Dutch KidLit Week

30 September – 11 October 2020

By Johanna McCalmont

Autumn is definitely an exciting season for younger readers in the Netherlands. Hot on the heels of Dutch YA Lit week, we now have Dutch Kinderboekenweek. First launched in 1955, the 66th Dutch KidLit week runs from 30 September to 11 October with the main aim of promoting reading amongst children between the ages of 6 and 12. A range of activities, prizes, and events offer children the opportunity to discover not only a fantastic selection of beautiful books, but also a window onto the world.

This year’s theme takes children back in time with books that bring history to life. The campaign provides lists of ‘Top Five’ titles in four age categories to transport readers to the worlds of knights, wartime, and antiquity. No need for time machines when you can travel across the world and through the ages by reading books! A printable timeline featuring all the books is available for teachers to hang up in classrooms, allowing children to place the stories they encounter as they travel from the present day back as the Stone Age. The titles focus primarily on Dutch history, covering topics such as slavery, the 1953 North Sea floods, life at Rotterdam Zoo during WWII, Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, Rembrandt, and Curaço at the end of the 19th Century. Many are recent or new releases, with a few still to be published in print format and currently only available as e-books or from libraries.

Kinderboekenweek is also a time to showcase two writers. This year’s free Book Week Book, De diamant van Banjarmasin (The Banjarmasin Diamond), has been written by Arend van Dam and includes illustrations by Anne Stalinski. With more than 30 titles to his name, award-winning writer Arend van Dam has addressed all sorts of tricky current issues in his thrilling and educational stories for children. Despite his success and popularity, his books don’t appear to have been translated into English yet. De diamant van Banjarmasin (The Banjarmasin Diamond) is a collection of eight stories set in different periods of Dutch history. As a child, Arend had once asked his lorry-driver father ‘Pa, who are we? Where do we come from?’ Sixty years later he tries to answer those questions through his characters, people who are seeking their fortunes, both leaving and arriving, and who also ask themselves ‘Who am I? Where do I want to be? Am I welcome?’ The book is given away free in bookshops with all purchases over €12.50. 

A special picture book for younger readers has been produced by writer and illustrator Mylo Freeman who tries to bring more diversity to the world of picture books. Several of her books have been published in English by Cassava RepublicTweeling! (Twins!) tells the story of Robbie and Roef who both love knights and feel like twins. One day, however, another little girl steals Robbie and Roef’s spade from the sand box. Roef tells her not to do it again, but a few minutes later she does! It turns out that there’s not just one girl, but two … who look exactly the same! And they insist that they are REAL twins … 

Like all good Book Weeks and Festivals, Kinderboekenweek also awards several prizes to outstanding children’s writers and illustrators of Dutch books published the previous year. In the run-up to the main week, a jury of experts hand out Zilveren Griffels (Silver Pens) to the best writers, and Zilveren Pensels (Silver Paintbrushes) to the best illustrators. Dutch authors and illustrators also have the chance of winning a Golden Pen or Golden Paintbrush announced on the eve of Kinderboekenweek. The categories are divided into age and genre. This year’s winners include books from the Netherlands and Flanders, and reward both well-known names and exciting new talent. 

Gouden Griffel – Golden Pen Winner

Uit elkaar – Break Up
Author: Bette Westera 
Illustrator: Sylvia Weve 
Publisher: Gottmer 

A poetry collection that opens with a well-rehearsed cliché: ‘When I see you, my heart beats faster.’ The first poems portray the initial carefree stages of love, but the collection soon moves on to the more difficult aspects. Uit elkaar offers a kaleidoscopic view of love in all its forms in couples and families more broadly. The illustrations, a fragmented reflection of the text, and layout turn this book into a stunning piece of art.

Zilveren Griffel – Silver Pen Winners

Under 6

De man met de zeegroene ogen – The man with sea-green eyes
Author: Koos Meinderts
Illustrator: Sanne te Loo
Publisher: Uitgeverij Hoogland & Van Klaveren 

A man with sea-green eyes washed up on a beach a long time ago and has no need for anything. Until the day he finds a bottle containing a map and the message ‘Look for the treasure.’ So he builds a boat and sets sail. He searches and finds a woman. He tells her he’ll keep looking until he’s found the treasure. The adventure takes him to a huge museum full of fragments that raise questions: What do you do when you find what you’ve been looking for? What makes you happy?

Tijger – Tiger
Author & Illustrator: Jan Jutte
Publisher: Uitgeverij Lemniscaat 

Tijger is an enchanting story about an old lady called Josefien who meets a tiger in the snow in a forest and takes him home. 

Age 6 to 9

Dit is geen Cobra – This is not a cobra
Authors & Illustrators: Bette Westera & Sylvia Weve 
Publisher: Uitgeverij Samsara 

This is a story about Marie who doesn’t want to colour inside the lines and instead draws purple canaries with wheels. Her drawing gets her sent to the Embassy for Children with Perception Problems and Adjustment Difficulties, a home where she’s given extremely boring drawing exercises. Together with the other children, she rebels against the run-of-a-mill regime.

