Reflecting on the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is the richest award for children’s literature. It’s worth around $800,000 – courtesy of the Swedish government – and late last month was awarded to the French writer Jean-Claude Mourlevat. Previous winners have included Maurice Sendak, Sir Philip Pullman, Sonya Hartnett, Meg Rosoff and Shaun Tan. So you might ask, Jean-Claude who?

Late last year Mourlevat’s novel for older children Jefferson (translated by Ros Schwartz) was published by the UK’s Andersen Press. I had read Jefferson with great enjoyment and fascination prior to the ALMA announcement. Jefferson is a charming young hedgehog who must fight to clear his name when he is accused of the violent murder of his hairdresser. With a posse of animal friends he sets out to find the real killer and shine a light on abuses of power in this world. Jefferson is an enchanting and fast-paced crime thriller tinged with comic moments and strong questions about humans’ treatment of animals. It’s a high-wire act that Mourlevat pulls off with style while illustrations by Antoine Roznon add an extra layer of charm.

It would be untrue to say that 69-year-old Jean-Claude Mourlevat is unknown outside France as his books are published in many languages, but, for now, only Jefferson is readily available in English.

Mourlevat is the first French writer or illustrator to win the highest profile award in children’s literature. The award praised him as ‘a brilliant renewer of fairy tale traditions, open to both hardship and beauty’. Here’s hoping we see more from him in the coming years. Jefferson is highly recommended for readers 9+ looking for something a little different.

Mike Shuttleworth works as a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.



Jean-Claude Mourlevat, Ros Schwartz

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