Tag archives: IBBY

Thursday, 4 October 2018

IBBY UK Honour List celebration

IBBY Honour awardLast’s week celebration of IBBY UK’s Honour List was very special. The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries. It is one of the many ways through which IBBY encourages international understanding through children’s literature. Each national section of IBBY nominates three books, one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. I was extremely privileged to be a member of the selection team for the 2018 UK list. The books toasted last week are all outstanding: for writing, Tender Earth by Sita Brahmachari (on the right in the photo); for illustration, I Am Henry Finch, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (on the left), written by Alexis Deacon; for translation, Wildwitch Wildfire, translated by Charlotte Barslund (in the middle) from Danish, written by Lene Kaaberbol.

Charlotte translates from several Scandinavian languages, children’s, YA and adult books. She explained that she only takes a book on if she can hear it in English in her head at her first reading, and only if she ‘gets’ it in her heart, as each book takes several months to translate. It matters to her to have a good working relationship with her authors, and this was the case with Lene, a hugely popular author in Denmark. They have had many rich discussions about this first Wildwitch title and the subsequent ones in the series. Vocabulary is always a huge issue in translation. Danish, along with many other languages, has far fewer words than English. There are also cultural issues to consider: how to convey things that need no explanation to a native audience but may seem very strange to an English-speaking one. Her advice to new translators: always read as much and as widely as you possibly can in the language you are translating into, to improve your vocabulary and use of language.

Viviane was in celebratory mood, as her British citizenship had come through that day. She always drew from childhood, and had a comic published at thirteen. In her teens she was told she didn’t have a sense of humour (ironic, since humour is immensely important to her in her work, as she told us later), and she took to writing science fiction. Luckily someone advised her to be an illustrator. She trained in the UK as her native Germany had no suitable courses and was quickly published. She and Alexis Deacon have worked together on a number of books, in particular ‘books about small animals that explore big ideas’. It was she who suggested a finch as the protagonist for I Am Henry Finch. She loved depicting Henry’s development into a self-aware and philosophical little bird. The book remains one of her favourites, along with her Tiny Cat books. She gains a huge amount of ideas and inspiration from her creative workshops with children. She never aspired to be best at drawing, caring much more that children see that they too can be artists.

Sita told us that she hadn’t intended to write a third book about the artichoke charm that first appeared in Artichoke Hearts and was given away to a poor child in India at the end of Jasmine Skies, although children told her they didn’t like the story ending there. Several books later though, she returned to the theme. The first draft of all her books is very abstract and fairly incomprehensible. She and her editor then work together, something that suits Sita, with her collaborative theatre background. All her books draw on real world issues such as poverty and hunger. ‘We writers taste the news’ she said. Authenticity, integrity and respect are crucial to her and she does a great deal of research, for instance about bat-mizvahs for Tender Earth. It was a very emotional book to write because Simon, one of the characters, was based on a friend of hers who died. She is passionate about children having access to inclusive books, and appalled by the decline in school and public library provision.

tender earth bannerMany thanks to Chitra Soundar for this photo of Sita with one of Laila’s banners from Tender Earth.

A fascinating evening. And good news at the end that the IBBY UK nominations for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award for 2019 are John Agard for writing and Helen Oxenbury for illustration. Two giants in the children’s book world!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Mind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion

One & StrikerMind the Gap: Celebrating Authentic Inclusion was a fascinating and important a discussion hosted by Inclusive Minds and IBBY UK at the London Book Fair. Authors Sarah Crossan and Peter Kalu joined inclusion ambassadors Emily Davison, Heather Lacy and Megan Bane to explore representations of disability in children’s literature. Portrayals in the past were rare and where they existed were often negative. The Secret Garden was not the only book with an underlying message that disabilities could be cured with positive attitudes, fresh air and exercise. The ambassadors spoke of the distress this caused them as children with disabilities that did not go away. The panel agreed that the situation is improving but that there is still a long way to go. Publishers often think children will be put off by characters with disabilities, but it’s not the case. Children are very open-minded.

More nuance and understanding about disabilities is needed. For instance visually disabled characters in children’s books are almost all totally blind, whereas in real life the vast majority have some sight. Sensitivity readers can help authors with authenticity. Depicting every character with a disability as good and/or inspirational is neither authentic nor helpful. Children with disabilities need books that show them ‘it’s OK to be you’.

A character’s disability should not be the main element of any book. Many readers of Crossan’s YA novel One, a sensitive and deeply moving story about conjoined twins, are so gripped by the plot and the characters that they forget the twins are disabled. She never knows whether that’s a good thing or not. She did a huge amount of research before writing the book, and found she had to get rid of her own prejudices. It had not occurred to her that conjoined twins would want to stay together. In Kalu’s book The Silent Striker the main character’s increasing hearing loss is an important part of the plot, but far from the first thing the reader knows about him or the key issue they care about. Because Kalu himself has hearing loss the portrayal is very natural. (Having recently reviewed the book for The School Librarian, I can vouch for this.)

