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Wolf Erlbruch receives top award for children's literature

May 29, 2017

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's highest distinction for literature geared toward children and young people, is awarded to Wolf Erlbruch, a German illustrator and author of children's books.

Book cover The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden is to present the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award to German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch at a ceremony held on Monday at the Stockholm Concert Hall. 

"Wolf Erlbruch makes existential questions accessible and manageable for readers of all ages. With humor and warmth deeply rooted in humanist ideals, his work presents the universe on our scale," the jury said in April, when the winner of the world's highest distinction for children's literature was announced.  

The laureate said he was "speechless" when he learned that he had won the prestigious award.

Existentialism for children

Born in 1948 in Wuppertal, Erlbruch studied graphic design and worked for magazines such as "Stern" and "Esquire" before he began illustrating children's books.

That career started in 1985, when he illustrated James Aggrey's book "The Eagle That Would Not Fly." He has since written about 10 books himself and illustrated almost 50.

One of them is the popular children's book "The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business." Written by Werner Holzwarth, it's about an angry little mole who gets poop on his head and sets out to track down the guilty party.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business
A classic: "The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business," illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch Image: Peter Hammer Verlag

"Duck, Death and the Tulip" (2008) is one of Erlbruch's books dealing with existential questions, telling the story of a little duck who gets a visit from Death. Speaking to children and adults alike, the story has been praised as a modern classic and "the most beautiful book ever published about death."

Wolf Erlbruch deutscher Kinderbuchautor
Author and illustrator Wolf ErlbruchImage: CC BY Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 3.0

As an illustrator, his innovative style combines collage, pencil and chalk drawing, graphic experimentation and watercolor.

Among Wolf Erlbruch's numerous awards are the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Award) and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

In the spirit of Astrid Lindgren

The Swedish government established the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2002, naming it after the Swedish author who created Pippi Longstocking and many other popular fictional characters. The prize is awarded in recognition of writers and illustrators of literature for children and young people, or of projects that promote reading.

This year, 226 candidates were nominated for the award, which comes with a cash prize of five million Swedish crowns ($560,000). 

The winners in the inaugural year, 2003, were Maurice Sendak, most famous for his 1963 book " Where the Wild Things Are," and Austrian author Christine Noestlinger.

eg/rf (with dpa)