‘More and more clearly, I came to realise that I must not look backward, but to the future, and … begin with children.’
Jella Lepman’s faith in children to shape a more peaceful, tolerant world was borne out this week, more than fifty years after she wrote those words in A Bridge of Children’s Books. Two IBBY-inspired workshops in counties Mayo and Kerry saw children aged between seven and eleven founding new countries and exploring true heroism.
In Nation Creation, they mapped and named their ideal countries; laid down laws; wrote national anthems, and invented national sports and holidays. Laws included the banning of fossil fuels, compulsory kindness and the obligatory welcome of immigrants.
In the second workshop, My Handbook of Heroes, young participants imagined themselves as superheroes. As well as the usual powers – strength, speed and flying – one child boasted super-kindness and another super-listening. They founded a superschool where the subjects included Modesty and How to Handle Your Superpower for Good. And a list of their most heroic qualities featured honesty, forgiveness, humour and standing up for friends.
‘Something strange happens when you close your eyes. Suddenly you are in a totally different world, a place of endless breadth and depth … and there an ultimate and genuine freedom begins, transforming prisons into houses with open doors.’