Literature in a Multi-literate WorldLiterature in a Multi-literate World

It's been an exciting time as colleagues from across the world have gathered for the 35th International IBBY Congress in Auckland, New Zealand (18-21 August). The Congress has explored the excitements and challenges of literature and literacy education in a rapidly changing world. The UK delegation include Pam Dix (Chair), Ann Lazim, Ferelith Hordon, Julia Eccleshare and the two recipients of our bursary awards, Xiaofei Shi and Soumi Dey.

Read their blogs here - more to be added soon!

17 August: Pam Dix

NZ 7

Kia ora and greetings from the IBBY UK delegation at the 35th IBBY Congress in Auckland, New Zealand. We are now together in the house that we have rented for our time here, many of us having arrived early enough to travel and see something of the country before the Congress starts.

It is easy to fall in to cliché about New Zealand – the welcome, the beauty, the nature – because it is indeed all truly special. But it is also a country facing challenges both about child poverty which is much in the news and about national definitions of identity. I think it fair to say that we have all been surprised (to our shame) to see the spirit, culture and language of the Maori embedded so deeply into contemporary society. New challenges relate to more recent arrivals to the country, around language needs, cultural appropriation and discussions about what it means to be a New Zealander.

New Zealand is a county of both intense similarities to the UK and major differences. Trees and vegetation are the most apparent difference and it has been a marvel to wonder at stands of the ancient Kauri tree, at subtropical rainforests and the Norfolk pines, Silver tree fern or Ponga and the Pohutakawa trees around Auckland. In the countryside the landscape is often wild, empty and and an overwhelming sense of the spirit of place, where in the words of an exhibition in the National Library ‘the human imprint is very recent’.  There are small towns which architecturally resemble the southern States more than the UK, yet the food, shops, language and points of reference are also British. So it is with a strong sense of the same but different that we arrive at the Congress.

So many literacy initiatives that we know in the UK and so many success stories about children’s reading … this was the backdrop to the programme of library visits that three of us went on the day before the Congress started. We had a wonderful guide in Tessa Duder, the well known New Zealand author, who entertained us as we drove around with stories of her life as a writer and snippets of Auckland’s history. Tessa is one of virtually the first generation of New Zealand writers for children. Her own childhood was framed by reading books from the UK and the US. She talked to us about the Kohange Reo (literally language nest) schools for young children set up to maintain and preserve the Maori language through the wonderful model of putting older Maori language speakers in to schools with the young. New models are now being looked at as this older generation disappear.

NZ 4All the libraries we saw were of high quality, imaginatively designed and exciting spaces. In both schools the commitment of the school to the library was apparent. In Redoubt School the headteacher talked about her visualization of  the architecture of the school as a rainbow with two pots of gold at either end, the staff room at one and the library and book resources at the other. The new public library at Devonport has fantastic views over the harbour and wonderful attention to detail in the interior design, including comfortable seating areas around real working fires. And a magnificent curtain / screen in silk by the NZ artist Judy Miller

We also visited the National Library Services for Schools Section. Amazingly and uniquely, the National Library offers a full package of free services to schools across the whole country. We will write a future article about this as the clarity of this message. (

We finished the day in Davenport library with Tessa reading from her own and the great Margaret Mahy’s work.

We are looking forward to the start of the Congress and the chance to meet with old friends and colleagues from around the world and make new ones. The theme of the Congress is Literature in a Multi-literate World, reflecting the current challenges New Zealand and all of us face.  Ann Lazim, Anne Sarrag, our two bursary students Soumi, and Xiaofei will all be giving papers in parallel sessions on the first day and Julia Eccleshare will both be interviewed with Leonard Marcus and be interviewing three authors.

To end with the Maori proverb

Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria

My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul



18 August: Ferelith Hordon

Kia Ora. We were greeted with these words as we waited for the 35th Conference to start. And what a welcome we had! First a traditional Powhiri, and the conch horn sounded while we were sung into the opening ceremony. Then the speeches and the ceremony closed with a "kapa haka" by the pupils of Bairds Mainfreight School, with five cultures from the Oceanic world represented. Both the Powhiri and this kapa haka might - or could have been seen as a performance of an interesting traditional ceremony for an audience of foreign visitors. But strangely they did not seem so. Rather they were presentations of something that was part of their lives, completely natural - and especially apparent in the case of the children.  Just as in Wales all speeches, all welcomes are delivered in the two languages, so here in New Zealand, Maori and English, are being used together because that is how it is; an interesting reflection of the conference theme.

