IBBY World Congress, Mexico 2014
IBBY UK in Mexico City, Pam Dix (Chair)
Hola and greetings form the IBBY UK delegation at the 34th Congress in Mexico. The Congress opened last night with the Hans Christian Andersen award ceremony at the stunning Biblioteca de Mexico. Award-winners Roger Mello and Nahoko Uehashi both spoke powerfully about their dedication to creating books that open doors for children. During the evening IBBY Mexico called for IBBY, at this time of so many international crises for children, to take on a powerful role in communicating and co-ordinating the work of member countries. We also heard about the launch of the new IBBY fund for Gaza and will be meeting with Jehan Helou from IBBY Palestine to discuss what IBBY UK can do to best support the fund.
The theme of the congress – ‘reading as an inclusive experience’ – is underpinned by the core objectives of IBBY, which are to encourage literacy and reading. We are excited by, and somewhat in awe of, the initiatives we have heard about both here in Mexico and in other Latin American countries to ensure that all children become readers. A speech by the Mexican education Minister informed us of the government commitment to the promotion of reading: “Mexico is in the process of a deep educative reform which will transform public education in our country.” Part of this reform is an initiative which is providing high-quality books to schools, and training reading promoters to work in all but the smallest schools – a way of thinking that UK initiatives could do well to explore.
We have been really busy since our arrival in Mexico City visiting 'must-see' sites like the Frida Kahlo house and meeting with UK delegates Sally Yates, Piet Grobler, David Almond, Ferelith Hordon, Julia Eccleshare and, of course, our bursary award winners Osman Coban, Beth Cox and Sophie Hallam.
Part of our mission in coming to Mexico was to meet with some of the major children's publishers here to discuss issues around translation and inclusion. We have been enormously impressed by the quality of their output – their creativity and innovation. Four of these publishers will be at the London Book Fair next year so we are looking to plan opportunities for UK members to see their wonderful books. We also visited the Rosario Castellanos bookshop, a huge bookshop in the city with a fabulous children’s books section – a lesson in how to market and promote children's books. We will have a small collection of books on display at the forthcoming Roehampton conference.
We’re pleased that a number of UK delegates are featuring in the programme on the first full day of the congress. These include plenary sessions from David Almond and Evelyn Arizpe, poster sessions from bursary winners Osman Coban and Sophie Hallam, and parallel sessions by bursary winner Beth Cox and The Guardian Children's Book Doctor Julia Eccleshare.
Have a read of the 'day by day' summaries of the Congress below as well as guest blogs by Julia Eccleshare, Ferelith Hordon and Sophie Hallam.
Day One - The 'ins and outs' of inclusion, Sophie Hallam
After a wonderful evening at the Hans Christian Andersen Awards, the IBBY UK delegates set off first thing the next morning with a hop, skip and a jump onto the local metro station to the Hotel Americana Fiesta for the first day of the 34th IBBY Congress in Mexico City. With over 900 delegates from over 60 countries, the hotel was buzzing with people ready to make new connections and partnerships.
Alicia Molina led the opening of the academic programme and plenary session. Author of Everyone Means Everyone: The Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Art and Cultural Activities, Molina was born in Mexico City in 1945 and works as a scriptwriter, communications theorist and writer. Like all the best beginnings, Molina started with a story and read her book Todos Somos Differentes (We Are All Different), illustrated by Carmina Hernandez. This was a fabulous introduction to the Congress theme – May Everyone Really Mean Everyone – and a great way to open up the discussion of this topic.
Who do we mean by everyone? Molina encouraged the audience to think about our personal responsibility when it comes to exclusion practices as well as the bigger picture. She drew on her daughter's experience of having cerebral palsy and her confusion when she was younger as to why other children didn't look at her. Molina explained that although when a child sees another child who looks different from them they have a natural curiosity to look, we as adults often say "no, don't stare – that's rude". In this way, we perpetuate a sense of difference and 'other'. The best way to exclude someone is to make them invisible, and by making certain children invisible in literature, we exclude them from the society we live in and deny that difference is natural. Literature is a mirror in which people look to see themselves reflected. If you're not in that mirror, or if your inclusion is based on stereotypes, if it plays a 'role' rather than a character, if your image is only reflected in war or disaster, then you are excluded from the 'norm'.
This discussion brings to mind Rudine Sims Bishop's powerful metaphor of mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors, and the second keynote session by UK author David Almond expanded upon this idea.