It was useful to be reminded of the IBBY catalogue of outstanding books for young people with disabilities. These were the UK books nominated in 2017. The asterisked titles were included in the international list.

Ian Beck, Grey Island, Red Boat
Cece Bell, El Deafo
Anne Booth, Girl with a White Dog
Holly Bourne, Am I Normal Yet?
Tim Bowler, Game Changer
Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish
Cocoretto, Getting Ready
Cocoretto, Off to the Beach
Sarah Crossan, One *
Vanessa Curtis, Baking Life of Amelie Day
Susie Day, Pea’s Book of Holidays
DK Braille, Counting *
DK Braille, It Can’t be True *
Amber Lee Dodd, We Are Giants
Julia Donaldson, What the Jackdaw Saw
Mary Hoffman, Great Big Book of Feelings
Kim Hood, Finding a Voice
Pete Kalu, Silent Striker
Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis
Cammie  McGovern, Amy and Matthew
Gemma Merino, The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Ann Rand, What Can I Be
Jackie Wilson, Katy

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Children’s books in translation

IBBYI was very lucky to attend the IBBY UK event on books in translation this week. Translator and children’s book expert Daniel Hahn chaired a fascinating panel discussion with Helen Wang, winner of the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for her translation of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxaun; Joy Court, books editor of The School Librarian and co-editor with Daniel of Riveting Reads: A World of Books in Translation; and Sarah Ardizzone, whose renditions into English of a wide variety of French books have won many plaudits and prizes. (I made a very small contribution to the Riveting Reads book, championing Sarah’s superb translation of Alpha by Barroux.)

The panellists talked first about the importance of children’s books in translation. Without them children miss out. They miss out both on books that are culturally specific and books that are universal. Children need books that are windows, doors and mirrors, Joy said, quoting the famous words of Rudine Sims Bishop. Children have the right to be omnivorous, Sarah told us, paraphrasing her own translation of part of Daniel Pennac’s wonderful book The Rights of the Reader.

People often think of translated books as worthy, but thankfully most are not. They are just great reads. Thankfully too, the amount of books available is growing, though publishers rarely see a good financial return on them. Prizes for books in translation raise their profile and give translators the validation they deserve. Books in translation can now be nominated for the Carnegie and Greenaway awards which has increased their exposure. One, Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun and translated by Jen Calleja, reached the Greenaway shortlist this year. Hopefully the Riveting Reads publication will also build awareness of the wealth of fabulous titles that children can enjoy.

It was particularly interesting to hear about the role of the translator. Daniel described it as a mix of artistry, craft and creativity. Translators need to be editors. As Joy said, the literary quality of a translated book is all down to the skills of the translator. Translating the words is just the start of the process, Sarah explained. Helen spoke about the work involved – seven drafts to achieve something that reads well. All asserted in one way or another that the key is to be true to the spirit rather than the letter of the original text. Metaphors are apparently particularly tricky. We heard that it is crucial not to over-edit: not to produce a book that is beautiful to read but smoothes out the quirks of the original. The quirks can be what make a book, but translating them into the appropriate vernacular is an extremely hard task.

A great evening, full of insights, and very thought-provoking. Thank you IBBY!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Marvellous Imaginations: Extending Thinking through Picture Books

As ever it was great to be at the NCRCL/IBBY national conference at the weekend. I’m a huge fan of picture books and all they offer, and make sure they feature highly on lots of my training courses training courses, so I loved the fact that the day was all about them.

klausThis is Klaus Flugge, long-standing champion of innovative picture books, with IBBY’s John Dunne and a cake in honour of Andersen Press’s 40th birthday.

Picture book expert Martin Salisbury was the first speaker. He talked compellingly about the importance of visual thinking. He celebrated the increasing blurring of the lines between writing and illustration and championed today’s pioneering breed of picture book makers who help readers see and understand the world in exciting new ways. He showed us some fabulous illustrated texts – I was delighted that one of these was The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst – and threw in some very pertinent quotes. Here’s Saul Steinberg: ‘Drawing is a way of reasoning on paper.’ This is Corbusier: ‘I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.’

Lecturer Vivienne Smith told us picture books can and should be play. She drew out the parallels between them. Play in early years education is freely chosen and self-directed, spontaneous, whole-hearted, creative and imaginative, explorative, and a context in which learning happens. Exploration and playfulness are certainly not embraced in current discourse around reading, yet they are how children learn. Practitioners should aim to create playful readers, to combat the impression children can now get all too easily, that reading is just about getting the words right. Children need playful books that playfully challenge their thinking and help them learn they can make a difference. ‘Playful reading animates texts; roots texts in the imagination; allows texts to become significant and useful to the reader. Play gives texts an afterlife.’

