IBBY or International Board on Books for Young People is the only international organisation that works to connect writers, illustrators, publishers, librarians, educators and academics with the common focus of bringing literature to tamariki all around the world. More than that IBBY as a representative body is internationally engaged as a protector and advocate for children. The successful bid to hold the biennial IBBY congress here in Aotearoa was made in 2014 by Dr. Libby Limbrick and Rosemary Tisdall and this year we saw the results of 2 years mahi culminate in a tino ataahua event held over four stunning days in Tāmaki Makaurau for over 500 manuhiri from all corners of the globe.
Kirsten and I were honoured to be part of the IBBY Congress. Our heartfelt aroha to Te pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu who made sure our stories were represented there! Thanks to them Reo Pēpi had an exhibition space at IBBY where we displayed our pukapuka, illustrations and some examples of new whakaaro. We shared the responsibilities of our display so each of us could enjoy as much of the programme as possible. One of us would kōrero with the people, while the other would be immersed, in one of dozens of fascinating congress sessions curated by a rawe team of kiwi oragnisers and presented by an international host of experts, enthusiasts and characters committed to children and books and words. We felt closely related to our IBBY associates through our love for children and beautiful books, we were blown away by the stories we heard.
· A Japanese writer with her career as a cultural anthropologist on hold indefinitely. A result of being completely overrun by award winning stories refusing to be held back!
· A Turkish librarian crying passionate tears at the state of children’s literature in her country. Where on average children read for just one minute per day as opposed to spending an average of six hours in front of a screen.
· An Anglo-Australian working as a scribe-providing resources for Aboriginal children who would otherwise have no access to books written in their own languages.
· An Inuit librarian from Greenland where there are only TWO children's books published in the indigenous language of that land!
The theme of IBBY was “Literature in a multi-literate world” but it seemed to me that an alternative theme ran concurrently and apparently inadvertently alongside this. As the event went on this sub-theme surfaced again and again.
Witi Ihimaera our own literary hero, treasured story teller, award winning laureate opened the congress with an evocative message-With seemingly insurmountable challenges on every front-environmental, Geo-political, climate, social and cultural "we need to inspire our children so that they can save this world!"
Can it be that simple? Just look after and inspire children? Witi and I believe so.
But how do we get to them? What if they are not reading books? Witi’s inspired response-“Chase those mokopuna! Chase them and catch them up!” He urged his peers to embrace the many different modalities of storytelling now available and use them to “send the stories” after the children. Stories that tell them about where they come from, stories where they will recognise themselves and their people.
Sheryl Clark of Victoria University-An international fairy tale expert lamented the trepidation in publishers around dark tales for children. Stories where children are faced with fear and adversity but overcome darkness with resilience and spirit. She advocated for fantasy in our lives as an antidote to the challenges of real life and as a tool-real and effective.
Markus Zusak author of international best seller The Book Thief appeared as the concluding key note speaker. He shared with us, how his parents childhood stories, would mean he was armed to one day write a book that meant everything to him. He urged parents and grandparents to tell their stories to children, to arm them with tales which might aid them throughout their lives in ways yet unknown and unfathomed.
This quote comes from Dr. Darryn Joseph of AUT who spoke on the powerful role of storytelling in his relationship with his son. It does the best job of summing up the serendipitous (and totally unofficial) yet truly remarkable sub-theme of IBBY. These were the words he used to dedicate one of his own stories to his children.