For David, stories travel across continents and across cultures. It is the spirit, the physical manifestations of these ancient stories, that reverberates across time. This is what enables the 'sliding glass door' of children's literature. A fictional character from the North East of England translates and speaks to a child in Mexico City as easily as it does anywhere in the world. This is the power of stories. It is the actions of others that create exclusion: libraries in Palestine are being destroyed, and in Newcastle and the rest of the UK, libraries are being shut down because they are deemed unaffordable, yet millions are spent on 'weapons of destruction'.
This is just a brief summary of some of the discussions today and it’s obvious that the topic of inclusion is a complex one – it is inside the covers of the page and outside in the 'real world'. It is multifaceted and challenging – action is crucial. It is exciting to see so many organisations working towards the same goal and, in David's words, this congress is based on "optimism, that books, reading, and art can actually make the world a better place. Sometimes when we say these things, people sneer, they say that we are living in a fairyland. They are the people that are wrong, we are right. They are dull, we are interesting.”
Day Two - Who do we mean by everyone? Beth Cox
After a quiet evening trying to take in everything we’d heard, the second day of the congress began with a keynote speech from María Teresa Andruetto, a storyteller, essayist and a promoter of reading. She was also winner of the Hans Christian Anderson Award in 2012. As well as referring to the life and work of Hans Christian Anderson, Teresa spoke about writing and reading, and the importance of access to reading, particularly for those from deprived communities. She referred to the value in books in providing access to other lives and other worlds, as fictions are constructions of the world. One key message, especially in regard to the aims of IBBY, was how books from around the world better prepare children for peace and understanding; they offer readers the opportunity to recognise the similarities between themselves and others. She regularly referred back to the theme of the congress ‘may everyone really mean everyone’ and asked who we mean by this term ‘everyone’. Perhaps, she said, it is those who are beyond who or what we are willing to see. She concluded by stating how literature examines the struggle between what a human being is and what a human being would like to be. That literature prevents the homogenisation of the species – it invites us to be individuals.
A roundtable discussion followed. ‘Literature as a hospitable house’ was chaired by Daniel Goldin, one of the pillars of the promotion of children’s literature in Mexico City. Panelists were asked what makes literature a welcoming house.
Jochen Weber described the house of literature as a magical home with many different rooms, none of which are the same, and where everything is constantly changing. In the middle of the house is a kitchen with lots of cooks – all creating different dishes, the best being those that don’t follow a recipe.
The discussion moved on to what literature is; something that is artistic, unmeasurable and unquantifiable. Luis Bernando Yepes stated that literature cannot be created from a manual; what is included or represented can’t be prescribed.
This made me ponder about how we inspire those creating literature to be intuitively more diverse and inclusive. After all, if all the cooks in the house of literature were using the same ingredients, it would make for a very bland diet.
Other contributers to the panel included author/illustrator Gusti, who told us the story behind the creation of the book Malko y Papa, and Maria Baranda, who felt the idea of a house to be restrictive – she’s sees literature as a wide open space, a house that has not yet been built, a place to expand her horizons.
All talked about how the door is open and everyone can get in, but I have to question whether this is true in terms of accessibility to books for those with additional needs.
The plenary sessions in the afternoon were on the theme of ‘literature, a place where we can all be recognised. In a session chaired by Luis Gonzalez, Brenda Bellorin talked about how creators and publishers of books must question themselves (and what we they are creating) on a regular basis. We often take it for granted that books represent equality of opportunity, but we have to permanently wonder what is common and Roberto Innocenti reminded us that when creating books, we must keep in mind the final reader. The final contributor, Morteza Zahedi added to the discussion with a commentary on the link between culture and society. Pablo Larraguibel helped to conclude the discussion by advising publishers to take the opportunity to look back at their catalogues and see what more they could be doing in terms of inclusion.
Luckily, it’s not all work, and after the parallel session we were bussed to the Papalote Museo del Niño. Drinks and canapés were served on the terrace, while the winners of the Asahi Award were announced and speeches given (hopefully more about that in a separate blog/news item).
We were then free to explore (play) in the museum. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it, from the play supermarket, to the pitch black sensory experience . . . lying on a bed of nails and climbing a giant tree to learn about biodiversity (and descend via two slides) – it was just what we needed after a second intense, but inspirational day.
Day Three - Hope for the future, Osman Coban
The plenary sessions on the last day of the congress were round table creative discussions about literacy involving writers, publishers, library organisers and others connected with reading promotion. They emphasised the complexity of organising good inclusive campaigns and there was a concern about some reading campaigns that prescribe reading to ’20 minutes a day’ or that aim to make money over the promotion of reading. Veronica Murguia criticised this by stressing the importance of reading all day – not just 20 minutes! Juan Domingo Arguelles's point was also important but open to critiques: 'We read because we love reading not because books have value'.
