Bologna Presentations: IBBY Doing the Good Work That Needs to Be Done, Worldwide
Americans. We are darned in love with . . . America. Nothing wrong with a bit of national pride but it can be useful not to forget that we are but one nation on this great big shiny blue globe. That’s why I’m rather fond of this Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Offering a chance to experience nations and titles from around the globe, the sheer lack of representation from America (unless you count our properties, which are numerous) is notable. Americans don’t tend to show up in the Original Art selections. We rarely win the big awards (with a couple notable exceptions). But thanks to organizations like IBBY and USBBY (the American wing) we can still participate.
IBBY, or the International Board on Books for Young People, was initially founded in 1953 and now has 80 chapters around the globe. They also tend to have a big presentation at the fair, so on this day I watched as the new president Sylvia Vardell, sporting a kickin’ IBBY patterned shirt, took the stage.
Before a packed room, Sylvia explained how IBBY mobilizes when areas of the world are in crisis. Most recently, the organization has plans for a mobile library as a safe meeting place and resource for books for bibliotherapy, stories, and activities for the kids in Turkey post-earthquake. And a year ago IBBY provided books to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Unfortunately, there’s been a little bit of turmoil within IBBY. Recently one of IBBY’s Russian illustrators resigned her position as the president of the Hans Christian Andersen jury rather than cause discord because of what her government is doing. It’s not fair for her, but you understand why she made the decision.
Next up was IBBY’s new Bookbird editor Chrysogonus Siddha Malilang. You see, Bookbird is the official international children’s literary journal of IBBY. They even have a new book out: Bookbird: A Flight Through Time. If you have a children’s literature nerd friend, I cannot think of a better, nerdier gift. The big news that Chrys wanted to announce was that apparently until now the magazine has been entirely in English. Seems a bit of a pity considering its reach. So, coming soon, there will be a Spanish language edition of Bookbird that is entirely online. You’ll be able to find it at bookbird-esp.com
What followed next was a worldwide recap of all the work IBBY is doing including the following:
- A warm welcome to their brand new Bulgarian IBBY chapter.
- Armenia – A book camp for rural area children.
- Cameroon – Working throughout the whole year to develop a book culture with children.
- Cuba – Work on the significance of high-quality books.
- France – An emergency accommodation center in a refugee camp providing books
- Lebanon – Bibliotherapy and anxiety training
- Malaysia – They went to remote parts of the country to support the marginalized children
- Mongolia – They carried out a survey on children’s reading post-pandemic and created an assessment.
- Pakistan – A book camel! Beat that, library pack horses.
- Peru – The Trust Libraries – creating a book culture in the context of crisis.
- Zimbabwe – Authors and illustrators went to schools at no cost to the schools themselves
This brings up the next point. IBBY spoke at length about their Children in Crisis Fund. As their website says it, “provides support for children whose lives have been disrupted through war, civil disorder or natural disaster. The two main activities that are supported by the Fund are the therapeutic use of books and storytelling in the form of bibliotherapy, and the creation or replacement of collections of selected books that are appropriate to the situation.” This year there are two new projects taking up their attention: One in the Ukraine (done in conjunction with the Universal Reading Foundation and Ukrainian publishers) and one in Pakistan. I actually didn’t know this, but some of the worst floods in their recent history happened there so IBBY has gone to seven damaged schools and created reading corners.
And as mentioned before, they are looking at Turkey/Syria and the earthquakes. The aforementioned mobile library will travel across seven regions. Colleagues of IBBY Turkey were even present at this announcement. People were encouraged to make a direct donation to their fund.
Next, the schedule for the 2024 International Congress was posted and I do like its first discussion topic: “Good books: the drivers of change”. I think that considering the current state of book banning in our country, this is certainly true. This conference in 2024 will be held in Trieste, Italy which got me to thinking about how fascinating it is to me the degree to which Italy has really set itself up to be now simply the location of the Bologna Book Fair, but a center of all things children’s book related. Yet, as the recent censorship discussion made clear, Italian schools don’t really support school libraries or librarians. Fascinating.
Of course that isn’t to say that their meetings aren’t ever near the States. In 2026 the 40th IBBY Congress will be in Ottawa, Canada. The Theme: “Listening to Each Other’s Voices.” And in 2028 it’ll go to Barcelona (people were literally hooting in the room with that announcement).
