Tuesday, 13 November 2012

IBBY/NCRCL MA conference 2012: Beyond the Book

I always look forward to the IBBY/NCRCL MA conferences, and Saturday’s lived up to expectations. The array of speakers was truly impressive, and there was a profusion of exhilarating ideas.

A lecture on 18th century children’s literature hadn’t sounded of enormous interest, but Matthew Grenby held me riveted with his exploration of the inter-relationship between the oral tradition, maternal manuscript writings and the early printed book, and how these reflected cultural norms of the times. He shared fascinating examples. One manuscript book was remarkably similar to today’s picture books. We then skipped a couple of centuries, as speakers from Nosy Crow, Winged Chariot and Hot Key Books brought us right up to date with latest developments in digital publishing. It was great to hear about the innovations happening with apps and e-books. (I blogged about Maggot Moon, one of Hot Key’s publications recently.) Touch-screen technology in particular is revolutionising children’s book publishing, and children’s experiences of books and reading in very exciting ways. Interestingly, all the speakers were adamant that children need immersion in printed books as well as digital ones.

Sita Brahmachari, author of Artichoke Hearts, next gave a brilliant account of the adaptation of Shaun Tan’s wonderful wordless picture book about migration The Arrival that she and Tamasha Theatre Company have created for circus performance. The processes she described of bringing the book alive in a new way were amazing, not least multi-lingual oral testimony and a verse transcript. We saw a tantalising video clip. The show is going on tour shortly. I can’t wait!

A brief résumé of IBBY news and lunch were followed by workshops. The two I attended were very stimulating, one on children’s responses to wolves in children’s books, and one on the impact of e-books on children’s reading. Research in the mid 90s suggests e-books may aid reading comprehension. A very small recent study indicates that they can change reluctant readers’ attitudes to reading. More research is needed. It would be particularly valuable to find out the impact of modern forms of e-books on comprehension.

I found the next session, Eight books is never enough, especially interesting. School librarian Kay Waddilove gave us a fabulous insight, complete with two videos, into Carnegie shadowing at JFS School. Twelve year-old Carnegie reviewer Emilia Lamkin’s enthusiasm was infectious. Shadowing has increased her confidence, improved her writing and changed her approach to reading.

Children’s dramatist David Wood was fascinating on the excitements and challenges of adapting books by authors as diverse as Roald Dahl, Michelle Magorian, Philippa Pearce, Dick King-Smith, Eric Hill and Judith Kerr for the stage. I was intrigued by the differing extents to which authors get involved. We then heard from some authors, and an illustrator, as Candy Gourlay, James Mayhew and Karin Littlewood described their work as curators for the incredible Pop-Up Festival of Stories, a brilliant and innovative call to reading.

The last speaker of the day was super-talented illustrator Jim Kay, who shot to fame with his illustrations for A Monster Calls. His talk was illuminating and entertaining. He tries to stay faithful to all the books he illustrates. It took him many attempts to get the monster as he wanted, with sufficient gravitas, plus enough anonymity and ambiguity to allow readers to create their own imagined pictures.

A great day! Just William’s 90th anniversary cake was a delicious bonus.