In the second plenary session the question of 'how can we promote reading' was answered by examples from different parts of the world. According to Maria Emilia Lopez “babies are great readers from birth”. So they promote reading in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia when babies are 40-45 days old and they find them “very eager and sensitive readers”. Maria Isabel Granen Porrua described a reading program in Oaxaca called 'Voluntary Readers' which promotes reading to approximately 5000 children every week who are socially disadvantaged including street children, children of prostitutes, children in nurseries, hospitals and prisons. It is important to note what Anke Mårk-Bürman, University of Gottingen, said: “a lot of parents do not know how to read aloud to their children.” With their 'Bookstart' program they are motivating parents as well as children to read.
There were so many important studies, thoughts and reading programmes that I cannot include all of them here. However Mauricio Correa Leite's reading promotion to indigenous children in the Amazon is worth noting. He carries books in a suitcase to children in remote areas where they have often never seen a book before. He creates a reading circle through which each child had chance to read about 130 books. After his talk, I thought that we sometimes complain about the difficulty of getting children to read, however, when we “give right books to the right person at the right time” and in the right medium, we do not need to do anything else. “Just leave them, they will read” as Mr. Leite says. His lovely music box with little books in various sizes inside concluded this enlightening session which has given me hope about the future of children's education. You can see a short video of his work here.
After this hopeful session, I would like to take you to the other side of world, to the eyes of fear, to Palestine. There was a lot to say and cry about in Jehan Helou's touching presentation in which it was possible to hear last breath of children who said goodbye to us, then silence and the hiccups of the remaining children. She has shown two pictures of the IBBY Libraries in Gaza before and after the war. A father has written a poem to his dead child asking “will you go to school again?” IBBY Palestine is now trying to help children's mental health and emotional recovery in the IBBY library which was not totally destroyed, in 'The Village of Happiness' through reading books. But certainly they need more support to be able to help those children. We are meeting with Jehan Helou how the UK can support IBBY Palestine and the children in Gaza.
I had to run from one session to another as there were many interesting talks in parallel sessions. Elsa Marston, children's author in the US, talked about how Arabic identity is excluded in children's text written in Arabic by non-Arabic authors. Sachie Asaka, Nanzan University, presented an analysis of Japanese picture books with the idea of inclusion, among which the Guri Gura series by Riego Nakagawa is worth noting with over 17 million sold in Japan. The IBBY UK bursary Sophie Hallam's presentation was also very interesting with the idea of 'third space' in promoting reading which is bringing parents, school and children together in another place. Marcella Terrusi, University of Bologna, presented a collaborative research has taken place in three continents about using picture books to produce inclusive and shared reading practice. I hope the ones I could not mention here forgive me as there were very interesting posters and talks from all over the world from China to Brasilia, from Iran to Colombia, from Mexico to Norway.
During the Congress I also had chance to chat to other countries' IBBY members. IBBY United Arab Emirates, established January 2014, is promoting an award worth $3,500 for children's text written in Arabic. Turkish IBBY section promotes reading activities for children of the 300 men who passed away in the Soma coal mine accident. Children's authors and scholars visit Soma every week and do reading activities with children to give the psychological support. Azerbaijan IBBY encourages children from diverse cultures to read in the library by providing children's texts in different languages.
To conclude, the Mexican Classic music concert in Palacio de Bella Artes was absolutely wonderful with a special composition for the 34th IBBY Congress and another for Malala, symbolising children's right to read and study. Over 120 children from every corner of Mexico took part wearing traditional dresses of their region.
Finally there was the closing ceremony in the extraordinary Franz Mayer Museum with a talk from the new president of the IBBY, Wally de Doncker, stressing 'every child has to have right to read'.
I would like to thank IBBY UK for providing me this broadening opportunity through the bursary. I had chance to meet scholars, authors and illustrators from all over the world and also to learn what has been done in the world in terms of reading, inclusion and the programmes of IBBY sections. I have to say that I never had such an enhancing time in my whole life and in my opinion new researchers like me should be given the chance to attend other IBBY congresses through bursary programmes like the one IBBY UK has given me which has opened a new page in my life.
I would like to finish with the motto of Congress: 'Que Todos Signifique Todos', 'May Everyone Really Mean Everyone'.
Reflections and Connections, Pam Dix (Chair)
Writing this closing blog, I want to mention a bit more about the role of IBBY Mexico. The organisation plays a significant part in the Mexican national reading promotion and literacy offer. It is worth having a look at their website to see all that they do – www.ibbymexico.org.mx. They have their own beautiful building which includes a lending library, Braille-making and audio recording facilities and most importantly their own paid staff.
As a result, IBBY Mexico were able to ensure that the Congress was a high status event within the city, even advertising it on the metro.
