Foto: Stefan Tell

Hello there, Henry Ascher

Chief and associate professor of paediatrics, Henry Ascher, took the position as new member of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award jury on July 1st.

Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Henry Ascher?

I’m a paediatrician who does a lot of work relating to the health and rights of refugee children, and indeed to the rights of all children. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that health involves much more than conventional medical care. For instance, culture and literature are crucial to human health.

You’ve received multiple awards for your commitment to and work in the field of children’s rights and human rights. What is it that drives you?

A sense of justice. It’s really about resisting oppression and injustice, about not imposing ourselves on others, not subordinating other people. This may have something to do with my family background. My parents arrived in Sweden before the Second World War as refugees fleeing the Nazis. My father lost his entire family. Throughout my life, I’ve always recalled my maternal grandparents’ concept of justice and their belief that the lessons to be learned from the horrors of Nazism are universal. We must work to create the conditions in which all of humanity can thrive and prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My encounters with children, especially those living in difficult circumstances. As a fellow human, you can achieve a lot by giving children support and affirmation. Through small efforts, you can accomplish many things of great importance to children. Take the example of child refugees, who are often viewed either as helpless victims or as really strong individuals. We have to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive – that children can be both at the same time.

How did you discover your love of reading?

I grew up with plenty of children’s and young adult literature, in a family where a good general education was considered important. My involvement in theatre gave me another way in to the world of literature. When I was a Grade 8 student in Linköping, I had a walk-on part in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. I was hooked. I saw lots of great theatre during the rest of my time in high school.

How do you feel about your new role as a jury member for the world’s biggest prize for children’s and young adult literature?

It’s a tremendous honour to be asked – and it’s a job it would be impossible to turn down. Children’s culture and literature are so important, and the award helps to raise their standing. The award’s prestige is recognized worldwide, and I think awareness of the award is growing every year. And then, of course, Astrid Lindgren, with her work on behalf of children in so many respects, is a role model on many levels.

What will you be reading in your hammock this summer?

A pile of books that’s far too high, but I’ll do my best to get through as many of them as possible. I’m trying to clear my desk at work before going on holiday, so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it. But works by past ALMA recipients will be on the list, of course.

More information about Henry Ascher, here.