Naar de overkant – The Other Side
Author: Wouter Klootwijk 
Illustrator: Enzo Pérès-Labourdette 
Publisher: Uitgeverij Leopold 

Eefje en Steef are two children names that sound almost the same. They live on opposite sides of the river. Eefje sees the boy making something. Steef builds a raft and decides to try to cross the river where Eefje is waiting for him. A new friendship blossoms. 

Age 9 to 12 

Het werkstuk – of hoe ik verdween in de jungle
The assignment – or how I disappeared into the jungle
Author: Simon van der Geest 
Illustrator: Karst-Janneke Rogaar 
Publisher: Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij 

Eva’s mother is a famous singer, but she doesn’t know much about her father. All she knows is that he was called Rico and came from Suriname. He probably also has 11 toes – just like Eva. So, when she has to write an assignment for Biology, she seizes the opportunity to pick the topic ‘Biological Fathers.’ Her teacher says it’s too complicated, and her mother wants to spare her the disappointment, but Eva won’t change her mind.

Niemand ziet het – No one can tell
Author: Dolf Verroen 
Illustrator: Charlotte Dematons 
Publisher: Uitgeverij Leopold 

This chapter book immediately draws young readers into 13-year old Victor’s world. It’s two years after the end of the war and life is slowly returning to normal. Victor’s parents encourage him to go to High School, but Victor is more worried about whether others can tell that he’s homosexual. Before the story reaches the high point of Victor’s coming out, readers are taken on a journey of not only discovery, but also grief when one of the girls in Victor’s class suddenly dies. The mixed reactions of his parents, both as a couple and separately, make for a powerful story.

Age 12 to 15

Bizar – Strange

Author: Sjoerd Kuyper
Publisher: Uitgeverij Hoogland & Van Klaveren 

Sallie Mo loves books, but Dr Bloem said she’s not allowed to read for three months, only write. If that’s the case, then I’d better write the best book in the world, she thinks. It’ll be about how she gets Dylan, the boy she’s been in love with for a long time. Kuyper has written a gripping YA novel on a meta level. The apparently simple plot about love and a bank director’s runaway children is a treasure trove of existential reflections and literary references. It suddenly becomes an analysis of capitalism and society where the play Hamlet is used as a mirror for relationships and an inescapable fate.

Dor – Dry (Original EN title)

Authors: Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman 
Translator: Lydia Meeder
Publisher: Uitgeverij Fantoom 

California is suffering from severe drought. Not a single drop of water is left in the taps in teenager Alyssa and her little brother Garrett’s house. Panic spreads, hoarding begins, tensions rise, violence breaks out, and the characters in the novel become ever thirstier. A dystopian novel that is terrifyingly close to reality.


Het geheime boek van Sinterklaas – Who was Saint Nicholas? 
Author: Floortje Zwigtman
Illustrator: Sassafras De Bruyn
Publishers: Pelckmans Uitgevers i.s.m. Uitgeverij Rubinstein 

Floortje Zwigtman delves into the history of the annual Dutch tradition of Saint Nicholas, explaining the cultural background and presenting the range of theories and opinions. A topical book in light of current debate in the Netherlands around the tradition of Saint Nicholas and his extremely controversial companion Zwarte Piet. 

Toen het oorlog was, 1939-1945 – During the War, 1939-1945
Authors: Annemiek de Groot, Roos Jans, Juul Lelieveld & Liesbeth Rosendaal 
Illustrator: Irene Goede
Publisher: Uitgeverij Gottmer 

A comprehensive reference book that provides clear answers to many questions whilst also explaining why some questions are difficult to answer: What does liberation mean? What were the direct and indirect consequences of the war? Could there be a Third World War?  


Wat je moet doen als je over een nijlpaard struikelt 
What to do if you trip over a hippo
Author: Edward van de Vendel 
Illustrator: Martijn van der Linden 
Publisher: Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij 

‘First / Say sorry.’ This opening poem, full of irony, sets the tone for the rest of the collection. Poems full of surprising turns (such as let the hippo trip over you in return) that turn the standard self-help Q&A on its head. However, the more the poems are read, the more the initial irony gives way to further interpretation. And whilst the poems may not answer the questions, they may well leave readers with some good advice in other ways.

Gouden PenseelGolden Paintbrush Winner

Hup Herman! 
Yvonne Jagtenberg 
Publisher Gottmer 

Herman is a potbellied pig who doesn’t worry about a thing as long as he can roll around in the mud. He can’t understand why everyone else makes such a fuss, or why the chickens are constantly shouting about who’s the fastest. One day, he decides to show them who really is the fastest. The other animals cheer him on, but does it really matter who wins?

Zilveren Pensels – Silver Paintbrush Winners

Picture Books

Stel dat… – What if …
Illustrator: JooHee Yoon 
Publisher: BOYCOTT 

Illustrations based on a poem by Alistair Reid, translated by Nicolette Hoekmeijer. 

