I am so honoured to be the recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial award for 2016. I keep waiting for it to sink in, to become normal, and it keeps leaping up to astonish me again.
I have been thinking about children a great deal this year, about the ones who live in tents in Calais, who have traveled alone from Syria, and the ones who have died trying. About children whose lives are traumatised and ruined by what grown-ups decide is worth fighting over.
Closer to home, I’ve been thinking about children in the UK who never play outdoors, who hardly play at all, who believe what their parents and government tell them – that nothing is more important than exams, that they must cram as much information into their brains as possible, that they must be literate and read books – yet that it is OK to close libraries and do away with librarians. The government says that children must not daydream or waste time or look out the window. The government says that art and music and books will not help children to be successful – in other words, to make lots of money.
I meet these children all the time. Sometimes they get great scores on their exams. And sometimes they cut themselves with razors, starve themselves, suffer depression and anxiety.
Teachers are not allowed to waste time either. They have boxes to tick and forms to fill out. Perhaps that is why teachers in the UK are resigning in record numbers and becoming so much more difficult to recruit – to what has become a joyless profession. Learning has become joyless as well, but students are not able to quit. Instead, they carry on, trained throughout childhood not to daydream, not to use their imaginations, not to play.
In Britain we are experiencing, quite literally, an assault on childhood.
Astrid Lindgren once said, “Everything great that ever happened in this world happened first in someone’s imagination.”
Someone in Sweden imagined that you could accept 6,000 refugee children into your schools, and that society would somehow survive. That you could encourage writers for children, (and even, for a week, treat them like rock stars!) Someone thought that librarians and teachers might be as important as bankers and lawyers. Maybe it was because someone had the idea that without encouraging children’s imaginations, there would be no hope for humanity.
Astrid Lindgren reminds us that it is children who will take over the running of the world – so there is nothing more important than how we teach them, what values they learn, what books they read – what sort of future they are able to imagine.
It is a great honour and a great responsibility to carry on the work that Astrid Lindgren began. I am not only grateful for the recognition this prize brings, but for a country that puts such tremendous value on children’s books and children’s imaginations.
In the memory of Astrid Lindgren, and with particular thanks to the heroes of her books – who are brave, original and free – and with my deepest gratitude to the ALMA jury – I accept this award with wonder and with joy.
I will do my very best to be worthy of it.