For more than 20 years, kids have spent their summers hoping to receive an owl post bearing their Hogwarts acceptance letters. This summer, 34 youth received an email that was almost as good. They had won J.K. Rowling’s Ickabog Illustration Competition.
“The Ickabog,” an original fairy tale about two children who set out to find the truth about a legendary monster, is Rowling’s first children’s book outside the Potterverse. It was serialized online for free this summer (theickabog.com) to entertain families confined by COVID-19. Children ages 7 to 12 were encouraged to illustrate each new installment in the story.
This month, “The Ickabog” (Scholastic, $27) came out in print, featuring full-color illustrations selected from the children’s contest submissions. Among those illustrations are three by local students. Abbey Sourov of Seattle, Esmé Wright of Edmonds and Fleur Foged of Shoreline drew three of the 34 illustrations selected by a panel of judges at Scholastic for inclusion in the printed book. Their artworks were chosen out of more than 42,000 entries to the Ickabog Illustration Competition.
Ten-year-old Fleur from Parkwood Elementary School was looking for a new book to read while the libraries were closed this summer when her mom found “The Ickabog” online.
“It was fun reading the story. I liked the cliffhangers,” said Fleur, who considers herself a Gryffindor. Each new chapter was accompanied by suggested themes for contest illustrations.
“I just picked the ones that were most interesting to me,” said Fleur, who usually draws comics. The fourth grader submitted three or four images to the contest, and her colored pencil drawing of the Ickabog was chosen. To design the Ickabog, she looked for clues in the text, like the Ickabog’s long, hairy arms to scoop children up. When her mom told her she was one of the winners, “I was very excited,” she said.
Abbey, who describes herself as a Gryffinclaw, is in seventh grade at a private school in Seattle. The 12-year-old is interested in all kinds of art but became more interested in drawing during quarantine. When her mom found the Ickabog contest, it gave her ideas for what to draw.
“I tried a lot of different things. I picked the ones that allowed more creative freedom because I like to be able to imagine it from the words and put my own twist on things,” she said. “I thought it was a good way to spend time while we were home.” Coloring her pencil sketches with markers, colored pencils and crayons, Abbey submitted a total of 34 pictures.
When she heard that her illustration “Shadow in the Snow” was selected, she was “speechless.” That was fortunate, since the news was confidential until the public announcement. Abbey is still more interested in reading and writing than drawing, but she said winning the contest “boosted my excitement for art and my confidence.”
A fifth grader from Picnic Point Elementary School who considers herself a Ravenclaw, Esmé heard about the contest from her school librarian. Esmé has been an avid artist since she worked her way through an entire book on how to draw dragons when she was 5. She approached the contest with the same thoroughness.
For her five submissions, “I tried to think of something that would make an interesting painting,” she said. “I studied the chapter a lot to get the adjectives, like razor-sharp claws, and the deadly fangs and the poisonous spike on the end of its tail.” Esmé sketched her winning entry of Professor Fraudysham’s depiction of the Ickabog in pencil, then used watercolor paints and ink pens for color. She dragged watercolor across the page for an aged looked, and dipped a glass in paint to make a wine stain since the bad guys in the story drink wine.
When she heard that she was one of the winners, Esmé said she had to pinch herself to believe it. Soon afterward, she celebrated her 11th birthday with an Ickabog cake. “It’s so cool that my artwork was published in one of the most popular authors in the world’s book,” she said.
Each winner received a signed copy of the book containing their artwork and the opportunity to donate $650 worth of Scholastic children’s books to a library of their choice. All three local artists have chosen their school libraries. Rowling is donating her royalties from the book to groups impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through her charitable trust, The Volant Trust.