INTERNATIONAL EVENTS Nami Island Children's Book Festival


Not long back from working in South Korea, our newest Words & Pictures features editor, Loretta Flockhart, reports on this biennial event: the Nami Island International Children's Book Festival and Picture Book illustrator Concours, to be held May 2023. 

Every two years on a tiny island outside Seoul, South Korea, there is the Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival, or NamBook, as it’s commonly referred to. Running alongside the festival is a competition for illustrators, the Nami Island Picture Book Concours, also known as NamCours.


The book festival launched in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen and runs for the whole of May when the island attracts visitors from all over the world. 2023 will be no exception as NamBook bounces back post Covid-19.

The festival takes over the island, which is already awash with creativity and storytelling. NamBook brings exhibitions, theatre shows, experience booths, pop-up stages, talks, arts and crafts all aimed at celebrating the imagination and fairy tale, myth, legend, story and picture books.


Nami Concours permanent exhibition space

But even outside the festival month, the island is worth a visit as it is a veritable feast for writers and illustrators alike with galleries, libraries, shops and a permanent exhibition of previous NamCours winners.

The 2023 NamCours awards will be held at the opening ceremony of the festival, and it’s often the case that travelling exhibitions of the award-winning works are arranged for both Korean and international markets.

Nami Concours winning works on display

NamCours aim to “encourage artists’ creativity and contribute to the advancement of the quality of picture book illustrations” and it provides opportunities to recognise illustrators within the tiered system of awards. 

First place is the Grand Prix. In 2021 this was awarded to Russian illustrator, Victoria Semykina, for her work: François Truffaut: The Child Who Loved Cinema.


This is followed by two Golden Island winners. In 2021 the prizes  went to Dale Blankenaar, South Africa and Noushin Sadeghian, Iran. Then there are five Green Island and ten Purple Island winners. Details of all previous NamCours winners are available here, listed by year:

What began in 2013 with 619 entries from 42 countries, NamCours has grown considerably with the 2021 event receiving 2,069 entries from 95 different countries. Winners have come from South Africa, Iran, Japan, Europe, the USA and across South America, but as yet none from the UK. So although the deadline for entries has passed for this year’s award, it’s worth keeping an eye on the event for the future. The next NamCours will be in May 2025, with the deadline in the autumn of 2024.

Book towers and winning works in the forest, Nami Island

The winning works are reproduced into huge book sculptures and displayed among the trees until the autumn of the festival year. In addition, all shortlisted entrants have their work exhibited on the island during NamBook and are included in the catalogue that accompanies the festival and promoted around the world.

Forest trail of illustrator works

Illustrators wishing to enter are invited to submit five illustrations for picture books on any theme, but the set should comprise one story. This year, NamCours winners should be announced online soon. For all information regarding the competition, visit the official NamCours webpage.


Aside from the competition, the island is an inspiring place for any writer or illustrator. As you walk around the island, which is comfortably done in a day, you encounter all manner of grotesque and funny goblins and gremlins as well as other characters from story, lore and legend. There are funny and rude pottery characters to be found along the paths and trails, which are flat and easy to amble.

Fairytale characters occupying the island

Nami Island is a self-proclaimed and independent Naminara Republic and in 2010 the island was awarded the status of a UNICEF child-friendly park, the first of its kind at the time, and it is against this backdrop that the festival and concours spring into life.


The island works as a forest library. Among the tree-lined avenues and woody nooks are mini libraries in the shape of animals. You’ll find bookshelves in the toilets, in holes in the trees, in seated shacks and cafes. The island invites you to not just read, but to play with and even roll around on the books on the forest floor and for a more traditional setting, there’s a picture book library cafe and an international children’s library to access books from every continent. It’s a spacious bright creative place with room to amuse and explore. 

Read and play in the international children's library

Each continent's books are represented 

In addition to the festival and competition, Nami Island is also the official sponsor of the IBBY Hans Christian Andersen Awards and has a long history of supporting and promoting children’s books. The whole thing is the brainchild of Minn Byeong-do, a well-known figure in Korea, who devoted himself to arts and culture following Korea’s liberation under Japanese rule.

Hans Christian Andersen Awards

Minn focused on children’s literature and song and established the Joseon Children’s Literature Association and went on to develop numerous projects including an alphabet workbook and a literary magazine, Saessak. Any spare time was give over to planting trees and thus the island became a nature lover’s paradise and makes for the perfect artist’s date.

The combination of the island, festival and concours are a lasting legacy to Minn’s dedication to promoting literature — for children, the authors and illustrators.

*All images, including header image, provided by Loretta Flockhart


Loretta Flockhart is the new Creative Secrets editor, and features editor, for Words & Pictures. She recently returned from a work stint in South Korea where she visited Nami Island. It was a nudge from her inner creative to go there, and she's glad she did. The bookishness and natural beauty had her returning often. Feel free to drop her any question about this festival and illustration concours. Message her on Twitter @lolajflo.

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