German Children’s Literature Award
Exciting Reality

Young literature fan
Young literature fan | Photo: © FangXiaNuo/iStockphoto

Refugees in Germany and a polar expedition that ended tragically: mainly books with a link to reality won the day at the presentation of the 60th German Children’s Literature Award.

A large number of new books for children and adolescents is published every year. For the young readers and their parents it is not easy to find the best and most exciting works in this large mass of German and international publications. The German Children’s Literature Award provides orientation. It is presented every year at the Frankfurt Book Fair – for the 60th time in 2016. At that presentation there were more than 1000 guests. “The presentation makes the significance of the award clear, says Birgit Müller-Bardorff, chairwoman of the jury of critics. “This is evident in the reception by the audience, the tension in the room and the response of the award winners.”
Klaus Kordon was acknowledged for his complete works in 2016. “That is a very important prize for me. I am honoured by the list of distinguished colleagues among whom I now stand,” said the author with reference to the authors Mirjam Pressler or Kirsten Boie. Kordon persuaded the jury with his realistic and well researched historical novels. What is more, with Die Zeit ist kaputt (Time is awry) he has published a biography of Erich Kästner for young readers and adults. Kordon is delighted that mainly books with authentic reference have been awarded a prize in the other categories as well. “The movement is away from fantasy and more in the direction of realism.”

The Syrian girl and the Neo-Nazi

In the framework of the German Children’s Literature Award, a jury of critics comprising nine adults makes awards in the categories illustrated books, children’s books, youth books and non-fiction books. Furthermore, a Young Jury choses another prize winner. In 2016 it was Peer Martin, with Sommer unter schwarzen Flügeln (Summer under black wings) The book’s main protagonists are a Syrian girl, Nuri, and Calvin, a Neo-Nazi planning an attack on a refugee home. “I found the Syrian scenes Nuri describes very exciting,” says jury member Clara (14). What was particularly remarkable about the book for Paula (19) was “how incredibly honestly Peer Martin treats this complicated, explosive and difficult theme.” Peer Martin, a German author living in Canada, was greatly moved to have been selected, declaring, “This award means everything to me.”
The winner in the non-fiction section was Kristina Gehrmann with Im Eisland (In the Land of Ice), a graphic novel that is intended to stretch over three volumes. “Since coming upon the history of the Franklin Expedition in 2012, I have been fascinated by it,” the Hamburg author-illustrator recalls. She evaluated many original historical sources for her illustrated story. The aim of the Englishmen around the polar researcher John Franklin, who set out in 1845 on an expedition that was to be fatal for all those involved, was to shorten the global trade routes and cross the legendary Northwest Passage. The wreck of their ship, HMS Terror, was not found until September 2016.

Girls and Freedom

While the book Im Eisland was not really conceived as a children’s book, the Berlin author Kirsten Fuchs aimed deliberately at young readers with her book Mädchenmeute (Girl Gang). “I wanted to write a book that I would like to have read when I was young. I mainly enjoyed adventure stories – but they were always only about boy gangs.” Mädchenmeute is told from the viewpoint of 15-year-old Charlotte. It is about seven girls who, having absconded from their summer camp, experience two unusual weeks in the woods of the German Erzgebirge Mountains. “A cultural landscape with its own stories and legendary figures that really come to life,” the jury claimed.
The winner of the children’s book section takes young readers on a journey to far distant regions. Das Mädchen Wadjda (The Girl Wadjda) by the Saudi-Arabian woman author Hayfa Al Mansour is set in Riyadh – a moving book about freedom and the need to defend it. The Dutch writer Edward van de Vendel, prize winner in the illustrated book category, writes his imaginative story Der Hund, den Nino nicht hatte (The Dog Nino didn’t have) in such a way that it could take place anywhere. According to translator Rolf Erdorf, “This prize was a particular delight, especially this year – when Dutch-Flemish literature was the focal point of the Frankfurt Book fair.” He is well aware of the significance of the prize: “My personal experience is that it is possible to be nominated for the German Children’s Literature Award with a very good book, but only a really outstanding book wins the award.”