Astra International Picture Book Writing Contest 2022-2023
Winner Announcement

The Astra International Picture Book Writing Contest 2022-2023 has received a total of 2,248 manuscripts from 83 countries and regions, with both figures far exceeding those of the previous contest.

We appreciate the fantastic submissions of all the participants, and we are beyond excited by all the amazing stories you have created for children. Without you, this contest wouldn't have been such a success.

For six months, our jury of six international experts has reviewed the manuscripts and selected 11 winners. Now we are pleased to announce the winner list.

Gold Prize (2 winners)
Author: Johanna Klement
Title: Chameleon-red (Chamäleon-rot)
Language: German
Country: Germany
Comments from the jury
Chameleon-red is characterized by its original approach to a timeless theme in children's picture books about self-discovery, as well as a fascinating sense of authenticity. The author associates the characteristics of a shy child with those of a chameleon to reflect a child's inner state: a child is much like a chameleon but lacks its most coveted superpower, camouflage. If he could camouflage, he wouldn't have to greet and interact with so many people! The first-person narrative allows readers to feel the insecurities and challenges a shy child faces in social situations. The positive ending conveys the message of the story: we should cherish our uniqueness and not always try to change ourselves to fit society's expectations.
Author: Mengxing Lan (兰梦醒)
Title: Sometimes, Suddenly… (有时,突然……)
Language: Chinese
Country: China
Comments from the jury
Poetry for children often abounds with imagination. Lan’s poem, Sometimes, Suddenly..., not only portrays a series of fantastical scenes, brimming with the curiosity of exploring the world, but it can also be seen as creative reinterpretation of daily life. Rocks, clouds, rivers, trees, the moon, cats, snails, elephants, air, time, the sea, and other natural elements are endowed with unusual qualities and behaviors, expressing multi-layered metaphors and meanings. This shows the author's positive attitude toward life and through the childlike, amusing, and unrestrained imagination, it makes readers laugh and resonate, and encourage them to explore the surroundings: even in everyday life, we can discover infinite miracles and surprises as long as we are willing to open our hearts and embrace the world with enthusiasm and love. We believe that anyone who reads this poem will find their mood lightened, and their spirit lifted.
Kodansha Award
Author: Jenny Guillaume
Title: An Octopus on My Head (Un poulpe sur la tête)
Language: French
Country: France
Comments from Kodansha
An Octopus on My Head stands out for its exceptional ability to portray images through text. The story revolves around an octopus that has taken residence on the protagonist's head. As they live together, the octopus gradually grows larger, and its colors change. The octopus, the protagonist, his friends, and the adults are all surprised, but they eventually accept and adapt to the new situation. This is a story of acceptance, learning, and growth by accepting the absurd reality and others who are different, a universal theme that children and adults alike need today. The story is amusing, but at the end, it brings tears to our eyes, and we are anticipated to see what a wonderful picture book it will be with illustrations.
Honor Prize (8 winners)
Author Title Language Country
Isabelle Collioud-Marichallot The Astounding Collection of Silences
(L'étonnante collection de silences)
French France
David McMullin This Book is Not… English United States
Takahashi Pechka
(タカハシ ペチカ)
Toto’s Detour
Japanese Japan
Ángeles Durini Anything
(Cualquier cosa)
Spanish Argentina
Ting Lei
My Super Super Super Super Kindergarten
Chinese China
Hannah Brown Once Upon a Time … All Grownups were Babies English Israel
Payam Ebrahimi The Day that Mr. Aggness Laid an Egg English Iran
Glenda Armand The Voyage of Stellabornia English United States
Comments from the judges
Photo by Masako Nagano

Ryoji Arai (Japan)
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be one of the judges of this unique picture book writing contest. What made me happier was to read the manuscripts from all over the world. These manuscripts from different countries made me feel the attention and passion that people in different parts of the world have for picture books. As I read through the stories, the differences among countries and regions didn't bother me at all. I think picture books have the power to narrow cultural differences. When I read Sometimes, Suddenly..., one of the winners of the Gold Prize, I felt that this manuscript was certainly relevant to the present, but its "fun" would be with us for a long time to come, and it was an excellent story that made us see the "universality" of picture books. I am very happy to join in a such joyful contest, and I sincerely hope that it will continue in the future.

Ajia (China)
The manuscripts of this year are all quite good, with each having sparkling points, and many are quite inspiring. So as a member of the panel, I felt that it was not so easy to select the winners. I was particularly pleased with the manuscripts that came from different countries, regions and cultures, but the attention for childhood and humanity was so similar that it was actually very easy to understand and appreciate the stories after we crossed the language barrier, and the childlike whimsy in the stories was both familiar and exciting. I think when the world was young, we probably all belonged to the same family. I also found that some of the topics were quite popular, but different writers would approach them in different ways, in fact trying out various ways of expression. But for me, I felt more joyful when I read the original stories. From this perspective, being a judge in this contest was indeed a pleasant experience.

Jill Davis (USA)
I was honored to judge the Astra International Picture Book Contest. Reading the submissions gave me a peek into how writers from all around the world imagine telling stories to children, and I found in them a combination of thoughtfulness, emotion, magic, and vivid imagination. The picture books I responded to were the ones I was able to visualize in my mind's eye--the ones that made me smile or spoke to me with beautiful metaphoric writing, such as Sometimes, Suddenly…; or the ones I imagined young children asking to hear again and again, such as Chameleon-red. I especially love a picture book voice that sounds very convincing and original and absurd. I found this to be the case with An Octopus on My Head. I laughed a lot, and I know kids would enjoy the humor in every stage the character experiences. I want to thank everyone who entered the contest. It is always an act of bravery to share your work, and I am confident that if you continue to work hard as you have, you will find yourselves on the path to being the picture book writers of tomorrow.

Sabine Fuchs (Austria)
Good picture books need not only excellent pictures, but also excellent texts. The reduced text length in particular requires a clever choice of words, witty language and, above all, scope for individual visualizations. An empathetic narrative approach is also required, as well as a story that is told again and again from new perspectives with diverse actors. The texts submitted to this year's Astra International Picture Book Writing Contest show a wide range of topics (from the daily way to kindergarten, friendship to philosophical questions), as well as diverse writing styles (from classic storytelling in prose to rhyming forms to free association). This is also reflected in the winning texts: thought experiments that make you think (Sometimes, Suddenly...), a story about inner growth (Chameleon-red) and the story of a fantastic animal friendship (An Ocotopus on My Head). And all of them are written in such a way that there is plenty of room for the artists to add their individual readings with their pictures.

Sophie Van der Linden (France)
It's certainly not easy to read the texts of picture books in isolation from their context, which is formed by the illustrations, layout and format of the book. The texts received, and in particular those that have won prizes, show the essential characteristics of a picture book text: orality, rhythm, a sense of brevity and simplicity, which are an economy of means since it can only fully reveal itself in complementarity with the illustrations.

Dolores Prades (Brazil)
The Astra International Picture Book Contest seeks to restore the importance of literary text in a context where illustrations dominate the realm of picture books. What I have observed over the years as a member of the juries is a growing emphasis on the precision and expression of words. What many consider to be the easy aspect of children's books is, in fact, their greatest challenge: how to convey, without excess, in a poetic and open language that still leaves room for illustrations. The international nature of the contest is also a significant aspect as it enables a highly representative diversity in terms of themes and narrative styles.