Zohreh Ghaeni

Presentation of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2008

Your majesty, Queen Margrethe, Ms. President, Distinguished Laureates, Most valued Hosts and Sponsors, Esteemed Guests.

As the president of the 2008 Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury and as someone who comes from the ancient country of Iran, the country of old stories and fables, today I am very proud to be here in Denmark, the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest storytellers, H. C. Andersen. It is wonderful that this year’s winners, Jürg Schubiger and Roberto Innocenti, are here today to receive their prizes in person.

Introducing two of the most distinguished artists in children's literature with just a few words is difficult. But, I will try to convey the jury’s passion and feelings about the merits and advantages of these two artists’ achievements.

The 2008 winners’ works are responses to modern children’s and adolescents’ needs, not only for developing aesthetic knowledge, but for developing the insight to cope with their problems and the difficulties of our world.

Schubiger’s stories are stories for thinking. His stories are very simple and about very ordinary things and happenings.  Sometimes they seem too simple.  But children can find answers to their questions about life in these deceptively simple stories. Schubiger says: "I retell the stories of adults’ childhoods."  

The blend of fantasy and philosophy is something that Schubiger employs to push children to look at life around them carefully and think. He conveys that there is a purpose behind the creation of everything, and everything in the world will be useful one day. He believes that we could have a relationship with everything around us in our world – one that is not necessarily a verbal connection. In spite of their differences, all creatures on earth need each other and this need for one another gives life its meaning.    

Although Schubiger uses simple words, he enchants his readers by his poetic force.
When I came into the world the world was already there. Everything was there: our whole house, the table, the chairs, the beds, the kitchen sink, the tap, all the furniture. It was all properly thought out and everything fitted together...

Everything in the world fits together. There aren’t any gaps anywhere. Your glasses fit your nose, the spoon fits your mouth, your behind fits your chair. Fish are right for the water, birds are right for the air, the cow fits into her pasture, people fit into their clothes, their homes and their beds. The night is right for sleeping and the day for being awake. Words are right for things. I like thinking about all that. Mum says some things don’t fit together properly. There are cows without pastures and people without clothes, homes and beds. I know she’s right, but I can’t quite imagine it. If I could I’d fall down dead on the spot out of pity or something.

Schubiger's stories come from the world of children, the things that most of us experienced when we were children.

Schubiger is a weaver, the weaver of story carpets. He says:  
I mostly do not conceive my ideas through the content only, but also from the ‘weaving pattern’. What I am interested in is the structure, the repetition, intensification, inversions: forms frequently found in fairytales.”   

This year’s illustration winner also weaves stories for our children, but he tells his tales in visual language.  Roberto Innocenti’s works reveal his poetic genius. For him the structure of a story is something beyond the ordinary main characters, events and actions. His stories include the entire world in which the events occur. All creatures and things, landscapes and buildings, children and adults, women and men, even dogs passing by or birds flying over yards or streets, play a role in the world of Innocenti’s stories. His point of view always tends to be panoramic, like a long film shot. Like a filmmaker, he changes the angle of his camera continuously. Swinging from up to down and down to up, left to right and right to left in detailed scenes, he makes a path to the heart of the story.

He encourages children to discover new perspectives in the visual world of stories. And because of this, the readers of his stories can feel every feeling in every scene; they can touch the fabric in the clothes people wear, the trunks, branches and leaves of trees and the feathers of birds. They can hear all the voices in every scene: the barking of dogs, the whistle of the wind and the silence of a snowy day in a village. In his stories Innocenti shares all human feelings with children.

Innocenti encourages his readers to see how far they have come and make sense of this journey. In “Rosa Bianca” and “The Story of Erika”,  he relates the stories  of World War II, in which millions of innocent people lost their lives. With just a few illustrations, in “The Story of Erika” Innocenti forces his reader to be a witness to the tragedy of history. He shows a train loaded with women, men and children being transferred to the concentration camps. He doesn't try to speak in length or in detail. He's illustrated an empty cradle left behind a train, a baby wrapped in cloth thrown out of a train’s window and a little girl who is standing in a colorful garden watching a train pass by. The contrast between the black and white illustrations and those in color illuminates the importance of preserving peace as a valuable treasure in human being's life.

Jürg Schubiger and Roberto Innocenti have made a lasting contribution to literature for children and young people by using their art to compel them to fantasize, think and question.

The stories of this writer and artist inspire young people to respect peace, tolerance and humanity and to be proud of having empathy with people of all cultures and all ages.

Mr. Schubiger, Mr Innocenti, children and young adults today and tomorrow owe a debt of gratitude to you and your vision. Please accept our deepest respect and admiration for all you have done for the children of the world.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to this year's jury, the 10 distinguished experts who are the representatives of the children's literature of the world. They spent more than 8 months studying the books and dossiers of 30 authors and 30 illustrators who were nominated from 35 countries. Alicia Salvi, Annemie Leysen, Francine Sarrasin, Nadia El Kholy, Isabelle Nières Chevrel, Bill Nagelkerke, Nataliya Avgustinovich, María Jesús Gil, Helene Schär and  Junko Yokota, on behalf of IBBY I thank you for your devotion to your duties and your dedication to taking on this enormous job accurately and without any prejudice.

Now, it is an honor to invite the patron of the Han Christian Andersen award, her majesty the Queen of Denmark, to present the 2008 medals to this year’s winners.

Zohreh Ghaeni
Sept. 7, 2008