Although Amal Karzai’s My Key was named the winner of the inaugural U.S. Key Colors Competition—an international biennial contest for picture book creators founded in 1996 in Belgium—the spotlight was also on this year’s two runners-up: Susie Oh’s Soomi's Sweater and Emma Ward’s Doris’s Dear Delinquents.

Selected from a pool of 156 entries, the two runners-up were announced in a livestreamed ceremony on Aug. 17. Both Oh and Ward, who is from New York and Michigan respectively, will receive publishing contracts from Clavis. Their books are slated to publish in the fall of 2021.

The Key Colours Competition has been held in other international markets since 1996 and 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.

The jury for the U.S. Key Colors Competition, which was composed of book professionals from diverse backgrounds, included Clavis CEO and Publisher Philippe 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 Guido 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.

Oh’s Soomi’s Sweater, about a girl named Soomi who receives a beautiful sweater that begins to unravel, earned praise from the jury, which called the book “a sweet and very child-centric story that presents a small issue, which for a child’s point of view can feel important and big. The main character’s very supportive friends try to help, but finally, it’s a creative solution of the mother that solves the issue. The illustrations are sweet and stylish and set up a nice atmosphere, without many details, and a feeling of less is more.”

Ward’s Doris’s Dear Delinquents, a simple counting and alphabet book about 26 small and naughty, was praised for its artwork, with the jury saying, “the crocodiles are fun to look at, with sharp teeth and funny dresses. There is a lot of humor and fun.”

For more information about the Key Colors Competition, visit