County Durham author wins 2024 Indie Book Award for inclusive children’s book

A children's author and West End star from County Durham, has won the Indie Book Award 2024, for his joyous tale that celebrates inclusion, acceptance and self-love.

Robert Tregoning's second book ‘The Dress in the Window’, illustrated by Pippa Curnick, was announced winner of the picture book category on Thursday June 20, selected by a panel of judges composed of independent booksellers from across the country.

Published by Oxford Children’s Books, 'The Dress in the Window', tells the tale of boy meets dress, and echoes back to Robert's own childhood in the North East.

When talking about his inspiration, Robert said: “It’s true that in many ways this book is stitched together from various fond memories – both my own and those of my husband, Billy. Growing up, I always felt drawn to things that were traditionally considered feminine, which was tricky at the time.”

In the 32-page story, a little boy dreams of owning a dress he sees in a shop window, and makes it his mission to get it- much like Robert's own childhood memories exploring the haberdashery section of Bainbridge’s department store (now John Lewis) in Newcastle's Eldon Square. "It's a love at first sight moment", he added.

Robert explained: "For me, it was really important that within this story, a boy wanting to own a dress was seen as completely unremarkable. His mum, his neighbours and everyone in the book support him 100% – there’s no shame or embarrassment, no trying to persuade him to get something stereotypically masculine – which is something I wish I’d seen represented as a child."

The Indie Book Awards, by Booksellers Association, have been running since 2007. Comprising four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s Fiction and Picture Book, they are voted for by independent bookshops and judged by an expert panel of independent booksellers. Previous winners include 'Girl, Woman, Other' by Bernardine Evaristo and 'The Green Road' by Anne Enright.

As part of Booksellers Association’s campaign to support independent bookshops- Independent Bookshop Week (IBW)- celebrated more than 1,000 registered stores across the UK and Ireland last week (June 15-22).

Emma Bradshaw, head of campaigns for Booksellers Association said it was fantastic to see such wonderful authors being recognised: "These are seriously good recommendations for your summer reading."

Helen Tamblyn-Saville, bookseller from Wonderland Bookshop, and Chair of Children’s judges said: "The entire judging panel agreed that both shortlists were exceptionally strong. However, we agreed that The Dress in the Window was a joyous picture book for children of a wide age range to enjoy. The celebratory nature of the book, with themes of self-love and acceptance is perfectly complemented by Pippa's stunning artwork."

Upon receiving the award, Robert, who has also performed on the West End stage in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda the Musical said: "My heart is certainly disco dancing and I'm filled with pride!"

Illustrator Pippa Curnick also expressed how thrilled she was: "It fills me with joy to know that it is being received with such love, and to have the support of independent bookshops means so so much.” Robert added: "I hope this book, like many of the stories I write, helps people to feel seen, to feel understood and to feel celebrated. I can’t thank the Indie Book Awards enough for bringing even more sparkle to the celebration."

The Indie Book Awards 2024 shortlist and winners are available in all local bookshops, and can be viewed here.