Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2024: Newtownabbey woman shortlisted for accolade

Ellan Rankin, an author-illustrator from Newtownabbey, has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2024.
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The former Belfast resident is nominated in the Illustrated Books category for her picture book, The Secret Elephant, a terrifically engaging true story of an extraordinary wartime friendship between a zookeeper and a baby elephant.

Every year Waterstones’ expert booksellers vote for the books they believe are the very best in new children’s writing and illustration.

Now in its 20th year, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize has launched the enduring careers of many authors and illustrators, such as Katherine Rundell, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Rob Biddulph.

Author-illustrator Ellan Rankin is nominated in the Illustrated Books category for her picture book, The Secret Elephant. (Pic: Contributed).Author-illustrator Ellan Rankin is nominated in the Illustrated Books category for her picture book, The Secret Elephant. (Pic: Contributed).
Author-illustrator Ellan Rankin is nominated in the Illustrated Books category for her picture book, The Secret Elephant. (Pic: Contributed).
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Ellan completed an MA in Children's Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art and she also has a First Class Honors degree in Illustration from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee.

A huge animal lover, her stories often centre around animals and silly stories she reads in the news. She is inspired by history, cinema and stories. She won the Carmelite Prize 2020 and The Sebastian Walker Prize 2020. She was awarded third place in the Templar Illustration and Design Awards.

The Secret Elephant is set against the backdrop of World War II. As war looms on the horizon, things are changing at the zoo.

Before, screeching monkeys dangled in trees, roaring lions sunbathed on the dusty ground and sniffling meerkats patrolled. But now, people have stopped visiting and there is talk of a great war.

As bombs begin to fall and huge blasts echo around the zoo, a baby elephant and her keeper sneak to the safety and comfort of the keeper's home. Here, they weather out the worst of the war together in secret. But what will happen when their secret is found out?

Ellan explained: “The Secret Elephant has been a project of mine for many years now. It began when I was homesick and wanted to bring some of the spirit of home to my work when I was living away from my family and friends.

"I feel like it’s about what it means to have a home, to have a family, whether found or not, and the relationships between people or things during hardships.

"In the world we live in today, which can be so grim at times, it's nice to have a little hope, and I feel like that's what Sheila and the keeper’s relationship was for each other.

"It's a hopeful book about friendship and love during a wartime setting. This book has meant so much to me and it's always thrilling to see it on the shelves of a bookshop I grew up visiting. But being shortlisted for this award is mind blowing, I’m still in shock!

"I've been a fan of so many past shortlistees, and now to be among them is amazing. Thank you so much! And thanks to everyone who got my book to here.”

The shortlists consist of 18 books across three categories. Six books will compete within each category to be crowned Category Winner, with the three category winners then vying for the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Winner 2024.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 21. The winner of each category will receive £2,000, with the overall winner receiving an extra £3,000.

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