Then Chrysogonus Malilang spoke again. He stressed that for the international children’s literature magazine Bookbird he would like more people from non-English speaking nations to submit more often. Inviting everyone to submit, “beyond just the English speaking sphere,” he later told me at a party that he was worried the statement might put off some people. It seemed to make a fair amount of sense to me, though. Indeed, when I later picked up a copy of Bookbird at the IBBY booth, I saw that the first article (in an issue spotlighting Southeast Asian Children’s Literature) was “Philippine Children’s Stories as Protest: A Cognitive Stylistics Approach.” Chrys told me that as it happens, the Filipino children’s book situation is incredibly strong, but no one ever hears about it. In the piece itself, it spotlights “how five Filipino children’s books from the last seven years present a tumultuous political situation to children.”
Next, there was a discussion of the 2023 Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. Recently I attended a very large children’s book celebration in the Chicago area called the Andersen’s Children’s Book Breakfast. The first guest speaker this year was Jason Chin and he spoke about the creation of his book The Universe in You, in which he depicts a girl in a wheelchair. Ever since I heard Jason Chin talk about the inaccurate illustrations of wheelchairs out there, and the sheer amount of research and work he put into gathering firsthand lived experiences, I’ve had a hard time looking at wheelchairs in books without wondering about how accurately they’re depicted. We need representation, yes, but accurate representation! Otherwise, isn’t it all just lip service?
In any case, just a few days after the death of disability activist Judy Heumann (subject of the remarkable picture book bio Fighting for Yes! by Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Vivien Mildenberger) we heard about the work being done with books for and about disabled children and teens, coming from the Toronto Public Library Staff and volunteers. The choices are split into two categories. Category One: Accessible Books. “Books using different systems and designs can made reading accessible for everyone. These may include braille, sign language, large print, non-verbal communication systems or tactile formats. We have also included easy-to-read books with simplified, age-appropriate concepts and shorter texts that rae specifically written for young people who are neurodivergent or have intellectual or developmental disabilities.”
Category Two: Portrayals of Disability. “This section includes fiction and nonfiction books that depict people who are d/Deaf or disabled. These subjects do not include physical health issues, such as common childhood illnesses and injuries, unless they lead to chronic disability. Mental health issues such as OCD or schizophrenia are also included.”
They spoke about the different categories. New this year was this focus on the neurodivergent. I kept thinking about how hard it would be to judge such a committee without in-depth experience in a multitude of areas. Mention was also made about how representation has really improved in the last few years. In the past, if someone wanted to put someone differently abled in a book then they’d just slap a wheelchair on the page. These days there’s a lot more thought and attention. Mention was made of a book that will be available on the U.S. market on April 11th of this year. What Happened to You? by James Catchpole and illustrated by Karen George, here’s the description from the publisher:
“What happened to you? Was it a shark? A burglar? A lion? Did it fall off? A boy named Joe is trying to play pirates at the playground, but he keeps being asked what happened to his leg. Bombarded with questions and silly suggestions, Joe becomes more and more fed up…until the kids finally understand they don’t need to know what happened. And that they’re wasting valuable playtime!
Based on the author’s real childhood experiences, this honest, funny, and authentic picture book is an empowering read for anyone with a disability, and for young readers learning how best to address differences.”
You know, we talk a lot about the Bologna Book Festival and how cool it is, but it’s hardly the only children’s book festival out there in the world. So special mention was also made this day of the Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival, or NamBook. On the same island, and at the same time, is the Nami Island Picture Book Concours, or simply NamCours. This year it’s to be held from May 5-21st and the people I’ve spoken to say it’s amazing. The festival was established in 2005 and it just takes over this pizza slice-shaped island in South Korea. Every year they have a guest of honor country and this year it’s Finland. You know what that means, don’t you? Expect a big Moomin Exhibition, and the featuring of three Finnish illustrators.
Now I know we were all just talking recently about the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the fact that this year the winner was Laurie Halse Anderson. That’s pretty cool! But the other international children’s book award to make note of is the Hans Christian Andersen Award. It is, according to the website, “the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children’s books. Given every other year by IBBY, the Hans Christian Andersen Awards recognize lifelong achievement and are presented to an author and an illustrator whose complete works have made an important, lasting contribution to children’s literature.” They released the nominees this year and the two reps from America? Judy Blume and Christian Robinson. But of course!
When all is said and done, there’s much to be said for paying attention to the hard work of this international group.
And now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to try to wrangle a press invite to NamiBook!
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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