We were then privileged to hear an inspiring panel of speakers discuss the power of picture books to develop children’s thinking, understanding and empathy. Miranda McKearney of Empathy Lab, Nicky Parker of Amnesty International, Harriet Goodman from Philosophy for Children and the chair, author Sita Brahmachari extolled picture books for providing a platform for raising questions and helping children to explore abstract ideas and concepts, as well as difficult issues and emotions. Picture books can fuel a sense of social justice and teach children that more unites than divides us. Mirror by Jeannie Baker and There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins, both of which I love and use a lot, were held up as just two examples. Picture books can create compassionate and critical thinkers who grasp the meaning of fairness and will be better able to stand up against bigotry and violence. Wonderful stuff!

Parallel session followed, and I was inspired again by the one I attended on how an international collection of silent picture books (or books without borders, to use Sita Brahmachari’s excellent phrase for wordless picture books) has been used to enormous effect with migrant children in Lampadusa and has galvanised children in a village in southern France. How moving to see the picture books the French children made for the children in Lampadusa being handed over. The IBBY Silent Books project aims to promote books as a tool for integration. Lovely to hear some of the ways in which that aim is being fulfilled.

Lunch next, and a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues, and to talk to some inspiring publishers. Then we heard lots of very positive NCRCL and IBBY news. The IBBY international congress in New Zealand sounded amazing.

It was good after this to listen to two illustrators talk about their craft. Laura Carlin and Carol Thompson were very interesting on the huge amount of thought and creativity they put into their books, so that they give enjoyment and provoke thinking and understanding.

Next Louise John Shepherd and Charlotte Hacking from CLPE explained the Power of Pictures project. This is helping teachers discover good picture book creators and learn how to read picture books, particularly interpreting the pictures. It is giving them confidence to use them and providing ideas for exploring them with their pupils. I frequently talk about the value of picture books in terms of inference and critical thinking, so was pleased to hear these benefits highlighted. I really liked this quote too, from Perry Nodelman: ‘The words tell us what the pictures don’t show, and the pictures show us what the words don’t tell us.’

I used to be a volunteer with the Reader Organisation, so was very pleased Jane Davies, its founder, was speaking. After telling everyone about the brilliant shared reading approach, and a wonderful project with looked after children, she outlined the latest Reader initiative, a fabulous story barn in Liverpool, ‘a place where reading helps imagination run wild’. I really want to visit it.

The conference drew to an end with a brief speech from Nicholas John Frith, winner of the inaugural Klaus Flugge prize for the most exciting newcomer to picture books illustration, and then that amazing cake. What a day!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

IBBY UK/NCRCL Conference – Steering the Craft: navigating the process of creating children’s books

ibby_logoSaturday’s conference was fabulous and exhausting. Fabulous because of enthralling speakers and discussions. Exhausting because there was no let-up for the brain. Every session, and every conversation in the breaks, was intensely thought-provoking.

Jullia Eccleshare opened proceedings with a fascinating talk on the importance of children’s book reviewing. Press coverage of children’s books is much smaller than it was twenty years ago. Social media now play a vital and welcome role in alerting children and adults to children’s books. Online activity, together with literature festivals and the like, have totally changed the way children engage with books and authors. Communicating with an author online, or seeing one live, gives a valuable sense of ownership. But help is needed to navigate the vast numbers of children’s books being published, especially given the decline in libraries. Informed criticism by independent experts supports readers, publishers, authors and booksellers. Reviews put the writer and the reader together. Without them, some great writers and great books will be lost.

Jane Ray and Dianne Hofmeyr were on next, giving us a beguiling insight into collaboration in children’s book production, particularly theirs over Zeraffa Giraffa. How interesting – and pleasing – that there is now more communication between authors and illustrators than in the past, and how lovely to hear the extent to which they adapted to each other’s ideas and research.

Several speakers during the day made reference to Ursula Le Guin’s compelling cry for writer freedom, and against the commodification of books. Nicky Singer made a heartfelt plea for more risk-taking in children’s publishing. She lamented the swing from editorial to marketing power in children’s book production. When she adapted her successful play about climate change, Island, into a novel, publishers turned it down. It was ‘too quiet’, meaning, apparently, that it could not be succinctly summed up for marketing. It could not be easily branded. And it was ‘too literary’. Beatrix Potter would not get away with the word ‘soporific’ in Peter Rabbit these days, Singer wryly observed. In desperation, she turned to crowd-funding, and Island is now a success. But the process took nine months of her life, and ‘if I don’t write, I die a little.’ We heard too about her struggles to adapt Wind in the Willows. Diktats came thick and fast from the publisher, over vocabulary and content. Weapons were not allowed because of the US market, nor hams, because that would stop sales to the Middle East and to schools here with large Jewish or Moslem populations, she was told. She has refused to sign the contract for the book because it contains gagging orders. I find it deeply disturbing to learn that these are now commonplace in children’s publishing.