The Conference Centre - the Aotea Centre (approached up musical steps!) - is an excellent space with an enormous theatre as it is the main theatre for Auckland. The spacious foyers make it easy to meet and converse and to get a real sense of the Congress as a gathering of people. It has also contributed to a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere as delegates gather round the exhibitions and the bookshop. This same relaxed atmosphere was very much part of the parallel session I chaired, where all the papers described projects, ranging through New Zealand to China and Greece that involved drama as a route to capture and maintain interest in a text and reading. We were even encouraged to get up and dance. Though this session was both informative and enjoyable, sadly twenty minutes each presenter is given is scarcely enough time to explore topics; they can do no more than titillate the interest and the best certainly do that. Then there are the keynote presentations. - an impassioned reflection from Witi Ihimaera  on the importance of stories and storytelling, and most importantly, the stories  that reflect the culture and histories of their audience. They play a vital role in helping equip the younger generation to face the changing world. Or a conversation between Leonard Marcus and Julia Eccleshare chaired by Kate de Goldi  on what makes a book a children's book, whether there is such a thing as a children's book  and how these books have changed, taking as its starting point the quotation by Auden, "There are good books which are only for adults. There are no good books which are only for children"

The celebration of the IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Awards brought the day to an end. The winners, the Read With Me project in Iran and Big Brother Mouse from Laos are both inspirational in what they are doing, providing young people with access to books and literacy. The Read With Me project showed a film of their work around the country which was moving beyond words. In their words the project acts as an umbrella so the children don't lose hope, as without hope, all is lost. In the case of Big Brother Mouse the work has been to produce the very first children's books ever in Laos. They started to publish in 2006 - their situation that is absolutely unimaginable in our book-rich society. It is humbling to be faced with the realities that some children still have to experience. In some ways this is the real value of the IBBY Congress together with the opportunity to meet and talk to delegates from around the world, all drawn together by a common interest - children, books and reading.

19 August: Soumi Dey

Kia Ora!

Greetings from Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, a country firmly entwined with its ancient Maori roots. Greetings also from New Zealand, a first world, modern-day nation with its many successes and the challenges contemporary society brings. These differing identities make New Zealand/ Aotearoa, even as the ‘dual’ name suggests, a country of singular contrasts.

As a result of recent efforts to promote the Maori heritage and culture, NZ has officially become a bilingual country. From tourist information sites and airports to the poignant inaugural ceremony at the IBBY Congress, Maori is used alongside English. With ease, pride and a charming matter-of-factness. One realises that the past and the future aren’t looking, like the mythological two-headed Greek god Janus, in two different directions. Instead, it is a country looking forward with both its inner traditional eye as well as its modern identity.  

We came to know that while Maori and English are the two main languages, there is a surprising (to us) and wonderful presence of the Pasifica cultures: different languages spoken by people who are descendants of the Polynesian nations of the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tokelau. As mentioned in similar posts by our IBBY UK delegates {Pam Dix & Ferelith Hordon}, these languages are taught widely through language nests or ‘Kohanga Reo’. A noticeable presence of Far-East Asian communities (Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Philippine, Chinese to mention a few) lends to the interesting mix of cultures.

Maori titlesThe 4-day Congress was a wonderful introduction to a number of award-winning authors and poets of whom, rather shamefully, we had never heard of in the UK. The authors concur that while getting international acclaim is wonderful, their primary market is their home country. The stories are firmly rooted in the NZ identity, which makes them immediately recognisable to the local audiences. The human imprint in this ancient land is very recent and the indigenous spirit of nature and wilderness evident in the stories makes them fiercely local with a global appeal. 

It was this discussion about indigenous literature that started us off the second morning. Award winning author Meshack Asare spoke beautifully of the importance of names that sound local. He gave us the example from his first language, Ashanti: In this Ghanaian language there is no single word which means ‘rainbow’. In Ashanti the expression is ‘eyebrow of the Gods’. While utterly charming, this expression imparts a strong sense of culture and geography, rooted in the indigenous. This phenomenon is widely reflected in the Kiwi names of places. Whakapapa, Taoronga, Whakarewarewa are a few characterful names I remember from my travels around North Island. Enchanting myths and legends lend meaning to these names, making them even more rooted to the local cultures.

