On March 31st, Hee-na Baek, author of Cloud Bread, won the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), and 611 million won was given as a prize
The ALMA was made in Sweden in 2002 to honor Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pipi Long Stockings and the winner is given 5,000,000 kronor, which is more than 600 million won. The award is known as the Novel Prize in the field of children’s literature. Baek’s work is expected to be a great encouragement for Korean writers and it will also be good news to Korean publishers in that it will provide a good opportunity for Korean literary books for children to be read a lot more than before. Baek in her interview with Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish daily newspaper, said that the whole situation was unbelievable and that she would like to work more for children because she love them so much.
Cloud Bread starts with two children picking up a cloud on a rainy day. Their mother makes the cloud into loaves of bread and the children take it to their dad, who skipped breakfast, not to be late for work. Because the children ate the cloud, they can float to their dad and the story continues. This heart-warming story of a family within a simple plot shows how imaginative children can be but more than that, the love children show unconditionally for their parents.
Boel Westin, Head of the Jury, commented, "With an exquisite feeling for material, looks and gesture, Baek’s filmic picture books stage stories about solitude and solidarity. In her evocative miniature worlds, cloud bread and sorbet moons, animals, bath fairies and people converge. Her work is a doorway to the marvelous: sensuous, dizzying and sharp." The book is translated to more than 10 different languages and was sold more than 450,000 copies. Also, the stories have been being re-made into musicals and animations.
However, though the book is on a roll, the author herself seems to be stuck in a war with her former publisher for copyright and the payment she had been receiving. The profit made with the book is almost 440 billion Korean won, being so popular amongst parents and children in diverse countries and being recreated into musicals and animations. Yet the author was given just 18.5 million won as a profit. The issue shows the generalized situations in the publishing industry in Korea where unknown or powerless writers are forced to get an unjust contract. Baek already lost two lawsuits against the publisher. However, the winning of the ALMA is likely to change her situation in the long losing fight with the former publisher. She said that with her fan’s more attention and support, she would keep fighting to regain her right as the original writer of Cloud Bread.
Baek was born in Seoul in 1971, and studied at Ewha Womans University and the California Institute of Arts. She has created 13 picture books, including her latest, I Am a Dog (2019), and The Strange Visitor (2018).
© Inho Shin