German illustrator and author Wolf Erlbruch has been announced as the winner of the £445,000 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award after being described as a "caring and careful visonary".
The prize was announced by prize chairman Boel Westin on Tuesday (4th April) at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm. The phone call breaking the news to the award laureate was broadcast live to the audience, during which he described himself as "speechless" to be crowned the winner.
Erlbruch, born in 1948, is best known for his illustrations of The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business which the Guardian described as "the book nobody would publish that went on to be a bestseller". The UK edition was published by London-based indie press Pavilion Books in 1994 after being turned down by other publishers for "being too rude". He has written 10 books of his own and illustrated nearly 50 titles by other authors.
Westin said: "Wolf Erlbruch makes existential questions accessible and manageable for readers of all ages. With humour and warmth deeply rooted in humanist ideals, his work presents the universe on our scale. He is a master of the illustrator’s art who honours tradition whilst opening new creative doors. Wolf Erlbruch is a careful and caring visionary."
The prize is run by the Swedish Arts Council in honour of Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of Pippi Longstocking who died in 2002. It is the biggest international award for children’s and YA literature and comes with a prize of SEK 5m (£445,000).
Erlbruch told the Astrid Lindgren Award (ALMA) office: “Oh Astrid I love you. She didn’t know me but I knew her for a long time through her books, which I love for her humour and sharpness. It’s everybody’s humour, it’s the kind of humour everyone can appreciate. I never believed I would receive this award but now I know it is true. I’m still in a shock and will be for some time. But it’s wonderful.”
Colette Whitehouse, Pavilion’s head of marketing and publicity, said the scatological children’s classic, The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business, was still a significant title for the publisher. She told The Bookseller: “It is our bestselling backlist children’s book and is still an important book to us. It’s great that Wolf is still being recognised. That sense of humour appeals to children – they are fascinated by poo, it’s quite rude and is the sort of thing most books won’t touch. Little Mole himself is also quite a charming character. It has a lot of longevity and is a really fun book.”
Whitehouse joined Pavilion shortly after an important milestone for the book. She said: “I remember we celebrated the 25th anniversary shortly after I joined the company [in September 2014] for which we created a special edition. The book had sold more than 3m copies worldwide. We have also published the book in various editions over the years including a ‘plop-up’ edition, board book, sound book and a book and toy set.”
Across all editions the title has sold 282,213 copies in the UK for £1.43m, mostly through sales of the original 1994 edition, which has sold 174,866 copies since Nielsen BookScan records began in 1998.
Jury member Elina Druker told the audience in a presentation following the announcement that through Erlbruch's books he “poses import questions about the meaning of life and death with humour and clarity. He does not instruct or moralise".
There were 226 candidates nominated for the prize from 60 countries. The list was described by award organisers as "a gold mine for anyone interested in international children’s and YA literature". The prize will be presented by H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria in a ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on 29th May.
Meg Rosoff won last year’s award.