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When the board of Swedish IBBY decided to nominate a writer for the H. C. Andersen Award for the first time after a hiatus, the obvious candidate was Ulf Stark. On June 13 of this year, to our great sorrow, Sweden lost a unique voice in the world of children's literature when Ulf Stark passed away.
Born in Stureby, outside of Stockholm, in 1944, Stark made his breakthrough as a writer with the novel Dipsticks and Fruitloops (Dårfinkar och dönickar, 1984). This novel transformed Swedish young adult literature, and it still today feels contemporary with its ahead-of-its-time theme of gender fluidity. We can already find here the theme of inter-generational friendship that permeates Ulf Stark's work, most significantly in Can You Whistle, Johanna (1992)—a book beautifully illustrated by Anna Höglund, translated into several languages, and awarded with both the August prize and the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis. Can You Whistle, Johanna was also made into a television movie, which is so loved by the audience that it has been shown every single year on Christmas Eve since it first aired in 1994.
Ulf Stark has written more than a hundred books for children of all ages, including poetry, picture-books, first-reader books, middle-grade novels, and YA fiction. One of his last books, Animals No One Has Seen Exept Us (Djur som ingen sett utom vi, 2016), is an animalium with poems in which we meet animals we may not have seen before, yet they are strangely familiar—probably because they all live within ourselves. The book, illustrated by Linda Bondestam, was nominated for the August award, is nominated for the Nordic Council Children and Young People's Literature Prize (winner announced November 1), and has already received Snöbollen (the award for best Picture book of the year).
Stark was a writer who showed us the grandness of the world in tender depictions of everyday life, as well as the magic of reaching out to other people beyond the immediate family. He was also a writer who could talk about the power and importance of children's literature, beyond his own work. He was deeply involved in working for children's literature's fundamental right to be literature first and foremost, not simply a tool for learning to read or similar didactic purposes. He said himself he did not want to write "cocktail books," books you meet for a short time and casually enjoy in the brief moment. He always set out to write books that stayed with the reader. We in the board of IBBY Sweden definitely feel he succeeded. [End Page 35]