Getting All Kinds of International with USBBY
In The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature the Preface says that "The development of children’s literature has to be understood within a context that is international, not just national…" (pg. xxxiii). To which we reply, but of course! Yet how much interaction do we everyday schlubs have with the larger international children’s literary community?
As it turns out, we can participate quite a bit if we join a little something called the United States Board on Books for Young People or USBBY. Founded to promote "international understanding and good will through books for children and teenagers", USBBY serves as the U.S. national section of the International Board on Books for Youth (or IBBY). It facilitates the international exchange of information about books and reading, provides financial support to IBBY to assist underfunded National Sections with their IBBY dues, and their donations help IBBY meet its goal of promoting international understanding through children’s books. Not too shabby. Recently I learned that the President Elect of this organization is none other than Scholastic’s Director of Library and Educational Marketing, John Mason. So I asked him a couple questions about the organization, including how we here in the States can help to determine the winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
Fuse #8: Well, Mr. President Elect sir, how long have you been a member of USBBY? For that matter, what got you into the organization in the first place?
John Mason: As Director of Library and Educational Marketing for Scholastic trade books, for quite a few years I have paid the annual membership dues for Scholastic to be a corporate member of USBBY, because I believed it was an organization that publishers should support. A few years ago the Children’s Book Council appointed me as one of their representatives on USBBY’s Board of Directors. One of the things I focused on was encouraging more publishers to join as sponsor members. We created a new category of membership for publishing companies. As a marketing person, I have tried to help USBBY position itself more effectively and articulate its mission more clearly, and attract a wider audience.
Fuse #8: In general, do you see a lot of librarians joining or is it a mix of various professions overall?
John Mason: It is a mix of professions overall, but there are certainly many librarians who are members of USBBY. USBBY has partnerships with four "institutional patron members" each of whom appoints two representatives to its Board: the ALA (American Library Association), the IRA (International Reading Association), the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), and the CBC (Children’s Book Council). The USBBY membership is made up of many of the leading advocates for children’s literature in these associations – the ALA, IRA, and NCTE. The biennial IBBY Regional Conference organized by USBBY brings together this cross-section of committed, dedicated people from these associations, and it’s great to be part of the enthusiasm, learning, and synergy that happens when these different groups merge together with one common purpose. The conference has a special feel to it that is different from ALA – more intimate, focused, and inspiring! As a librarian, if you join USBBY you will be exposed to, and have the opportunity to work with, some amazing people, and learn more about global connections through children’s literature.
Fuse #8: Let’s talk about the USBBY mission to "broaden the horizons of young readers in the United States by encouraging them to read books from other countries." In the current state of publishing, children’s books from around the world are few and far between. Some publishers like Kane/Miller make a special effort to translate and import titles from a variety of different countries, but bigger companies haven’t jumped on that particular bandwagon. How do you reconcile USBBY’s mission with the reality of the publishing industry’s attitude towards imports?
John Mason: Well, there are some mainstream publishers that have been successful with imports – for example Arthur A. Levine Books has consistently sought out and published children’s books from other countries and cultures – and the Batchelder Award recognizes translated books. But you’re right, there’s plenty of room for growth in this area. As part of its mission to "build bridges" and promote international understanding through children’s books, USBBY has a very active committee that selects, annually, a list of "Outstanding International Books" – books published or distributed in the US that were originated or first published in another country. The list is showcased each year in the February issue of School Library Journal. The goal is to create more awareness of, and demand for, books from other countries, so that US publishers will be encouraged to offer more books from diverse countries to young readers in America.
Fuse #8: The other mission of USBBY (you see how helpful I found your pamphlet) is "To work with other countries to encourage their publishing programs and bring books to more children around the world." Can you give me some examples of this? What have you done in the past?
John Mason: USBBY supports the work of IBBY sections in other countries in a variety of ways. We contribute to "Hands Across the Sea" which allows underfunded sections to join IBBY by helping them with their dues, and to the "Children in Crisis Fund" which helps rebuild libraries destroyed by disaster or war, and to the "Special Projects Fund" which supports innovative book distribution programs in areas of need. Our IBBY dues also support international awards such as the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award – the two most recent winners of that award created amazing programs to bring books to children in Rwanda and Laos. USBBY also has special relationships with its "twinning partners" – currently Haiti, Lebanon, Palestine, Zambia, and South Africa.
Fuse #8: I am but a poor librarian but the $35 membership seemed fairly low to me (to say nothing of the $15 student membership). Even more interesting than this, however, were the USBBY committees people can join. In the blogosphere we often hear about the Hans Christian Andersen Awards and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award but I doubt many of us knew that we could help decide their outcome. Could you talk a little about the committee process and experience?
John Mason: You are right, the Basic annual membership fee of $35 is very affordable. If you feel you want to contribute more, you can join as a Sustaining Member ($75), or a Donor Member ($150). All members, regardless of level, are encouraged to get involved and volunteer to work on committees. The USBBY Hans Christian Andersen Committee, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Committee, and IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award Committee, select nominees that are submitted to international juries for these awards. Domestic USBBY selection committees include the Outstanding International Books Committee, the Bridge to Understanding Award Committee, and the committee to select the biennial Dorothy Briley Memorial Lecturer. You can also work on the committee that plans the biennial North American Regional IBBY Conference (the current committee is now planning the next conference which will be in St. Charles, Illinois, Oct 2-4, 2009), the local arrangements for the conference, publicity, membership, publications, and more. Come to any of the USBBY co-sponsored meetings at IRA, ALA, or NCTE, and sign up! Or go to the website at www.usbby.org.
I am much obliged to John and the good people at USBBY for allowing me the chance to conduct this interview. And if you’ve any questions you’ve only to go to their website to find out more.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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