The opening plenary talks provided the underlying emotional tone to the proceedings. On the other hand, the parallel sessions, with their sharply focussed paper presentations, provided the analytical edge to the conference. There were a number of remarkable papers and there isn’t enough space to report on all of them here. I will however mention Dr Richard Goodman’s fascinating talk on the river narrative. He spoke on Into the Ravine (2007) by Richard Scrimger, a bildungsroman in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. According to Linda Hutcheon all adaptations have frequent repetitions and significant departures and this talk gave us a current interpretation Huck Finn’s wild escapades.

Later in the day we had the IBBY Honours presentation list. The video with the nominations had some wonderful background Maori music.


KirstiIt was a memorable way of acknowledging the variety and the exceptional work being published around the world. The book display devoted to the honours list complimented the session and drew in loads of visitors. (Right: Finnish nominee, Kirsti Kuronen with her book Paha Puuska)

The next session of the day was an outstanding visual treat where outstanding illustrators Bronwyn Bancroft, Zak Waipara and Hans Christian Anderson winner for illustration (2014)  Roger Mello, spoke to the audience about their work from a panel chaired by children’s book historian and critic par excellence, Leonard Marcus. Waipara calls the picturebook a philosophical medium, like a museum or an art gallery within the covers of the book. Leonard Marcus noted that in a world where artists work for different reading audiences, there is pressure from publishers and distributors to have aspects in books which are generic and universally recognisable so they can fit-in in any culture. But these picturebook artists, with a strong sense of place in their works, show us the way to go; they are our windows to the world. As a picturebook researcher, I was spellbound, and can’t thank IBBY UK enough for offering me the bursary that allowed me to be a part of this profound, moving experience of literature and culture. 


Hobbs and Old TomLastly, Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs, lent a touch of celebrity to the proceedings, bringing the house down with his hilarious and touching stories about how he created his famous characters like Old Tom and Mr Chicken. 

As closing thoughts to this blog, I will refer to Nahoto Uehashi (Hans Christian Anderson winner, 2014), one of the plenary speakers of the day. She says that while on the one hand cultures wield the sword of difference, they also bring the urge to overcome these divisions. By ‘simply borrowing the device of the story’, we can share the authenticity of the indigenous experience, transcend the bounds of other cultures, and access a world full of diversity. So, here’s to more mana (Maori for prestige and power) to the IBBY motto of alleviating ignorance through stories, which I find inspiring and enlightening in equal measure. Kia Ora!

20 August: Ann Lazim

Saturday started early at the congress for those attending the Meet the Author breakfasts which started at 7am(!) and included opportunities to meet Gavin Bishop and Kate De Goldi.

However, I arrived just in time for the opening plenary ‘From print to screen’ which was a double act featuring writer Martin Baynton and Richard Taylor, co-founder of Weta Workshop which produces models and puppets used in many films and TV shows. He worked on The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong. The session began with a mind-blowing showreel featuring action excerpts from these. The activities of Weta Workshop have expanded in many directions. Creativity is still very much at the centre of what they do but the introduction of automated model making techniques has meant that 60% of the models made for The Hobbit films were made in this way. 

Jane and the DragonThey’ve also moved away from blockbusting films to the development of children’s TV series. This is where Martin Baynton came in as he and Taylor worked collaboratively to adapt the former’s Jane and the Dragon picture book into a TV series. Baynton had previously been warned by Roald Dahl and Russell Hoban not to let his books be filmed but he has clearly found a satisfying creative partnership with Taylor.

They demonstrated that books and films are complementary rather than rivals, mentioning that they have heard time and time again how films have opened up books for readers. They spoke about how it’s possible to expand key elements in a simple story like Jane & the Dragon into a 26 episode TV series. Weta Workshop also aims to inspire children to take up creative careers in the film industry. You can find out more about them here:

