Once again, I have to hand it to those Scandinavians. They put their money where their mouths are when it comes to children's books.
When I read last week that J.K. Rowling was awarded the first Hans Christian Andersen Literature Prize in Denmark, which comes with 500,000 Danish kronor (about $93,352), I was both impressed by the amount of the award and a bit confused. I knew that the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has been honoring children's book authors and illustrators for decades (since 1956, it turns out) with the Hans Christiansen Award.
Though close in name, these are two different awards. The Hans Christian Andersen Literature Prize is brand new, given to authors whose work is comparable to Andersen's. The prize money is garnered from private donors. Rowling traveled across the water to Andersen's home town in Odense, Denmark to receive it. She also received a bronze statue of the Ugly Duckling -- an appropriate metaphor for struggling authors!
The Hans Christian Andersen Award is also an international prize, given every other year "to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature." The Danes are involved in this award, as well; Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is its patron. It comes with a gold medal and a diploma, as well as international prestiege and, one assumes, increased book sales.
The top U.S. awards for children's books, the Caldecott and Newbery, are awarded annually by a division of the American Library Association. The Caldecott honors an American picture book artist, while the Newbery recognizes an American author. The prizes involve no cash, but wide acclaim and a much-coveted medal that virtually guarantees continuing book sales.
The biggest monetary award for children's literature comes from the Swedes: the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. It may go to multiple recipients, who can be authors from any country, as well as illustrators, oral storytellers, or people involved in the work of promoting reading. The government funds the award and the Swedish Arts Council administers it.
This is a serious prize: 5 million Swedish kronor, which is comparable to between 700,000 and 800,000 U.S. dollars. Why so large? Because the Swedish people and their government wanted to honor their beloved author, Astrid Lindgren, by making a statement about the importance of reading for children and teens. They also wanted to inspire children's book writers.
I'm inspired! Isn't it great to know that somebody thinks children's literature is important enough to put real money on it?