Thursday, 20 October 2011

ALMA highlights German illustrators

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is the world's largest prize for children's and young adult literature. The award, which amounts to SEK 5 million, is awarded annually to a single recipient or to several. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and those active in reading promotion may be rewarded. The award is designed to promote interest in children's and young adult literature, and in children's rights, globally. An expert jury selects the winners from candidates nominated by institutions and organisations worldwide. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is administered by the Swedish Arts Council.
The award has a wonderfully long list of nominated candidates, and this year they include a number of German-speaking writers and especially illustrators: Jutta Bauer, Rotraut Susanne Berner, Aljoscha Blau, Wolf Erlbruch, Nikolaus Heidelbach, Binette Schroeder, Austrian Lisbeth Zwerger and the writers Paul Maar and Jutta Richter along with the Austrian Renate Welsh-Rabady.

I must say I do find many German children's books beautifully illustrated, even though my taste tends to the British because, well, that's what I grew up with. I've tried to find links that take you to some of their work, so do have a look. What I particularly like about German children's books is that most of them avoid the pink and sparkly trap you often see in British bookshops. So even books about fairies won't give you what the Germans charmingly term "eye cancer".

Although the award is international, it's quite telling that it comes from Sweden, where they have a tradition of children's literature that's hugely, hugely popular in Germany. And probably not only because you can buy the books at Ikea. I'm sure there are at least five Pippi Longstockings at every fancy dress party across the country, with more recently arrived characters boasting their own musicals and the like. My favourite is probably Astrid Lindren's rib-ticklingly naughty Karlsson-on-the-Roof. If anyone has a badge like the one shown on the Wikipedia page, by the way, you know what to give me for Christmas.

Anyway, like certain other countries with their own strong literary traditions, Sweden is not all that forward about importing books. A recent article in the trade mag Börsenblatt mentions 20 literary titles sold from Germany to Sweden last year, compared to 144 in the other direction. Interestingly - and here we do see a difference to the English-speaking world, 33 children's books sold to Sweden in 2010 (although again, a more weighty 150 went from Sweden to Germany).

But never mind. At least there's reason to celebrate with all these illustrators singled out for attention. Why not give them a little bit of yours too?

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