Then came the choice between 6 parallel sessions, all of which sounded stimulating. I chose one on storytelling. Sabine Fuchs from Austria used three picture books by Heinz Janisch, each illustrated by a different artist, to show how traditional stories and rhymes could be reinterpreted for a new audience.  Sherryl Clark, an Australian children’s writer whose work I’ll certainly be seeking out, spoke about her research into what makes fairy tales endure and whether new fairy tales can be created. These two interesting academic presentations were followed by Tommy Kapai Wilson who describes himself as a professional dreamer and CIO (Chief Imagination Officer) and Jenny Argante talking about a storytelling course they have been involved in (pictured above). Tommy stressed the importance of providing Maori youth with resources by listening to their stories. He quoted the statistic that a 9 year old Maori boy who can't read and write has an 82% chance of going to jail.  Jeannie Skinner completed the session talking about developing and supporting school libraries in the Northland region of New Zealand where there are many small schools - many with less than 50 pupils and with high Maori rolls. She referred to the work of Stephen Krashen and Aidan Chambers, focusing on the importance of enabling adults; reading aloud (and oral storytelling); access to books to create avid readers who will then explore more widely. Her description of genrefication of books as a way of engaging readers rather than relying on alphabetical and numerical organisation of library stock lead to a lively discussion.

The afternoon plenary was a very personal and humorous talk about his influences from Australian author Markus Zusak, best known for The Book Thief.  By the end of the session, we all felt we knew his family, especially his dad! His parents were from Europe and didn't speak English when they first arrived in Australia. They were both great storytellers and Zusak considers that hearing his parents' stories taught him how to write. He emphasised the importance of telling your children your stories. He also made the point that reading narrowly and obsessively is worthwhile as well as reading widely. He concluded the session by reading from his forthcoming book Bridge of Clay.

Red Rocks Rachael KingThe final parallel session of the day I attended was on Global Perspectives. I now have a list of New Zealand books described by Frances Plumpton that I want to get hold of! She mentioned some that have become published internationally such as Bernard Beckett’s Genesis and Kate De Goldi’s The 10pm Question but there are many more that she would like to see more widely known. I’m especially intrigued by Rachael King’s Red Rocks which incorporates elements of a selkie story. Alisha Berger spoke enthusiastically about the work of the Room to Read organisation. Professor Osayimwense Osa talked about reading promotion initiatives in the United Arab Emirates including their Read Dream Create campaign. Mingzhou Zhang from China concluded the session by speaking about his own personal journey as a reader and how this had lead to his deep involvement with IBBY, including facilitating the publication of a book written by Andersen winner Cao Wenxuan and illustrated by previous Andersen winner from Brazil, Roger Mello.

After a packed and stimulating day, there was just time to go and get changed, ready for the Andersen Awards dinner!



20 August: Xiaofei Shi

NZ 2The Hans Christian Andersen Award dinner was a fairyland of aboriginal decorations, delightful music, lively chat, bubbling champagne, and food, delicate and delicious, and more importantly, food for thoughts and inspirations. 

The dinner started with a castle rising up from the ground. The castle, splendidly lit, was so vivid that made me feel as if I were in a fairyland. The arched hallways of the castle seemed to be shrouded in a sort of magic that could transpose me from the here and now into both the past and the future. This was also what impressed me most about the whole Award dinner.

Wally de Doncker, President of IBBY, delivered the opening speech on IBBY’s history, particularly emphasising two milestones – the registering of IBBY in Zurich in 1953, and the establishment of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1956. Throughout the rich history of IBBY are a keen devotion to children and reading, strenuous efforts to bring them together, and an unwavering commitment to protecting and promoting children’s rights of accessing quality books.

Patricia Aldana, President of the Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury, then explained about the criteria of the Award. The Award is given to authors and illustrators whose works excel in literary and artistic qualities, display a willingness to take creative risks, and are meaningful, important and enjoyable for children.

The most exciting moment came when Ms. Aldana presented the Award to Cao Wenxuan, the author winner this year. In the acceptance speech, Mr. Cao compared writing to building houses, and the house can be a symbol passed down through generations of human beings. The birth of the house is interrelated with the human understanding of the home. A home is a shelter, and “a place to rest one’s soul.” As he grew up, words replace the clay, twigs, bricks, and grass that he used to build houses in childhood, and now house building becomes writing. Writing, for him, is a shelter. Writing can represent a space and time, from which our physical body is often dislocated, and give true spiritual freedom. Unfortunately, the illustrator winner, Rotraut Susanne Berner, was unable to come. Doris Breitmoser accepted the Award on her behalf. Ms. Berner shared her thanks and joy with us in a video clip, which depicts a rabbit that rides upon a flying goose, and after encountering various frustrations, finally arrives at New Zealand. It was such a hilarious video!

