A little while ago, Julia Eccleshare over at the Guardian Children's Books website discussed the best books to help children feel connected with Europe. Her list included such classics as Madeline and some more recent titles like Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers. It is an interesting starting point, as much for its inclusions as for what it leaves out: the listed books tend to be older titles, written by British writers and a lot of them are set in Paris (a more or less fictional Paris).
What about cracking adventures set in the French capital that don't involve the Eiffel tower? (You may want to try the Golem series by siblings Marie-Aude, Lorris and Elvine Murail - Walker Books, 10+). What about detective stories set in Germany that don'tinvolve World War Two? (Check out The Pasta Detectives by Andreas Steinhöfel, Chicken House, 9+). Or what about lovely books to share with your young reader that give you a taste of Sweden but don't involve either Pippi Longstocking or Nils Holgersson (although we love them, too)? (When Dad Showed Me the Universe by Ulf Stark and Eva Eriksson, published by Gecko Press, 5+, should do the trick)
Some publishers have made it their mission to 'help children feel connected with Europe', if not in so many words. The likes of Pushkin Press, Little Island, Alma Books and Gecko Press have been bringing fantastic and fantastically different books from all over the world (including Europe) to young readers of English for years.
The website Outside In World is a brilliant ressource as it catalogues all the children's books that get translated into English and allows the user to browse by country, artist or age.
What would our readers suggest be added to this list? The brilliantlly wacky Kurt by Norwegian writer and illustrator Erlend Loe (published by Gecko Press) might give you some inspiration...
With all the current enthusiasm for barriers – from Brexit to European fences keeping out refugees, to Trump’s proposed wall bordering Mexico – today marks a wonderfully welcome anniversary of bridge building.
70 years ago, on July 3rd 1946, the International Exhibition of Children’s Books opened in Munich. With books from 14 European countries on loan, and paintings by children around Europe on display, it sounds like a fun library event. But the date and location made it momentous. The Germans had surrendered only a year before and the country, not to mention most of Europe, was in tatters. The only reading matter for German children had been Nazi propaganda; any books questioning the regime or its values had long since gone up in smoke.
Those children were the future of the country. If they were to rebuild it from the ruins of Nazism, they needed exposure to new ideas – cultural tolerance, kindness, international understanding – that would encourage a different world view. And what better vehicle than stories that could sweep them away from the misery of daily life, from the bombed out streets and schools, the lack of food and fathers?
Everything about the exhibition was amazing, from its backing by the American army, to the agreement from countries so recently at war to send books to Germany, to the European postal services working at all. Most amazing of all was its organiser. Jella Lepman, a Jewish journalist, had fled to London after Hitler came to power. She was asked to return to Germany just 5 months after the Nazis surrendered to advise the occupying American army on the cultural and educational needs of German women and children. Imagine the terror she must have felt at the thought of setting foot in the nation that had massacred 6 million of her people. Imagine the incredulous laughter that could have met their request. And in her book A Bridge of Children’s Books, she admits that:
‘had only adults been involved, I would not have hesitated to say no. The word ‘Re-education’ rang hollow in my ears, too, as far as adults were concerned. But children – did that not change matters? I found it easy to believe that the children all too soon would fall into the wrong hands if no help came from the world outside.’
Seven years later, Lepman founded the InternationalBoard Books for Young People (IBBY) in Zurich. Now in 76 countries, IBBY promotes understanding through children’s books, through its awards and activities such as reading promotion, setting up libraries, organising storytelling events, supporting children affected by war or natural disaster through the Children in Crisis fund, and many other projects.
What a testimony to courage and vision that, sixty-three years later, IBBY members in 76 countries are building ever stronger bridges through children’s books. Thank you, Jella Lepman, for a simple ‘yes’ that transcended personal safety and pain to benefit thousands of readers, young and old, rich and poor, around the world.
Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire's take on the land of Oz (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West), hit the stage 10 years ago this September. Not as long-running but similarly popular, the Wicked Young Writer Awards were established in 2010 'in order to link the important messages of the production with a competition that would inspire young people to use their writing to look at life a little differently.'
This year, the head Judge was Cressida Cowell and she was full of praise for the 'poignant, amusing and captivating' entries: 'They addressed really big issues, war, homelessness, prejudice, and abuse' she said. 'As an author, one of the main messages I want to get across to the young people in [the UK] is that a career in writing or the Arts is an option open to them. These young writers whether finalists or winners need to carry on writing.'
This year also saw the inaugural For Good Award for non-fiction which aims to encourage 15-25 year olds to 'write essays or articles that celebrate the positive impact that people can have on each other, their community and the world we live in.' The finalists in these categories wrote about, among other things, 'Accepting Help', 'How communities like Nerdfighteria use the internet to empower people and spread positivity around the world', 'Your Word is Power' or 'Reading is FUN!'
All finalists and winners (in all age categories, from 5 to 25) to be found here.
June 20 marks the United Nations' World Refugee Day. There are many events organized to mark this day of awareness and action.
Children and young people across the world are touched by the situation, either directly or remotely through the constant barrage of news items relaying shocking facts, figures and images.
Last month, Oxford University Press ran a survey of over 120,000 short stories written by UK children for a writing competition run by BBC Radio 2. The survey found that "usage of the word ‘refugee’ was up by 368%, and (...) that the attitudes expressed towards refugees were overwhelmingly empathetic." This brought the OUP to declare 'refugee' 'children's word of the year 2016' (read the full report here).
Many parents and carers will be wondering what they can do to approach the subject with their young ones. Reading a book is a good place to start and there are a few places to look for recommendations, such as the reading list published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (here) or Children's Books Ireland (here for instance).
IBBY Ireland has been rather quiet recently, but now plans are afoot to get going again. We will be holding a General Meeting on May 23rd at 6.30pm in The Teacher's Club on Parnell Square, Dublin, in order to elect a new committee.
All who are interested in IBBY Ireland are welcome to attend.Speaking on the night will be Liz Page, the Executive Director of IBBY International. She will be speaking about the role of IBBY and what it brings to countries around the world, as well as inspiration for what IBBY Ireland might do next.We hope you'll join us for the General Meeting and some refreshments afterwards, and help us bring IBBY Ireland forward into the future.