A powerful theme at this week’s IBBY Congress in Athens was the ability of children’s books to bring hope in chaotic, confusing and, for many, terrifying times. In her talk ‘Before they Give the Order’, author Deborah Ellis (The Breadwinner etc. http://deborahellis.com/) spoke of books as prevention not cure. Children brought up on stories about vastly different lives and perspectives will grow into global citizens - politicians, truck drivers, lawyers, parents, teachers, shopkeepers - full of empathy, compassionate curiosity and the ability to connect with other cultures. This generation of peace-lovers, she said, will be equipped to resist and drown out the voice of anyone who ‘gives the order’ to shoot, abuse, ethnically cleanse or hate in any other terribly human way.
Gregory Maguire (Wicked etc. http://gregorymaguire.com/) turned on ‘The Light Within the Story’. He celebrated fairy tales as beacons of ‘heroic generosity … small and intense like garlic’ that endure because they champion love, kindness, justice and mercy. (Of course they do a good line in sexism, ageism, ugly-ism etc. too, but his enchanting talk swept us above the isms and into their beauty.)
Inspiring, thrilling stuff – all made possible by the wonderful generosity and organisation of the hosts, IBBY Greece. Where better to light up the darkness than the birthplace of democracy? Go raibh míle maith agat from IBBY Ireland for a wonderful three days.
Talk about melting pot – East and West have met with a cheer at the 36th IBBY International Congress in Athens. On the first of the three-day conference, delegates and speakers from many of the 76 member countries presented papers and posters and shared ideas and stories to promote intercultural understanding through children’s books.
From fairy tale retellings to refugee experiences portrayed in literature, talks explored ways of bringing east and west together through books. Themes included the use of boats in stories, real and fictional, to act as bridges between cultures, and depictions of war in Greek literature from Herodotus to modern graphic novels.
And perhaps the highlight - a sung and spoken performance of parts of Homer’s Odyssey, accompanied variously by an Ancient Greek flute, harp and conch shell.
Not everyone likes reading; not everyone can write, but who doesn’t love a good story? And where words fail pictures can prevail, as the Silent Books (IBBY’s travelling collection of more than a hundred wordless picture books) have proved, crossing continents and connecting cultures around the world.
At the Youth Library Group (YLG) Annual Seminar this month, librarians from across Ireland gathered in Ballinasloe, County Galway, to explore ways of encouraging a love of books in children and young people.
After a session on recommending good reads, the focus turned to pictures. YLG participants heard how the first set of Silent Books was brought to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa in 2012 to bring comfort, escape and delight to refugees on their journey to Europe. They learned about the set of Silent Books that visited libraries around Ireland last year. This travelling exhibition was accompanied by IBBY Ireland’s Nation Creation workshops in which primary school pupils dreamed up, drew and described their ideal countries, complete with laws, flags and anthems.
Participants then browsed the Silent Books themselves, kindly loaned by Marian Keyes at dlr LexIcon who collated the library’s own set after the Irish tour. The beauty of the books, both visually and conceptually, inspired ideas for their use in libraries and schools, such as creating new stories from a single page of pictures; encouraging children to tell the stories from the pictures; asking questions to provoke curiosity and wonder, and using the calming environment of a book in a library to teach English to immigrant children and their families. The wild visual adventures between the covers are a wonderful springboard for language learning, imaginative play, confidence building, intercultural communication and celebration of difference.
For the final leg of its Irish tour, the IBBY Collection of books for and about young people with disabilities is stopping over in Wexford Town Library where author-illustrator Tatyana Feeney brought it to life for local school children through a workshop called 'Take Leave of Your Senses'.