Suzi Ersahin, photo Hans Alm

Children’s books have never been more relevant

This fall we welcomed a new director to ALMA, Suzi Ersahin. Here, she writes about her first two months on the job and how fantastic it is to work on the biggest prize for children and YA literature in the world.

Fiona Noble recently wrote in The Guardian that “children’s books have never been more relevant, echoing the big issues of the day…For a generation growing up with Greta Thunberg and climate strikes, saving the planet will be 2020’s lead story in children’s books.”

I agree. As never before, I seem to see children’s and YA authors stepping up to cut through the noise of fake news and social media, speaking with and for a generation demanding its own voice in society.

In the two months since I joined the ALMA team, my new colleagues have patiently guided me through the administrative work behind the award, and together we are also looking to the future. It is a privilege to have the chance to investigate children’s and YA literature from both a Swedish and an international perspective. Getting a glimpse into the world of illustrations is fantastic, and learning more about the reading promoters and they work they do is another kind of thrill. Knowing more about the work of the ALMA jury has given me new insight and respect for their expertise.

Bart Moeyaert, the 2019 ALMA laureate, often says in his public appearances that adults should talk more about the books we read as children. So I’ve been thinking about the books I remember from my childhood. I remember Spotty, a picture book about a litte rabbit who feels left but comes to feel accepted in the end. There was Babar, and Elsa Beskow’s books with their beautiful pictures, and the Plupp books…And I really liked Mio, My Son, Pippi Longstocking, Nils Karlsson Pyssling, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, the Kulla-Gulla series, David Copperfield, Narnia, The Secret Garden, and later Kerstin Thorvall’s books and others like that. A lot about good and evil, a few thrills, a little tragedy, but always a happy ending.

My fellow officers have also asked me to say something about myself. My professional life so far has been a potpourri. I studied painting at Konstfack, the arts university in Stockholm. Then I spent almost ten years in the United States working as an artist and teaching, including a stint at the Kansas City Art Institute. With a colleague, I started a program in illustration at the Bergh School of Communications in Stockholm, and I have also worked off and on as a children’s art teacher. I spent several years working for IASPIS, which is an international program for visual artists and designers run by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee. From 2013 to 2018 I was the Swedish counsellor for cultural affairs in Turkey, where I was stationed at the Swedish consulate general in Istanbul.

Now, I hope that we at ALMA can initiate new partnerships and, in the long term, create new spaces for stimulating conversations about literature and art that will involve both Swedish and international authors and illustrators. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award was instituted by the Swedish government and it is the biggest prize in the world for children’s and young adult literature. That sends a powerful signal about the importance of children’s and youth cuture. To which I say, hurrah! My hope for ALMA is that with strong voices that echo our society, dreams and imagination, the award can open up a wider world for readers of all ages.

Suzi Ersahin
ALMA Director