The 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Awards shortlists – some personal reflections

The winners of the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Awards will be announced on Monday 21st March at the IBBY press conference at the Bologna children’s book fair. The full list of nominees can be found here https://www.ibby.org/awards-activities/awards/hans-christian-andersen-award/hans-christian-andersen-awards-2022 and there is information about all of them in the vol 59, no. 4 issue of Bookbird, a fascinating survey of authors and illustrators highly regarded in their own countries whose work deserves to be known internationally. I’m always interested when this biennial issue of Bookbird comes out to look at which of the nominees have work available for the enjoyment of children in the UK. For the 2022 awards, IBBY UK nominated David McKee and Marcus Sedgwick. Other nominees likely to be familiar to British audiences include African American illustrator Kadir Nelson, best known for The Undefeated (text by Kwame Alexander) and whose illustrations portray Black people in a painterly style which is almost photographic, and author Tonke Dragt, whose The Letter for the King became a bestseller in its English translation by Laura Watkinson many years after its original publication in Dutch. 

However, here I’m going to focus on what I know about the shortlisted authors and illustrators who are as follows:

Authors: Marie-Aude Murail from France, María Cristina Ramos from Argentina, Fatima Sharafeddine from Lebanon, Peter Svetina from Slovenia, Annika Thor from Sweden, and Margaret Wild from Australia.
Illustrators: Beatrice Alemagna from Italy, Ryoji Arai from Japan, Iwona Chmielewska from Poland, Gusti from Argentina, Suzy Lee from the Republic of Korea, and Sydney Smith from Canada.

Of the six illustrators, half of them have work published in the UK as far as I’m aware. Canadian Sydney Smith is certainly the most well-known, having won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal twice for Town Is by the Sea, written by Joanne Schwartz in 2018 and Small in the City in 2021. I’m particularly fond of the former in which the light and shade of the ink and watercolour illustrations perfectly evoke a mining community by the sea where a boy describes the daily life of his family. It’s just been announced that his I Talk Like a River, written by Jordan Scott, has been shortlisted for the 2022 Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal.  Sydney Smith is also responsible for Footpath Flowers a wordless picture book (story by JonArno Lawson) that shows how children notice many small details and make connections that adults ignore.

Korean nominee Suzy Lee is known for her wordless books, two of which I included in a CLPE annotated list of wordless books https://clpe.org.uk/system/files/Wordless%20books%202021.pdf  In Lines a pencil line traces the track of a skater’s movements whirling around on the ice, circling and making figures of eight. The pictures in Wave have a sparse simplicity rendered in charcoal and acrylic paint and I’ve learned that this picture book is part of The Border Trilogy, the other titles being Shadow and Mirror. I also just found out that Suzy Lee gained her master’s degree at Camberwell College of Art, close to where I live!

I’ve enjoyed the work of Beatrice Alemagna, who comes from Bologna and is now based in Paris, since I first came across the French edition of A Lion in Paris in which the illustrations mix nearly childish sketches and collages showing the most famous places of Paris, as seen by a lion who doesn’t have the same references as humans. I introduced this large format landscape picture book to teachers on a course about using picture books in the teaching of French and was delighted when I walked into Foyles bookshop on London’s South Bank some years ago and discovered an English language edition on display. Several of Beatrice Alemagna’s other books are available in translation including On a Magical Do-Nothing Day in which a child finds joy exploring nature in a rainy wood having lost her computer game. I recently came across her dark and elemental Adieu Blanche Neige in French, the story of Snow White told from the viewpoint of the queen. I’m excited to see that Telling Stories Wrong by Gianni Rodari will be published in August, a story riffing on Red Riding Hood with illustrations by Beatrice Alemagna.

The remaining three illustrators are little known in the UK, despite Ryoji Arai having won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) in 2005, the same year as Philip Pullman, the only year this award has been given jointly. Unfortunately, winning the ALMA or the Hans Christian Andersen Award does not guarantee interest from British publishers (see my earlier post about Jacqueline Woodson who has won both). However, in the USA Enchanted Lion (who appear to have some UK distribution) have published some of Ryoji Arai’s work. This publisher has made the work of many nominees for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards available in English, including Mallko and Dad by Gusti.

Polish illustrator Iwona Chmielewska was also shortlisted in 2020 and I acquired several of her books at that time in a variety of languages and have found them well worth exploring. She makes considerable imaginative use of collage. In Quatre bols bien ordinaires (Four Ordinary Bowls) four semi-circular shapes become different objects in order to tell all sorts of stories and ultimately think deeply about sharing. In Ojos (Eyes) the shapes of two eyes are cut out in alternate spreads so readers can see through, then a surprise is revealed with the turn of the page. Blumkas Tagebuch (Blumka’s Diary), with mixed media illustrations, is a combination of fact and fiction featuring children in the orphanage for Jewish children run by Janusz Korczak in Warsaw in World War 2, a true story which also inspired Morris Gleitzman’s novel Once. The full stop in the title of Iwona Chmielewska’s alphabet book abc.de signals that, although the book is in four languages – German, Polish, French and English, German (Deutsch) language and culture are foregrounded, in terms of the alphabetical order of words illustrated and the images and references in the pictures.

The shortlisted authors are generally even less known to UK audiences than some of the illustrators. Australian nominee Margaret Wild has written many picture book texts, only a few of which are known in the UK. Fox, illustrated by Ron Brooks, is a dark tale set against the background of the burning Australian desert. A one-eyed Dog and a flightless Magpie make a life together, Magpie declaring ‘I will be your missing eye, and you will be my wings.’ Then Fox with ‘haunted eyes and rich red coat’ enters their lives, welcomed by Dog but treated with suspicion by Magpie. This is a story of friendship and betrayal with an ambivalent ending which provides much food for thought and discussion, particularly about Fox’s complex motivation. Harry & Hopper, the story of a boy and the loss of his well-loved pet dog, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, won the 2010 Greenaway Award but no longer seems to be in print in the UK. Neither does Let the Celebrations Begin, illustrated by Julie Vivas, a significant picture book set in a concentration camp where children and women are incarcerated and, as the subtitle ‘A Story of Hope for the Liberation’ suggests, release is imminent.

Marie-Aude Murail has been nominated numerous times and I had the good fortune to hear her speak in London a few years ago as part of the Children’s Book Show. A few of her books have been translated into English but are no longer available. They include: the Golem series of 5 titles set on an inner city council estate, written with her siblings Lorris and Elvire and translated by Sarah Ardizzone; the YA novel My Brother Simple translated by the Adriana Hunter; and the picture book Father Christmas’s Last Present illustrated by Quentin Blake. Amongst her work not translated into English are a novel which is against homophobia and a story based on true events about a school mobilised to help a family of migrants.

Of the remaining four authors, I haven’t come across any of their work in English translation and that’s still the case for María Cristina Ramos and Peter Svetina. However, I’ve just discovered that there are translations of some books by Fatima Sharafeddine and Annika Thor so I look forward to learning more about their work, at least.

Currently reading:

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

The Northern Question by Tom Hazeldine

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