IBBY Finland’s prize for children and young people’s literature is the Anni Swan Medal. The award was named after the Finnish children and young adults’ author, translator and journalist Anni Swan who was born in 1875.
The silver medal, designed by academician Wäinö Aaltonen in 1961, is awarded every three years to a Finnish, high-quality children or young adult’s book written either in Finnish or Swedish.
In May 2018, the medal was awarded for the 20th time. The medal was given to a writer, scriptwriter and editor Anneli Kanto from Tampere (b.1950). She is an experienced and very versatile author who has written for children, teenagers and adults as well as produced manuscripts for television.
Anneli Kanto was awarded the prize for her book Viisi Villiä Virtasta (Five Wild Virtanen Children). The picturebook tells about a family of five, dealing with big emotions, sisterhood, different personalities, conflicts, and strong team spirit. The focus is on the children, the three sisters and two brothers. Parents are in the background and usually the children solve their disputes and problems together.
Virtasen lapset ja pentu (Virtanen-children and the puppy, Karisto 2015) tells about the children’s wish to have their own puppy. However, they soon notice that the dog is much more work than the children anticipated, as it needs to be taken for walks, fed and played with. The book is an excellent guide for families thinking about getting a dog. The book is equally suitable for children and adults.
Perttu Virtanen ja varkaus (Perttu Virtanen and the theft, Karisto 2016) tells about the four-year-old Perttu who plays with her sister’s favourite doll. As he is playing, Tyrannosaurus Rex suddenly eats the doll. Perttu is frightened and wants to buy a new doll for his sister. Sadly, the contents of his piggy bank are not enough to fund the new doll, so Perttu steals one from the shop. After long and excruciating moments of guilt, Perttu admits his crime and the sisters and the brother decide to borrow Perttu the money, so he can pay for the doll. The siblings help Perttu to make things right again.
Vilma Virtanen virpomassa (Vilma Virtanen as Easter Witch, Karisto 2017) deals with the Finnish Easter tradition, not unlike the Halloween trick or treating-tradition popular in the United States. On the Palm Sunday, children dressed as witches walk from door to door and wield colourfully decorated willow branches. This brings health and happiness to the people. Vilma is the eldest of the siblings, but shy in nature. The youngest siblings Perttu and Kastehelmi encourage her. Together, the three succeed in their task and are given a great deal of Easter Eggs.
Anneli Kanto writes in a way even adults understand. Children, on the other hand, understand naturally that boys can wear beautiful dresses and cry if they feel like it. It is OK, if someone is shy and quiet. Not everyone needs to be brave and strong. Children know that bad things and feelings can and should be talked about. If someone has done something wrong, the best thing to do is admit it. Adults do not always remember what it is like to be a child.
The books can be read together, or children can read them by themselves. It is easy to identify with the characters and the events of the book seem to be drawn from real life. As a scriptwriter Anneli Kanto is very skilful at writing drama and understanding the importance of emotions. From fear to relief, from horror to joy and happiness, the story goes through all the emotions and finally arrives at a happy end.
Noora Katto is an excellent choice as the illustrator. Her illustrations and Kanto’s text compliment and support each other. The combination of great text and matching illustration has made the Virtanen children favourites of many Finnish families, children and adults alike.
In Anni Swan-awards, the author Anneli Kanto spoke about the importance of reading out loud also to children who are already bigger. In her opinion, adults often overlook many things and emotions that are important for children.
Noora Katto and Anneli Kanto also talked about working together and how the author creates a personality and temperament for every single character. The way they feel and react. The illustrator, then, creates the same story using images and brings to life the hidden details, gestures, characteristics and settings.