Tuesday, September 30, 2008

IBBY Conference

In early September, I attended the IBBY conference in Copenhagen. To be honest, I was disappointed by this conference, though on paper it sounded really interesting (not to mention the fact that the social events, such as dinner at Tivoli and a buffet at Copenhagen’s city hall, were fun).

IBBY is the International Board on Books for Young People, with chapters in 72 countries. Every two years, it has a large conference, at which there are many presentations, and the H.C. Andersen Prize is awarded to one living author and one living illustrator (this year, Queen Margrethe of Denmark gave the prizes to the winners, Swiss author Jürg Schubiger and Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti), and the IBBY Honour List of good books and translations for children is announced, and the IBBY-Asahi Awards for reading promotion are presented (this year to Editions Bakame of Rwanda and Action with Lao Children). Incidentally, regarding the H.C. Andersen award nominees, as I was reading through the detailed list, which was given in Bookbird magazine, I was surprised, and a little frustrated, to see that a not insignificant number of writers felt that writing for children was easier than writing for adults. I would definitely disagree with that.

One of the keynote speeches was by a Norwegian woman (note: not a Jewish Norwegian) who wrote children's books based on her own experience as a Norwegian child during the German invasion in Norway in WW2 and another keynote speech was by a Danish writer, who had published children's books based on her mother's experiences during the war (her mother was Jewish and left Hungary for Denmark, but the author herself was baptized and raised Lutheran). Another speaker, who presented children’s books on the Holocaust, was criticized for not discussing Palestinians, even though that was not her area of expertise and there was not enough time to discuss every possible issue. Also, there was a keynote speaker who discussed Palestinian children’s books. So something that made the conference leave a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak, was that quite a few people complained about all this attention being paid to Jews at the conference. That an academic conference – especially one on children’s literature, which should be a field that is open and accepting – is expected to be politically correct is not news to me, but it is disappointing.

The next post will discuss more on ideology and children’s literature.


Helena said...

Hello BJ,
First of all let me thank you for answering my previous comment.
Childrens literature is quite an interesting subject. I have never translated any childrens books, but I have translated scripts of cartoon shows, which I also adapted for dubbing into European Portuguese.
All the cartoon shows I got appeared to be quite superficial at first, but as I translated more and adapted more episodes, I found some "hidden" ethnical jokes and some "hidden" sexual remarks.
I had a brief experience as an elementary school teacher, and children certainly don't need to be taught this kind of jokes, they can come up with similar ones on their own, and that's why the role of childrens literature should be emphasized.
Some years ago I read a report about childrens literature in eastern Europe, where they said that whereas in some countries the first world war was portrayed as something terrible in others it was conveyed as something necessary, and that while in the first group of countries the people and the events leading up to this war were depicted as "criminals", in the second one they were presented as heroes.
Now that so many eastern european countries have joined the EU, I wonder how the situation evolved.
Most certainly they already started writing on other topics...
Do you know anything about this?
Nevertheless, I believe that the "power" of this type of literature should not be so underrated; after all the first books we read as children have an impact on the way our ideas start to develop...

Ivan Cortez said...


I agree with the both of you, children's literature must not be underrated, and an IBBY Conference should be more open to different points of view.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you both for your comments. As you can imagine, I agree!
Helena, no, I never heard about that regarding the books in eastern Europe, but it sounds very interesting. I would like to learn more about it.
I do think we have to be aware of positions of power when it comes to children's lit -- the power of the authors, editors, translators, publishers, teachers, and other adults over the children. Children's literature is a powerful thing, but the power shouldn't be abused. And we should be wary of people who want to make children's literature an ideological thing.

Best wishes,

Helena said...

Hello again.
If you can read Portuguese, you might be interested in this website:

Casa da Leitura (House of Reading)
It's by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundantion(Lisbon) and focuses mainly on children's lit in Portuguese language (not just from Portugal) and also has a section on foreign editions - it might be interesting to get an idea of how foreign children's lit is seen from this side of Europe.
There are many cool links to weblogs by famous writers and other websites.
The books are divided into groups according to their target readers -(i.e - age/language level).
Enjoy it!

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of all the rewritten fairytales I've seen where they turn a male protagonist into a female so that little girls don't grow up to feel like they have to sit around waiting for a prince to rescue them. Personally (as a woman) I think the effort is misplaced. I think you would do better to teach little girls to relate to the protagonist, whether male or female, and not just to characters who have the same gender as the child.

The political angle of books is another matter. No one grows up objectively free of political messages. All kinds of books should be available, but I view this as far more the parents' role in selecting the kinds of books they want their children to read. Well, especially little children. Once the kids are old enough to pick their own books, I suppose parents and librarians and peers can help them choose.

It's an interesting topic!

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks again for your comments.
Helena, that site sounds interesting, but I don't think my Portuguese is good enough!
Also, yes, how far books go towards being politically correct is a tricky subject -- see today's post for more information on that!

Best wishes,