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Meet the winners: Karen George

IBC Awards 2024

Image of a white woman with short hair and glasses.

Today on the blog we’re welcoming Karen George, illustrator of the IBC Awards 2024 Best Picture Book, Youre So Amazing!.

In this exclusive interview, Karen shares her experiences working on film sets and as a school librarian, and how both roles inform her artwork; she also reveals the rather unique creative collaboration that led to You’re So Amazing!

How does it feel to win the first-ever Inclusive Books for Children Awards?

It feels massive... very exciting, validating and extremely positive. It was a long and sometimes tricky journey to get Joe’s story right... it took time, rightly.

I think when James, Lucy and I first sat around their kitchen table, we had no idea where our initial thoughts about a book would lead... or how well it would sit within the then landscape of children’s publishing.

I’m a primary school librarian and I knew that the landscape didn’t reflect all the children in my school. That the Inclusive Books for Children Awards exists is huge — it feels big and bold — and the library shelves are richer for the books on the shortlist and the longlist, and for the books that will follow. Taking my winner's trophy into the library, knowing that I had put the children who borrow books from my school library into an award-winning book, was the best feeling ever!

The award ceremony was actually on my birthday — it was a fabulous birthday present!

What’s the first thing you did on hearing you’d won?

I feel like I should answer by saying that I did something spontaneous and thrilling... but it’s taken a while to process. The other books on the longlist, and then the shortlist, are all so strong and brilliant... it had been fantastic to be amongst them to start with. They all could have been winners. The award ceremony was actually on my birthday — it was a fabulous birthday present!

I could be the casting director, set designer, costume designer... I loved that idea!

When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an illustrator?

I used to work as a painter on film sets. As a standby painter you work with the crew, ready to jump into action with paintbrushes should they be needed, which can be quite stressful. But there is also quite a lot of time when you are literally just standing by... so I used to do a bit of drawing and writing to fill the time.

Coming from a fine art background, I was fascinated by all the individual jobs film crew members do — and how they come together to create something wonderful. I realised that storytelling for picture books is not that dissimilar, and I could be the casting director, set designer, costume designer... I loved that idea!

My illustrations had to reflect James’s own voice.

Tell us about your illustrative process for You’re So Amazing!.

Unusually for the world of picture books, James, Lucy and I worked very closely in making You’re So Amazing!. Authors and illustrators usually communicate via the publisher which can, at times, be a little frustrating.

My illustrations had to reflect James’s own voice, and it would have been impossible to represent Joe’s physicality authentically had we not had a close working relationship. I’ve loved working with James and Lucy in this way. It is so productive and allows text and illustrations to play off each other in a way that couldn’t happen otherwise.

You’re So Amazing! was the first book that I put together digitally. I had previously always made original artwork because I love the physicality of the materials and mediums I use. I still draw and paint everything by hand, but now scan the images and drop them in. I used to feel rather daunted by the thought of working digitally but in reality, it has been very liberating.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Dancing... and I’m also learning to play the saxophone.

Tell us something surprising about you.

I keep my dancing shoes under my desk, just in case...

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

Music is a constant... to get into the zone for a certain emotion I’m drawing, to help me focus... or just to switch off from everything, and dance. (Unfortunately, it’s too distracting for writing... then I have to be disciplined and turn it off.)

What’s next?

I’ve illustrated a book for Lucy Catchpole — Mama Car will be publishing in August with Faber. It was a real treat to illustrate the joyful relationship between a mother and her young daughter — I can’t wait to share more about it! I’m also excited to be developing my own author-illustrator projects.

You’re So Amazing! by James and Lucy Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George, is out now, and is published by Faber Childrens.

You can read our IBC review of You’re So Amazing!, here.

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