In a livestreamed ceremony on Aug. 17, Clavis Publishing awarded the top prize at the first U.S. Key Colors Competition, an international biennial contest for picture book creators founded in 1996 in Belgium—to Amal Karzai’s My Key. Karzai, who is based in New York, will be awarded $8,000 and a publishing contract from Clavis.

The two runners-up were Susie Oh’s Soomi's Sweater and Emma Ward’s Doris’s Dear Delinquents. Both Oh, who is from New York, and Ward, who is based in Michigan, will also receive publishing contracts from Clavis. All three books will publish in the fall of 2021.

The Key Colours Competition, which has been held in other international markets since 1996, was created to encourage young authors and illustrators to create picture books. Many bestselling author-illustrators were discovered through the competition, including Guido van Genechten, Anita Bijsterbosch, and Francesca Pirrone. For the first U.S. edition of the competition, 156 entries were submitted, 12 of which were named finalists and five of which were shortlisted.

“Clavis Publishing believes there is illustration talent all over the world,” said Clavis CEO and Publisher Philippe Werck, who founded Clavis in his hometown of Hasselt, Belgium. “The themes of children books are universal, the way illustrators give color to these themes may vary based on their cultural background and environment. We would like to see as many different colors in our picture books as possible. So we want to uncover and get a taste for the US color pallet. That’s why we organized this Key Colors' edition.”

The jury for the U.S. Key Colors Competition, which was composed of book professionals from diverse backgrounds, included, Werck; Emma Kantor, deputy children’s book editor at Publishers Weekly; Meghan Goel, children's book buyer and programming director at BookPeople; and international bestselling illustrator and author van Genechten, who won the 1998 Belgian Key Colours Competition for his picture book Rikki and whose Little White Fish has sold more than 600,000 copies in 20 countries.

My Key—a hymn to libraries about a bored girl who discovers a strange key that drops from the sky and opens a world of magic, adventures, and learning—was praised by the jury for “the atmosphere and the quality of the art” which it called “outstanding and surprising page after page. It gives us an insight into the protagonist’s head. The use of light and dark creates a very special tension in the viewer. The few images in color give warmth and enhance the intense imagination that books can give.”

For more information about the Key Colors Competition, visit