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"And do you know how happiness begins? It begins with no longer being afraid."—Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything
On Monday, May 28, the people of Sweden gave writer Guus Kuijer of the Netherlands the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (alma), the world’s largest prize for children and young-adult literature. It is presented annually to an author, illustrator, storyteller, or reading promoter who upholds the spirit and vision of the award’s namesake, Astrid Lindgren. Lindgren is one of the most important and beloved Swedish authors, known worldwide for her spunky red-haired character Pippi Longstocking. The award recognizes the importance of children’s literature: as the ALMA website says, “Good literature gives the child a place in the world, and the world a place in the child.” This year marks the tenth anniversary of ALMA. Other recipients of this prestigious award include Maurice Sendak in 2003, Katherine Paterson in 2006 (who also received the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature in 2007), and Shaun Tan (interviewed in the September 2008 issue of WLT) in 2011. (Click here to see a list of the jurors and nominees for the 2013 NSK Prize.)
Kuijer’s writing often includes discussions of contemporary society and attempts to answer “life’s big questions.” Strong female protagonists are also typical in his work. In a Guardian article about the award, the prize jury said of Kuijer’s work, “He paints a perceptive picture of the adult world. His commitment extends to social and religious issues alike, and the consistent message of his books is one of tolerance, understanding, and broad-mindedness.”
At the prize ceremony, Kuijer ended his acceptance speech with a reminder of the power of reading: “Once a boy told me that to him reading was like bungee jumping inside his head. I therefore wish you all a great bungee jumping season.” Kuijer’s full speech is available at the official ALMA blog. In addition to acknowledging his audience and thanking the people who make this award possible, Kuijer extended a big thank-you to the host country, Sweden, remarking, “Dear Sweden, you are the only state in the world which proves to understand the importance of good books for children to read.”
WLT’s managing editor, Michelle Johnson, attended the award ceremony in Stockholm and saw Sweden’s commitment to children’s literature while meeting with Swedish writers, prize administrators, teachers, and librarians. For example, Stockholm has the world’s first library for children ten to thirteen years old and a children’s literary museum. At this museum, Junibacken, children can play in reproductions of the scenes of their favorite books and ride a train through sets of their favorite stories. At the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, a staff collects children’s literature and makes it available for research. Further, Sweden now has an Ambassador for Reading Promotion, Johan Unenge, who is also a successful children’s book author and illustrator. And for one month in Sweden, anyone who purchases a Happy Meal receives a children’s book instead of a plastic toy, emphasizing literacy (full story in this Telegraph article).
– Kaitlin Hawkins