A school librarian in the audience pointed out that children’s publishers try to protect an innocence that does not exist. Children know about the real world. And they do not want blandness. They are capable of understanding unusual vocabulary and sophisticated ideas, and appreciate them. In the course of the day we heard repeatedly of assertions from publishers about what children and teenagers would read about and what they wouldn’t. And of authors being told they must not use particular words or concepts because librarians would not then buy their books. These notions anger me. They are disrespectful of young people, who certainly do not all want dumbed down books, and they are disrespectful of librarians. As a librarian by profession, and as someone who has worked with and trained huge numbers of librarians, I can say with confidence that the vast majority do not want books dumbed down either, and seek not to censor, but to open doors to books. There is a massive library problem, but it has nothing to do with gate-keeping. Swingeing cuts in both the public and school library sectors will have a devastating effect on children’s reading.

Parallel sessions followed. I listened with interest to Siwan’s Rosser’s talk about the relative merits and demerits of translating English children’s books into Welsh versus original Welsh material. Yan Zheng’s exploration of the challenges and opportunities provided by story apps and touch-screen was fascinating. There is no point to a touch-screen adaptation of a story if does not add anything to it, she said. Many story apps pose problems in terms of narrative flow, and do not sufficiently utilise touch-screen potential. I’m a huge fan of children’s book-making so was very pleased to hear Kerenza Ghosh on the impact of a programme involving reception and Y1 children. Creating their own books increased their engagement with books and reading, and their confidence.

What a privilege after lunch to listen to the president of International IBBY, Wally de Doncker. He talked about IBBY’s desire to help every child be a reader and the organisation’s work on combating illiteracy over sixty years, and he issued a truly scary warning: that reading and good literature could become the preserve of an elite. Disadvantaged children must have access to books and reading, he told us. ‘Books and reading save lives. They enable children to become whole after terrible experiences.’ We live in a golden age of children’s literature, and ‘children’s books are a country’s best ambassadors’.

Clémentine Beauvais, who writes children’s and teenage books in both English and French, then gave an absorbing analysis of national differences in publishing attitudes and practices. French publishers are unconcerned about commercialism, and happy to publish ‘quiet books’. Unlike British publishers, but in common with most other nationalities, they are prepared to produce radical, ideological books. Beauvais’ French publishers accept a wide range of writing from her. (When she told them her latest book was going to be in verse and based on Eugene Onegin, the reaction, almost unbelievable from a British perspective, was ‘OK, cool’.) In the UK, publishers want only books from her that fit a particular branding model, and only here is her content questioned. One UK publisher said to her ‘I guess British kids are not very sophisticated’, an assertion Beauvais rejects and abhors. She has plenty of experience of gagging orders in the UK, none in France. There is one problem in France though: the derisory payment that authors receive. Perhaps the state in both countries should play a role in children’s publishing, she suggested. A very French idea, it seems to me.

A big change after this, as translator and children’s book expert Daniel Hahn divulged the adaptations he made to the Brazilian picture book Happiness is a Watermelon to bring it to a British market. To say the translation was not a literal one is very much an understatement. All credit to his publishers Phoenix Yard and to the illustrator and author Stella Dreis for accepting his very radical and very effective treatment.

Next up, a publisher panel: David Maybury from Scholastic, Barry Cunningham from Chicken House and Anna McQuinn of Alanna Books. None take on books that will not generate sales, but their approaches are very different. In Maybury’s view it’s too easy to say that big publishers like his only publish brands and established authors. However getting every book noticed is a major challenge. Marketing now, he said, is about getting books into prime position in bookshops, book launches, YouTube and authors’ school visits. Chicken House publishes lots of new fiction and new authors. For Cunningham, marketing includes plentiful communication with authors from the earliest stage, word of mouth from teachers and librarians and concentrating on the physical object. (Chicken House books hint at taster pages.) Publishing just one book a year, McQuinn has a deep relationship with her authors and illustrators, and editors overseas. Her US editors were unhappy with an image of breast-feeding in a book. Negotiation led to a successful compromise: an ambiguous picture that was instantly recognisable to, and greatly valued by, breast-feeders. All three speakers acknowledged the huge changes wrought by the internet and social media.

The final session was a discussion between Cunningham and Melvin Burgess. They talked about the controversies Junk, Doing It and other Burgess titles provoked. Notably, none of the commentators who objected to the books had actually read them, Burgess said. Teenagers, on the other had, appreciated their honesty. The gatekeepers to children’s books are not necessarily teachers and librarians, as is often asserted, but senior managers, the local press and angry parents. Publishers should not only think about commercial success.

An amazing day! Scintillating sessions, and lovely to meet up with colleagues old and new.