All the Congress social events took place in arts venues of national cultural importance, in partnership with Conaculta (the National Council for Culture and Arts, the Mexican government agency in charge or museums and the arts). The opening ceremony was in the Bibliotheca de Mexico, which has a range of libraries for children and adults. You can see some more photos of these wonderful libraries below.
The Asahi Awards were presented at the Papolete museum for children, a truly innovative centre based on ideas of learning through play.
The closing concert was in the main auditorium of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a beautiful art deco theatre, followed by the closing ceremony at Franz Mayer Museum, where there was not one but three exhibitions of children's illustrators. It has been a real privilege to experience Mexican cultural life from the inside and to be made to feel so welcomed and at home in the city. Indeed at the drinks reception in the piazza of the Franz Mayer Museum we all felt as if we were on a film set.
Most importantly, this is indicative of the respect that our Mexican hosts have for children and those who work with them. We have seen many examples of stunning provision in libraries, museums and publishing.
It has been great fun for us all to be the Team UK at the Congress. We have all networked and made a rich collection of contacts for the future – whether for academic input at conferences, possible exhibitions, collaborations with publishers or just as new friends. All of the UK presentations were well received and we discovered a widespread admiration for the Guardian’s children’s books website as a result of Julia Eccleshare’s presentation. Ferelith Hordon’s election to the IBBY Executive Board will ensure a strengthened partnership and collaboration with IBBY and member countries in the future. Our aims in the UK fit well with those of the newly elected IBBY president Wally de Doncker.
My personal reflections on this week are that the congress provided a forum for engaging with literacy and inclusion in unexpected and challenging ways. So many speakers, even those with ostensibly bureaucratic responsibilities, engaged with the issues with a level of passion and personal commitment which is rather different to what we often find in the UK. We heard many great examples from those dealing with complex and difficult challenges – from using Tan’s The Red Tree with children of massacre victims in Colombia to taking books by suitcase into the Amazon. Maria Isabella Granen Porrua who works in Oaxaca, Mexico said that it is always an act of faith to put books on the shelves in a library and it is what happens afterwards that matters. We also heard of innovative practice in writing, illustrating and publishing and will take to heart the words of Roger Mello and Gusti.
It is not all rosy. The position of marginalised groups continues to pose questions for the mainstream and offers a challenge to all of us. The poet Mardonio Carbollo who writes in his native Nahuatl as well as Spanish reminded us that all of his books in his indigenous language get placed either in the children’s section or the anthropological section in bookshops, even though they are unmistakeably adult poetry.
When such high percentages of children throughout the world are unable to read or access books, there is much work still to be done but there are huge lessons to be learned from those working in most challenging situations. As Mauricio Leite from Brazil said "I specialise at doing the impossible!"
I would urge you to watch or read the congress presentations when they become available online. The next congress will be in 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, with the theme Literature in a Multi-literate World - www.ibbycongress2016.org/new-zealand
It has been a great honour to represent the UK here and for all of us the experience will enrich our personal and professional practices - and will help develop the role of IBBY in the UK.
Bursaries to attend the Mexico Congress
Read more about our bursary award winners below:
Osman is a teacher from Turkey and a postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow. He is particularly interested in how children’s literature can be used to develop tolerance between minority and majority students. He has written his M.Ed. dissertation on the portrayal of refugee and asylum seeker children arriving to the UK in contemporary children’s and young adult literature; his poster session at the Mexico Congress is on how Turkish children’s books can encourage tolerance and inclusion in Turkish classrooms.
Beth has worked in publishing for ten years and recently, with Alexandra Strick, launched Inclusive Minds. She says, “Inclusive Minds aims to be the central resource for inclusive and accessible books, developing and delivering innovative projects, breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes, to truly change the face of the publishing industry”. Beth’s seminar presentation examines the challenges facing publishers in making inclusion and diversity an integral part of their ethos and practice.
Sophie has an M.A. in Children’s Literature and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of Roehampton. She has worked with a variety of children’s literacy and literature charities including Booktrust, The Reading Agency, Springboard for Children, and Pop Up Projects CIC. She was a volunteer at the 2012 World Congress in London. Sophie will be presenting a poster session at the Congress entitled Dangerous Minds: Participatory Literacy Communities and New Technology and a seminar session Pop Up: Creating a Third Space of Literary Engagement.
There were eleven applications for our IBBY member bursaries to attend the Congress. The selection panel included Clive Barnes (past Chair of IBBY UK), Sue Mansfield (Treasurer of the 2012 World Congress in London) and, as independent member, Gillian Lathey (former Director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature). It had been intended to offer two bursaries, but the field was so strong that the panel awarded three.