Bologna Presentations: Children’s Laureates Worldwide Assemble!
I picture them the same way one might picture the Avengers. In each nation, someone has been given the call to protect children’s literature, whatever the cost. Then, once a year, they are invited to gather in Bologna to talk about their work and deeds.
Yes, it was the program “Children’s Laureates in Conversation”. And provided at the program was a handy dandy little booklet that collected profiles on eleven children’s laureates. Was our own National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature Meg Medina included? You bet your butt she was!
But, alas, Meg was not at the conference today. Instead, seven (still impressive) children’s laureates and literature ambassadors were gathered together from all over the world in a talk moderated by Julia Eccleshare (the Guardian’s children’s book editor, amongst many other accomplishments). The line-up included:
- Áine Ní Ghlinn (Laureate na nÓg, Ireland)
- Joseph Coehlo (Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate, United Kingdom)
- Casi Wyn (Bardd Plant Cymru, Wales)
- Gabrielle Wang (Children’s Laureate, Australia)
- Tialda Hoogeveen (Berneboeke ambassadeur Fryslân, Friesland)
- Nioosha Shams (Sveriges läsambassadör, Sweden)
- Susanna Mattiangeli (Children’s Laureate, Italy);
I mean, this is why one comes to this fair, is it not?
What was particularly interesting about this selection of laureates was that each one of them focused closely on households in which children speak a language at home that is different from the national language of their country.
Julia Eccleshare also stressed from the start that she hoped that this program would inspire other countries to have laureates of their own.
So this program was not a conversation, as I had originally assumed, but rather a presentation. Each laureate stood, introduced themself, said something about their own language, and then read or, in one case, sang something.
Áine Ní Ghlinn was first. She’s the sixth laureate to come out of Ireland but the first to write her children’s books exclusively Irish. As she explained, it’s actually a minority language. Everyone may have a few words here and there, but not everyone speaks it. Her goal was to “lift the invisibility cloak off of Irish”. She acknowledged too, not without some humor, that while Irish may be considered niche, Irish children’s books are a niche of a niche. As a result, Áine helped to set up a project giving away 25 books for schools in Irish for any school who wanted them. Additionally, she’s worked up 80 ideas to get children reading Irish for pleasure. She then read to us in Irish.
Gabrielle Wang from Australia was next wearing what I can only describe as a kickass mushroom dress. As a Chinese-Australian, she spoke of not ever seeing herself in books as a child. For us, she read from her book Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon. I was particularly intrigued by the graphic novel sections spotted throughout the book. Coming away from her program I thought about how much I’d love to read that book. *cough cough* rights agents *cough cough*
Up next, Casi Wyn. Casi, who could roll an R better than anyone I’ve ever heard, is the Welsh language children’s poet laureate. Though she’s a professional singer, Casi spends much of her time visiting schools where Welsh is predominately spoken. Her program was a bit different since she sang to us all. See the video below at the end of this post if you’d like to hear it for yourself.
Susanna Mattiangeli from Italy explained to us that the previous laureate wasn’t able to travel and meet and do his mission due to the pandemic. So she is the first one to have the opportunity and she takes her job very seriously. Her mission, as she sees it, comes in two parts. First, to travel the country as much as possible and to meet as many kids as possible. And as many teachers and librarians, particularly in the south of Italy. After all, it’s not exactly abundant in libraries and bookstores down there. The second part of her job to is consider the quality of reading with special attention placed on how reading is taught in school.
Nioosha Shams is Iranian-Swedish and she started her ambassadorship just as the protests began in Iran. When that happened, she found herself having a crisis of faith. As she says, why should she try to get Swedish kids to read when Iranian girls can’t even get their rights? But in time she realized that her job is to work for Swedish children to still have those rights in the future. For Nioosha, the idea of the “mother tongue” is important to her. As she said, around this particular topic (whether people in Sweden should speak anything but Swedish) “the narrative is run by neo-fascists”. And she works with teens because she feels that they’re often forgotten in these conversations. As a result, Nioosha tries to lift their voices and make them proud of their languages. She even has a group that she’s been working with. They’re starting a podcast, they’re talking to politicians, they come to her events, and they’re not hard to work with at all.
Tialda Hoogeveen told us about Frisian, a minority language in Friesland. She told us that she focuses on teenagers as well as children and that these kids have the right to read in their own language. Yet for that to work, you must provide high quality children’s literature IN that language (that is key).
Joseph Coehlo was the one who rounded out the program. As the 12th Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate, sporting a fairly slick Casper the Friendly Ghost t-shirt, he told a story of once being interviewed by 5-year-olds. The kids were doing a good job when one asked him, “Who’s your friend?” Slightly unnerved (as he put it, he didn’t want this to be a Sixth Sense type of situation) he asked for clarification. “Your friend at the factory”. The factory? Turns out the kid had a pretty good sense that books come out of book factories. Hence, this guy must have a friend there, if he had books in his own name. It’s that kind of imagination he loves. Joseph is a performance poet who went on to become a writer, and poetry is without a doubt his first love. In fact, he releases a video every Monday morning to show how to engage with poetry (seen here). No video is more than 10 minutes and figures that by the end of his term there will be 80 video poetry resources for anyone to use and utilize. “There’s a lot of baggage with poetry,” he said, and he aims to end that.
Now I don’t usually do this, but I did create a TikTok video out of the performances of Casi Wyn and Joseph Coehlo. I’ll post it here for you, because these are voices that I think you need to hear and experience. And, after all, why should I hoard all the fun?
Filed under: Bologna Children's Book Fair
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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