Statistics from World Kid Lit, the initiative supporting translation and literature for children and young adults from around the world, would suggest that very few Austrian books have been translated into English. It’s time to change that situation. The Austrian children’s publishing scene is a vibrant one with national awards and prizes that recognise home-grown talent, as well as winning success internationally.
Let’s begin at home in Austria with the Österreichischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis (‘The Austrian Children’s and Young People’s Book Prize’), the annual state-funded prize celebrating the best children’s books. Founded in 1955, it highlights both Austrian publishing and Austrian creators. Each year, it picks four winners, with a further recommended reading list from the submissions.
In 2022, sixty-seven titles from twenty-two publishing houses were submitted for the prize. The four winners encompassed not only books aimed at different age groups, but also a mix of styles and genres. Zur Zeit, wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat (‘A Time When Wishing Still Helped’, Gerstenberg Verlag) is a new 400-page publication of Grimms’ fairy tales, with sumptuous illustrations by Julie Völk, and described as a ‘magical masterpiece’. Poetry was also a winner with the collection Mit Worten will ich dich umarmen (‘I Want to Hug You with Words’) by Lena Raubaum, illustrated by Katja Seifert (Tyrolia Verlag). So too was non-fiction in the form of Michael Stavarič and Michèle Ganser’s book about octopuses, Faszination Krake (‘The Fascinating Lives of Octopuses’, Leykam Verlag). The final winning title was An die, die wir nicht werden wollen. Eine Teenager-Symphonie (‘To Those We Don’t Wish to Become. A Teenage Symphony’, Tyrolia) German author Nils Mohl, with illustrations by Regina Kehn, of which more later.
Some of my personal favourites from previous rounds of the prize include Julya Rabinowich’s Dazwischen: Ich (Carl Hanser Verlag), a winner in 2017 and published in my English translation as Me, In Between by Andersen Press in 2022; picture book Flucht (‘Escape’) by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner (Tyrolia Verlag); and Agnes Ofner’s Nicht so das Bilderbuchmädchen (‘Not the Ideal Picture Book Girl’, Jungbrunnen Verlag).
This last book leads me nicely to the KIMI Siegel for diversity, a seal awarded to children’s books across the German-speaking world – including books translated into German – that celebrate diversity. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that this prize is judged not only by adults but also by juries of children and young adults. As well as this accolade, Agnes Ofner’s LGBTQ+ novel has been highly praised, winning the 2020 national prize, the 2020 Vienna Children’s and Young People’s Book Prize (see below), as well as being nominated for the German Goldene Leslie award. It also featured among November 2019’s Best Seven Books for Young Readers, a long-running monthly list of recommendations curated by a jury and supported by media outlets Deutschlandfunk and Focus.
Within Austria itself, homegrown talent is encouraged through prizes like the Vienna Children’s and Young Person’s Book Prize. This is an annual award that grants three prizes for children’s books and one illustration prize to authors and illustrators who live in Austria and whose work has been published during the previous year by a Vienna-based publisher. At the time of writing, the 2022 prizes had not been announced; however, in 2021, three of the four works came from Tyrolia Verlag, demonstrating their dominance within the Austrian children’s publishing scene. The illustration prize went to the picture book Jaguar, Zebra, Nerz (‘Jaguar, Zebra, Mink’) by Heinz Janisch and Michael Roher (Tyrolia), which also won the national prize that same year. The jury said of this winner: ‘Twelve months, twelve texts, twelve pictures: in colourful pencil illustrations, all-round artist Michael Roher creates a dreamy, playful fantasy world which is both moving and inspiring.’ The three author prizes went to Leonora Leitl’s historical novel Held Hermann: Als ich Hitler im Garten vergrub (‘Hero Hermann: The Day I Buried Hitler in Our Garden’, Tyrolia), a historical teen novel about growing up during the Second World War; a non-fiction picture book about leeches called Balthasar Blutberg, by Michael Stavarič (Luftschacht Verlag); and Young Adult book Esther und Salomon (‘Esther and Salomon’) by Elisabeth Steinkellner (Tyrolia) presented in a ‘unique hybrid form’.
Austrian authors are also seeing success across the border in Germany. Linz-born Sarah Michaela Orlovský’s Middle Grade book Eine halbe Banane und die Ordnung der Welt (‘Half a Banana and the Order of the World’, Tyrolia) was one of the six nominations for the 2022 German Children’s Literature Prize. This book deals with the difficult subject of anorexia but comes at the topic from the perspective of a younger sister whose older sister is struggling with the illness. This narrative is conveyed in the form of a monologue, displayed on the page as short vignettes comprising single line sentences, almost like a series of lists, sharing the pain and heartbreak of witnessing a family member struggle.
For quality international children’s books, the annual White Ravens catalogue published by the International Youth Library in Munich is often seen as a benchmark of success. The 2022 catalogue included the aforementioned Austrian Young People’s Book Prize winner and ‘To Those We Don’t Wish to Become: A Teenage Symphony’ by Nils Mohl and Regina Kehn, which also won the 2022 Josef Guggenmos-Preis für Kinderlyrik. In the White Ravens entry, the book’s publisher Tyrolia is described as having ‘evolved into an excellent home for unconventional and experimental children’s and youth literature, literature beyond the mainstream’, something confirmed by several of the books I have mentioned. The White Ravens editorial team notes that this book is ‘not a coming-of-age novel, but rather an associative montage of poems, chats, miniatures, snippets, scraps, and fragments’. This proves that Austrian publishing is keen to publish not only the best Austrian creators but also to acquire works by writers and illustrators from across the German-speaking world. The other book to receive the White Ravens 2022 seal of approval was the Michael Stavarič and Michèle Ganser’s Faszination Krake (‘The Fascinating Lives of Octopuses’), also mentioned above and reviewed by Johanna McCalmont for this magazine.
In 2021, the only Austrian book to be included in White Ravens was Verena Hochleitner’s Der Schneeleopard (‘The Snow Leopard’, Luftschacht), a picture book for children aged three and over. The editorial team say, ‘Der Schneeleopard celebrates the imagination of children and the great potential of picture books’. For Viennese creator Hochleitner, this was her second consecutive year in the prestigious publication. Die drie Räuberinnen (‘The Three Robbers’, Tyrolia) featured the previous year alongside Sarah Michaela Orlovský’s Filomena Grau. Von Zaubertricks, Mutproben und Fellbündeln (‘Filomena Grau. Of Magic Tricks, Dares, and Bundles of Fur’), illustrated by Michael Roher (Picus Verlag).
International recognition for Austrian creators also came in 2022 with a Special Mention in the Bologna Regazzi Awards at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for Elisabeth Steinkellner’s delightful Vom Flaniern und Weltspaziern (‘Sauntering and Strolling the World’, Tyrolia), a collection of ‘rhymes and word games’. This accolade added to the anthology’s growing list of recognitions.
While few Austrian books appear to be trickling through to the English-speaking market, the Austrian children’s publishing scene is pushing boundaries and exploring all styles and genres. Hopefully I’ve provided enough inspiration and information to encourage publishers to fill the gap with some award-winning literature from Austria.
By Claire Storey
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