacques’ Redwall series before finally coming across my all-time favourite author David Gemmell’s body of work.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I had the hindsight and language to identify myself as a lover of the Fantasy genre though, up until this point I was reluctant to acknowledge this because I’d always somewhat lazily associated the genre with dungeons, dragons, wizards, elves and goblins etc none of which can be found in David Gemmell’s works. All these authors are brilliant at creating characters, even the most insignificant characters in their stories are fleshed out enough to be fully visualised. Probably makes sense that character design was my gateway into illustration now I’m reading this back, LOL. Added to this is the steady pace at which their stories take place, with never a dull moment, which kept me engrossed as well as the charm and timely wit they effortlessly weave into their writing.

More importantly though, all these books and authors helped me to escape into the worlds they created, allowing my imagination to flourish even when the environment I grew up in wasn’t suited to do so. Through Dahl’s words I went on fantastical journeys to far off places via marvellously unconventional means of travel (giant peaches and glass elevators and jumping giants), and outwitted villainous people by simply being my best self. Through C.S. Lewis I experienced magical realms full of wonderful creatures and steeped in lore, through Brian Jacques I knew what it felt like to have a community and what home could be like, and through David Gemmell I learned about human complexity/potential and every day heroes. These four authors have fed my imagination endlessly through the last three decades, in a lot of ways becoming my go to books to escape whenever I needed to.

In a lot of ways their stories shaped the man I’ve become, preparing me in little but relevant ways for a lot of the scenarios I encountered growing up, in a way that those tasked with raising me couldn’t (on account of they themselves knowing no better).

I’ve since gone on to read many other authors outside of the realm of fantasy from Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston’s works to James Baldwin and Jason Reynolds, all in a bid to expand my knowledge about the Black community and the stories within it. These more recent books I’ve been reading have given me an understanding of nuance and the difference in the real life experiences of people all around the world, but whenever I’m feeling a bit low and in need of a reminder of the magic within me, or even just to reconnect with the child within, I always reach for one of the battered and well-read copies of books by any one of these authors that I have in my collection…they always do the trick.

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One of Dahl’s most purely terrifying novels, this delightfully dark tale of a clandestine conference of witches and the boy and his grandma who foil their wicked plans remains a perennial favourite. Pulling out all the most grotesque stops and refusing to bow to sentiment or good taste, The Witches is premium quality Dahl.
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As a quartet of wide-eyed evacuees encounter wicked witches and saintly lions, Lewis guides the reader expertly through the brilliantly imagined world of Narnia, entered through a wardrobe door.
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The first instalment of Brian Jacques’s epic anthropomorphic series finds the peace-loving mice of Redwall Abbey forced to confront the deadly danger of a battalion of marauding rats. Mixing high adventure with charming characterisation, Redwall has endured as a true classic of children’s literature.
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One of the most accomplished books by a titan of heroic fantasy, The Winter Warriors sets a trio of ageing warriors against the might of the Lords of the Undead. Channelling a mythic story structure and boasting unforgettable characters, this is David Gemmell at the absolute top of his game.
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