BookTrust Storytime crowns best new book for sharing with young children

The BookTrust Storytime Prize, which celebrates the very best books for sharing with babies and young children, has been awarded to The Whales on the Bus written by Katrina Charman and illustrated by Nick Sharratt (Bloomsbury Children’s).

The other titles shortlisted for the prize were:
I Really, Really Need a Wee! by Karl Newson & Duncan Beedie (Little Tiger Press)
Octopus Shocktopus! by Peter Bently & Steven Lenton (Nosy Crow)
No! Said Rabbit by Marjoke Henrichs (Scallywag Press)
Lenny and Wilbur by Ken Wilson-Max (Alanna Max)
Arlo The Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep by Catherine Rayner (Macmillan Children’s Books)

The prestigious, annual prize promotes the life-changing benefits of sharing stories with young children and, new for this year, the shortlist formed part of an ambitious national library experience piloted by the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, BookTrust. Through BookTrust Storytime, the charity has been working in close partnership with libraries and local authorities to pilot new ways to support families with young children – especially those who are disadvantaged – engage with their local public library, helping kick-start their reading journey, so that sharing stories become a regular and long-lasting part of family life.

The librarians and families who took part in the initiative voted for The Whales on the Bus as the 2021 prize winner based on how families and young children responded to and enjoyed the shortlisted books during BookTrust Storytime sessions. Families and librarians praised the interactive reimagining of this familiar nursery rhyme as a ‘winning formula’, enjoying the playful way the story encouraged all the family to join in with a singalong, how the inventive tongue twisters and rhymes introduced new words, the appealing character cast of animals and vehicles, and the fantastically bright and bold illustrations.

Cressida Cowell MBE, Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2019-2022, revealed the winning book at a virtual event on Tuesday 25 January, celebrating the pilot.

On receiving the £5,000 prize, author Katrina Charman commented: “I am absolutely over the moon that The Whales on the Bus has been voted as the winner of the BookTrust Storytime Prize 2021. BookTrust is such an important organisation, and having mine and Nick’s book play a small part in encouraging more families into libraries and making sure that children have access to wonderful books is very humbling. Growing up, I owned few books as they were seen as a luxury item, but each week my mum would take my sister and I to our local library where I would gather as many books as I was allowed to borrow, and devour them as soon as I got home. Our local library is where I developed my own love of books and reading, and I am so grateful to librarians who continue to enable those who may not otherwise get a chance to have access to books, the opportunity to do so. Libraries, now more than ever, need our support, and they are and always will be, to me, the heart of any community. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Illustrator Nick Sharratt said: “We all know how important books and reading are in a child’s development. Reading charity BookTrust does the most incredible work bringing children and books together, and BookTrust Storytime events are an inspired way to encourage families into those vital places – libraries, perhaps for their very first visit. So I couldn’t be more delighted that The Whales on the Bus has won the Storytime Prize. To know that families and librarians voted to make it the winner is truly the icing on the cake.”

BookTrust Storytime forms part of the charity’s ambition to reach the families who need more support to develop a reading habit, and was created in response to BookTrust research which shows only 49% of families in poverty with children 0-5 are registered with a public library . The pilot has been designed and delivered with the support or libraries, local authorities and the wider library sector including ASCEL, CILIP and Libraries Connected and families to ensure it reflected their needs and requirements, to enable more children to enjoy the life-changing and transformative benefits of reading.

All libraries in England were offered copies of the six, shortlisted books to share with their local families. Over 300 libraries held storytime activities for local families. These included sessions where librarians would read one of the shortlisted books and shared accompanying resources and activities for the families attending to take part in together. With a different book and activity to enjoy each week, the pilot was designed to encourage families to get into the habit of making repeat visits to their local library, building their confidence and enjoyment of sharing books with their children.

Through the pilot, BookTrust aims to learn more about how to best work with libraries to engage families on their reading journey. An evaluation of the experience and impact on families, libraries and local authorities will inform future developments and next steps.

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust said: “BookTrust Storytime is part of our ambition to bring the benefits of reading to children in the greatest need. Sharing stories is invaluable for children in their early years and creates a lifelong positive impact on their health, wellbeing, creativity and education. We are incredibly grateful to all the local authorities, library services and shortlisted authors and illustrators who have embraced the pilot, using their experience and expertise to engage local families and bring stories to life and inspiring families to pick up their next book. There is much we can learn from the pilot about how best to support children and families to make reading a regular and long-lasting part of family life and it’s a great pleasure to congratulate Katrina and Nick on their charming winning book. The Whales on the Bus is a very worthy winner of this year’s BookTrust Storytime Prize.”