Global kudos for team inspiring Indigenous literacy

A First Nations organisation that encourages Indigenous children to read and write in their own languages has been recognised with a major international prize.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation works with more than 400 remote Indigenous communities, helping imbue a love of their language and reading in a range of innovative ways.

It has won the 2024 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children’s literature – an annual global award for an outstanding contribution to children’s and young adult literature that carries a five million Swedish kronor (AUD $725,000) prize, the largest award of its kind in the world.

A child reads a book in an Indigenous language.
The foundation works with remote communities, publishing and providing books for children.

"When we talk about the history of Australia, we're only really a generation, maybe two, away from when we weren't allowed to speak or celebrate our languages," foundation chief executive Ben Bowen said.

"For us to be able to work with elders and young people around the country now, not only working in their own languages, but they're fermenting the skills to put them into commercially viable published books that can reach the global stage. This is a huge leap forward. 

"We talk about the value of storytelling and culture and language and all the knowledge that's contained within that and this award is absolutely validating that richness, and how much we need to celebrate these communities."

Indigenous Literacy Foundation ambassadors Shelley Ware and David Lawrence have worked with female high school students from the Tiwi Islands over the past few years, mentoring and assisting them to publish a book in a week. 

"These girls light up and and come to life with their storytelling ability," Mr Bowen said.

"This is about centring culture in all things that we do so having amazing ambassadors like Shelley and David, they do this naturally ... they've got three days to write it and illustrate it and we publish it on the fifth day." 

The foundation does a lot of work in first languages, as well as english, publishing a range of original children's books.

Boel Westin, chair of the award jury, said the foundation highlights the importance of all peoples' languages and stories. 

"Their innovative activities, which build on respect, collaboration and sensitivity, are an inspiration for reading promotion work around the world," he said.

The announcement was made live from Stockholm and at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. 

Foundation head of publishing, Nicola Robinson, paid tribute to the many thousands of people who have donated or contributed to fundraising. 

“This award could not have come about without the extraordinary work of many of Australia’s remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who trust the ILF with the stories they choose to tell, told in multiple languages and illustrated in community," she said.

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