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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Americans Never Enter International Awards: Introducing the Nami Concours

Illustration credit Ali Douglass

In 2011 I found myself six months pregnant in Bologna, Italy. Ostensibly there to write a piece for SLJ (Betsy Goes to Bologna: Why attend the world’s largest children’s book fair?) I was actually there to investigate something I’d been told. I had heard that the Bologna Book Fair was not going to be of much interest to me. After all, it’s mostly a rights fair where big deals are done in the name of children’s books. Heck, Bologna is where Arthur A. Levine reportedly discovered Harry Potter. Yet when I arrived and saw it for myself, I was shocked and delighted by the experience. Display after display after display of international children’s art was made available. Talks in English and other languages abounded. Awards were awarded to books I’d never heard of and would never see in the States (like this magnificent noir alphabet book called Fables).

While there I took a close look at the Illustrators Exhibition. I luxuriated in what I saw, but after a while it became clear to me that something was amiss. This was an international exhibit. Art from all over the world was eligible for display. So where were the Americans? I found only a single piece for Jennifer Uman’s Jemmy Button (a book that wouldn’t be published in the States for another two years after that). Increasingly it became clear that Americans don’t much care about international exhibits. Not that I minded particularly. But it seemed odd.

Fast forward to 2019. I’m having dinner with the marvelous Michael Neugebauer of minedition fame and the subject turns to a small Korean island. To my astonishment, the guests I was dining with were all well and truly familiar with something called the Nami Island International Picture Book Illustration Concours or just Nami Concours for short. In 2013 an international biannual picture book award was begun on this island and it, “seeks to encourage artistic creativity and advance the quality of picture book illustrations worldwide.” As it is fairly new I think we can be forgiven for not being completely aware of it, but just the same I had to see which Americans had won any of the prizes. Can you guess how many I found? Oh go on. I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

Actually, there was an American on the list. In 2017 JooHee Yoon received the Golden Island Prize worth $5,000. And in 2019 three Americans were shortlisted: John Parra for Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, Ellen Weinstein for Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Eternity, and Lissa Park for The Trial.

What is the point of this award? As the website says, it’s to introduce illustrators to a more international audience. To, “Find a way for illustrators from all over the world to be exposed to an even wider audience.” The jury this past year consisted of Junko Yokota, who lives not far from me here in Evanston, and was chaired by Roger Mello, who will be here in the States in October.

All this is just a long-winded way of say that if you are an American illustrator and you would, perhaps, like a more international audience, why not submit your work? I can’t see the harm, and it looks like you can submit digitally these days. What’s more, you’ll be representing America in the best possible way (and we need all the positive p.r. we can get at this point). At any rate, consider it. I wouldn’t say the world absolutely needs us, but we do need the world. Why not give ’em a little taste of what we’ve got?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Therese Bigelow says:

    Hi Betsy,
    It is a biennial award.Junko Yokota was on the jury for 2019 which was chaired by Roger Mello. Also the Minn family who own Nami Island are sponsors of the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
    The month of May is devoted to children’s picture books with the award ceremony and display of the artwork of the winning illustrators kicking it off.

  2. Seeing this same phenomenon, that U.S. illustrators tend not to submit to the considerable number of international illustration competitions that exist, USBBY has started collecting information about these competitions. (USBBY is the U.S. national section of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People). The plan is at least to post the information on USBBY’s website, and perhaps more, in order to encourage and facilitate applications from U.S. illustrators.

    — USBBY Illustration Committee: Nancy Johnson, Kathleen Merz, Karen Perry, Caroline Romans, David Wiesner ,and Paul Zelinsky; and Junko Yokota and Terrell Young