The magic to transpose people out of the space and time that they are situated within is the charm of writing, as Mr. Cao emphasised. Mr. Doncker’s and Ms. Aldana’s speeches moreover showed another kind of magic – the existence of IBBY and what it has achieved, and will achieve demonstrate that there are values that transcend the boundaries of space and time, and efforts whose impact is so powerful that more people will be inspired to follow the path.  

Since I would soon leave New Zealand when I wrote the blog, I would like to take the chance to say “kia ora” to IBBY UK. “Kia ora” originates from a Maori language, and can mean three things – “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “hi.” Thank you, IBBY UK, for giving me the chance to experience the wonderful, life-changing Congress, and meet all the lovely people. Goodbye, Auckland – yet what I have experienced now becomes part of my memories, and shall never leave. Hi, a new world that the Congress has helped to open up before me.


Final Thoughts: Pam Dix

My closing blog to our Congress experiences has been delayed partly because of the travelling that I did for a few weeks afterwards, followed by the necessary catch up on my return, but also because it has been challenging to process the wonderful experiences that the visit to NZ provided.

I am going to focus on a few key issues that will stay with me and contribute to our future working agenda in the UK. The first and most emphatic is how very very important it is for the UK to be represented at IBBY international forums, whether Bologna, Bratislava or the Congress. In these post-Brexit times, it is the one subject of conversation that everyone raised with us and it is key to show that we are not shutting down and that we believe in participating in the global stage. Indeed as Elizabeth Laird said in her thanks for the HCA certificate, IBBY ‘encourages us in the children’s book world to lift our eyes beyond these shores’.

The second is a clarity of message that I found everywhere about the role and importance of libraries. I have mentioned earlier that the NZ national library has responsibility for services to schools which means that their work and thinking about the role of libraries in education is both very exciting and at a very high level. Travelling around, I found that every town had a centrally located library, busy and entrancing, and I felt like they were magnets drawing me in. People are very proud of them. Julia Eccleshare, Catherine Mitchell (from IBBY Canada) and I had a tour of the National Library in Wellington where each curator had selected items of worth and of potential interest to us. The Library is currently preparing a new gallery showing the Treaty and Suffrage documents (NZ was the first country to have women’s suffrage in 1893), which will be opened soon with the intention that every child should visit. ( In Dunedin (population 127,000), I was able to give a talk to a gathering of all those interested in children’s literature in the area, including librarians, writers, publishers, bookshop staff, university and college lecturers. The scale of the community and their commitment means that they can do some very joined up collaborative thinking about ways forward.

And finally, to end I want to revisit Reading for pleasure. This was the underlying theme of the conference and it was so good to hear of the range of children’s literature that is being produced around the world and the reading promotion activities that run alongside. The two IBBY Asahi award winners encapsulated this: Laos’s Big Brother Mouse producing books for children who have never had any access to books; and Iran’s Read with Me which reduced us all to tears with the account of the impact that using books has on very distressed and fragile children. 

I was hugely impressed with a parallel session on verse novels and one on reading promotion schemes, at which our own Summer Reading Challenge attracted considerable attention. It was also a privilege to hear Katherine Paterson speak in a session chaired by Julia, in which she told us the setting for her new book will be the Cuban Literacy Campaign in 1961, where one of the volunteers said of her work in the countryside “I taught them how to read and write and they taught me to be a person”.  IBBY uniquely gives us access to the books, authors, illustrators as well as to the way that books can be a force for good in the world and can change lives.

As NZ’s very own Joy Cowley said in her plea for good early reading stories of which she is the author of around 800, “it is easy to teach a child to read and to hate reading at the same time”.  We must make sure we keep up the campaigns for libraries and reading for pleasure here in the UK, as well as take part in all the opportunities that IBBY provides for us to make books available where supplies are limited.  With this in mind, IBBY Europe is planning a regional conference at Bologna on Thursday, April 6th 2017 to consider the refugee situation in Europe and ways in which we can collaboratively respond.

In the Congress closing ceremony Joy said:

Haere mai ano hoa, ka waiho ano te utuafare (You came as friends and leave as family)

I think we all feel the truth of this.