'Pleased I'm in the mix' ... David Almond
Next week could be a big one for David Almond. The Carnegie medal-winning British author is in the running for two of the most important international prizes in children's literature: the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen medal and the Astrid Lindgren memorial award, the richest children's book prize in the world.
"If I win I'll be so happy I'll be dancing around my kitchen," said Almond, who won the Carnegie and the Whitbread for his first children's novel, Skellig, the story of two children who meet a strange being, part owl, part angel. "Once you get to this point, though, it's a lottery – you've got to be hopeful, and I'm pleased I'm in the mix."
Almond will hear on 23 March whether he's won the Hans Christian Andersen prize, awarded biennially since 1956 to an author "whose complete works have made lasting contributions to children's literature". An impressive line-up of past winners includes Eleanor Farjeon, Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren, and Almond found out yesterday that he had been shortlisted for this year's prize, alongside fellow authors Ahmad Reza Ahmadi from Iran, Bartolomeu Campos de Queiros from Brazil, Lennart Hellsing from Sweden and Louis Jensen from Denmark. (A parallel prize is awarded to an illustrator, with this year's five-strong shortlist comprising Jutta Bauer from Germany, Carll Cneut from Belgium, Etienne Delessert from Switzerland, Svjetlan Junakovic from Croatia and Roger Mello from Brazil.) The 10 international members of the jury praised Almond's "deeply philosophical novels that appeal to children and adults alike, and encourage readers by his use of magic realism".
"I know I got very close two years ago when they said I was in the final bunch of people. It's fantastic to be shortlisted and it's really wonderful how this prize honours writers and illustrators from around the world," said Almond, who is currently a third of the way into a new novel aimed at adults as well as children, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean. Told in the "fractured language" of a "secret child", the son of a priest and a hairdresser, the book is out next year; this year the author is publishing a prequel to his acclaimed Skellig, telling Mina's story before she has met Michael or Skellig. Almond admitted he had yet to read his competitors for the Hans Christian Andersen prize. "But that's the great thing about the award – it brings to light authors from all around the world," he said. "I'm going to have to dig out their work and read it."
The Astrid Lindgren award, presented a day later, on 24 March, at Lindgren's birth place in Vimmerby, Sweden, is worth SEK5m (£460,000). It is given to a body of work "in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren, with a focus on a profound respect for democratic values and human rights". Almond is part of a strong British showing on this year's longlist, also including illustrator Quentin Blake, former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo, author and illustrator Shirley Hughes and former Hans Christian Andersen award winner Aidan Chambers.
"The good thing about the Astrid Lindgren is that it's not just writers and illustrators – all kinds of organisations which promote writing and reading and literature are in the running," said Almond. Aidan Chambers is also longlisted for the work he does with his wife Nancy Chambers to promote reading, and last year's award was won by the Palestinian Tamer Institute for Community Education, which promotes reading in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Previous winners include Philip Pullman and Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak.