ALMA in Spanish means soul

Your Royal Highness; Minister Adelsohn Lijeroth; Your Excellencies; Ladies and Gentlemen:

On March 14, when we learned that we had won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, we danced and we laughed and we cried, because this is an astonishing award from a remarkable country that gives children’s books and reading the importance they deserve.

We are proud to be the first reading promotion institution to win it, and delighted to receive it during Astrid Lindgren’s Jubilee year. It is very gratifying for us to be identified with an author whose work changed the way we look upon childhood and children’s literature.

Like Pippi Longstockings, we have embarked on countless adventures. We have used knapsacks and boxes, traveled in bookmobiles, boats, and fiber optic, always in the quest of defending children’s right to have books. We have been to the Andes where among the cold mountains live a quiet and formal people. We have walked the hot coastline, where people work to a livelier rhythm.

We have seen the violent pattern of drought and floods in the central plains and along the Orinoco River by whose cycles its people live.
In the western desert, we have felt the hot wind making the thorn trees and the Wayú hammocks sway, while further south, on lake Maracaibo; the oil tankers ply their trade. In the Amazon jungle and the Gran Sabana, we have known different ethnic groups living between their ancestral traditions and the criollo culture.

Amid the bustle of Ciudad Guayana, a carefully planned city which grew in its own way, we trained many teacher librarians. In Caracas, our capital, where more than 4 million people live among crowded highways, tall buildings, green hills and shantytowns we started our first libraries.

We have been to all the corners of Venezuela, with these peoples, gathering their stories and bringing them books we believe can open windows to other worlds, so that they may better understand their own. And so lead a fuller life.

Surviving for 46 years in a country like ours has not been easy. We have done it with persistence, flexibility, and a vision for a better future. But most of all we have done it with the help of the people whom we have touched and who have touched us. This prize is for them, and also for all those silent and effective individuals and institutions that are committed to working with children and books. We are glad that through Banco del Libro they have been acknowledged today.

The word ALMA in Spanish means soul or substance, energy, force, inspiration. This is a prize with a soul. It will inspire and protect us for many years to come, and challenge us to find new ways of defending books and reading in the context of a region of profound differences in which so many people are excluded. We thank the Swedish government and the Swedish people from our hearts.

Carmen Diana Dearden