What if the world were about to end? What if you received a large inheritance ? Or the face reflected in the mirror wasn’t yours? And then that person told you who he was? The little boy’s simple frown in JooHee Yoon’s illustrations perfectly captures the absurdity of the situation. The colourful, precise, and minimalist portraits combined with unusual perspectives increase the sense of alienation and absurdity, bringing readers into Yoon’s constantly shifting world. 

Illustrated Children’s Books

De vuurzeevlieg – en andere dierenverhalen – The Blazing Firefly – and other animal stories
Illustrator: Carll Cneut
Author: Toon Tellegen
Publisher: Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij 

The little firefly wants a better name, he wants to be known as the Blazing Firefly. So he writes to all the other animals in the forest for help. Cneut is praised for his combination of broad brushstrokes and finer details that bring out the nature of the other animal characters in the story. 

Wat je moet doen als je over een nijlpaard struikeltWhat to do if you trip over a hippo
Illustrator: Martijn van der Linden
Publisher: Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij

Illustrator Martijn van der Linden receives a Zilveren Penseel for his combination of techniques that create a true catalogue of styles, complementing the range of questions posed by the poems. Each page draws the reader further and further into van der Linden’s multifaceted and occasionally surrealist world.

Illustrated Young Adult

Uit elkaar – Break Up
Illustrator: Sylvia Weve 
Publisher: Gottmer 

Noted for her strong brushstrokes combined with simple connecting ink lines, Weve’s work is full of carefully considered details. The jury also highlighted the use of Japanese binding that skilfully links one spread to the next. 

Illustrator & Author: Peter Van den Ende
Publisher: Em. Querido’s Uitgeverij
Published in English in October 2020 by Levido 

A spectacular debut in which the main character is a paper boat that travels the world, encountering all kinds of situations: danger, strange creatures, and natural phenomena. The book is an ode to adventure, love, beauty and ugliness. The story develops with the help of countless details, right from the start with the cover, and throughout out the rest of the illustrations. Readers searching for metaphors will see the book as poetic coming of age story set in a world that is both terrifying and fragile. 


Illustrator: Lisk Feng 
Publisher: Fontaine Uitgevers
Available in English from Flying Eye Books

Feng is praised for illustrations that are a feast for the eyes, giving readers a sense of what it’s like to climb such a mountain or meet the Abominable Snowman. The format, paper, colours, and illustration techniques mean that readers can travel to these majestic mountains without having to pack a rucksack and get on a plane.

Nadir en Zenith in de wereld van Escher – Nadir and Zenith in the world of Escher 
Illustrator & Author: Wouter van Reek 
Publisher: Leopold 

A successful concept: a contemporary artist/illustrator ‘discovering’ – literally and figuratively – the work of a well-known artist, breathing life into it from a new perspective. Wouter van Reek explores artist Escher’s work through two characters who wander through Escher’s artworks. But how and where do you look when you don’t know what you’re looking for? Nadir and Zenith climb onto blocks, run up and down stairs, and crawl easily through open windows onto the next page, discovering how Escher’s work reflects mathematics and rationality. In this ode to Escher, Nadir and Zenith’s search offers a vantage point from which his work can be viewed.

A selection of other books also received special commendations in the Vlag en Wimpels category. The full list of winners and more details about the winning titles is available in the Jury’s Report (in Dutch) here

Reader’s Prize – Kinderjury

Thousands of children between the ages of 6 and 12 also voted for their favourite books earlier in the year. The winners in the two categories were announced on 24 June. 

6 – 9 years


De waanzinnige boomhut van 104 verdiepingen – The 104-story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, translated by Edward van de Vendel (Lannoo)


Dog Man en Kid Kat Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey, translated by Tjibbe Veldkamp (Condor)

Dolfje ontvoerd! (Dolfje was kidnapped!) by Paul van Loon with illustrations by Hugo van Look (Leopold)

10 – 12 years


Vet koel; Het leven van een loser 13 Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, translated by Hanneke Majoor (De Fontein)


Grappenmakers (Joke Writers) by Nellerike de Voogd with illustraties by Thirza Kok (Volt)

Toen het oorlog was : 1939-1945 (During the war) by Annemiek de Groot e.a. with illustrations by Irene Goede (Gottmer)

All in all Dutch Kinderboekenweek offers a fantastic round up of the best new children’s books out by Dutch writers, including both well-known names already translated into English, and a lot of exciting new talent that deserves more attention and a broader audience in English.

Johanna McCalmont is freelance translator and conference interpreter from Northern Ireland who is currently based in Brussels, Belgium. She works from French, German, Dutch and Italian into English. She was selected for the 2018 New Books in German Emerging Translators programme and she received a bursary from the Dutch Foundation for Literature to attend the BCLT 2020 Literary Summer School with Michele Hutchison. Her work has also been featured in No Man’s Land. You can follow her on Twitter @jo_mccalmont

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