The International Children's Literature Movement
CARL M. TOMLINSON
The international children's literature movement was founded primarily through the efforts of Jella Lepman, a German Jew who fled the Nazi Holocaust of World War II but returned to her devastated homeland immediately after the war. Determined to do something to prevent the recurrence of such destruction, Lepman convinced publishers from all over Europe to donate children's books for a traveling exhibit. These books, Lepman believed, would build bridges of understanding among the children who read them. For years this exhibit drew great crowds all over Europe, and in 1949 it became the foundation of the International Youth Library.
Today, the first of Lepman's great accomplishments, the International Youth Library (IYL), is housed in Schloss Blutenburg, a former castle, in Munich, Germany. It is the only institution in the world that systematically collects literature for children from around the world. With more than five hundred thousand volumes in over one hundred languages, the IYL is the world's largest collection of children's literature. Its publications include the quarterly IJB Report, the annual IJB Bulletin, and The White Ravens, an annual selection of recent international children's books recommended for translation.1
Encouraged by the success of the international book exhibit and the fledgling IYL, Lepman and others founded the International Board on Books for Young People, or IBBY, in 1953. This nonprofit organization provides an international forum for those committed to bringing children and books together and is the centerpiece of the international children's literature movement. Its general mission is to promote international understanding and world peace through children's books. More specifically, IBBY also strives to
- give children everywhere the opportunity to have access to books with high literary and artistic standards
- encourage the publication and distribution of high-quality children's books, especially in developing countries
- provide support and training for those involved with children and children's books
- stimulate research and scholarly works in the field of children's literature.
All countries are eligible to join IBBY. Currently, there are more than sixty member nations, each of which has a national organization affiliated with IBBY. The organization has its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, and is supported through dues from the national sections and donations. Individuals join the organization through their national section, if there is one. If not, individual membership in IBBY is possible. In the United States, one joins the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). IBBY's main activities are described below.
The Hans Christian Andersen Medals. The best-known way in which IBBY and its member nations promote international children's literature is in its sponsorship of the Hans Christian Andersen Medal program. The Hans Christian Andersen Medal is the most prestigious children's book award in the world. Every two years each IBBY member nation is eligible to nominate a living children's author and illustrator from that country to compete for the medals. An international panel of jurors selects from the nominees an author and an illustrator whose complete works, in the jury's opinion, have made the most important international contributions to children's literature. Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is the patron of these awards, an appropriate link to Denmark's famous storyteller and award namesake, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75).
The Hans Christian Andersen award program was founded in 1956. Originally, only one medal was conferred every two years, but beginning in 1966 the committee gave separate medals for writing and for illustration. To date, five authors from the United States have won the medal: Meindert DeJong (1962), Scott O'Dell (1972), Paula Fox (1978), Virginia Hamilton (1992), and Katherine Paterson (1998). Maurice Sendak is the only U.S. winner for illustration (1970). The 2002 recipients of these awards are Aidan Chambers (author) and Quentin Blake (illustrator), both of the United Kingdom.
The IBBY Honour List. Every two years, IBBY produces a catalog of outstanding, recently published books, recommended by IBBY member nations as suitable for publication in other languages. Each national section may submit three entries for excellence in writing, illustration, and translation. The catalog, available in English, French, German, and Spanish, is distributed throughout the world. Five traveling exhibits of current Honour List books are always on view, and past collections are kept permanently in some of the world's leading book institutions. The Honour List is credited with increasing the number of translations and foreign editions of excellent children's books (Raecke and Maissen).2
Bookbird. Members of IBBY and its affiliate national organizations keep in touch through their journal, Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, and at their biennial world congresses. Bookbird was founded in 1966 and, since 1993, has been published in the United States. Each issue of this outstanding quarterly contains articles and shorter opinion pieces focused on a single theme, as well as letters from readers in response to earlier articles, a calendar of events, national book-award listings, and reviews of important new trade and resource literature. A network of associate editors from IBBY member nations assists the editors (currently Evelyn B. Freeman, Barbara A. Lehman, Lilia Ratcheva-Stratieva, and Patricia L. Scharer) in producing the journal. A sampling of past special-issue themes in Bookbird includes "Bad" Books, Good Reading; Children's Poetry; Southeast Asia; Sexuality in Books for Children; Violence in Children's Books; Philosophy for Children; the Great Collections; and Girls and Women. Part of the task of producing this handsome international journal is providing translation services in many languages. This service encourages submissions from many nations, helping to ensure the global perspective that distinguishes Bookbird from most other children's literature journals.
IBBY Biennial Congresses. IBBY holds an international conference every two years in a cultural and historic world center. The atmosphere at these gatherings is both exciting and inspiring. Language is not a problem for registrants from the United States, since many sessions are conducted in English and translation services are provided. In 1990 the United States hosted the IBBY Congress in Williamsburg, Virginia. IBBY's fiftieth jubilee congress was held in Basel, Switzerland, in 2002.
The IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award. This competitive award, cosponsored and endowed by the Japanese newspaper company Asahi Shimbun, is presented annually to a group or institution for making a lasting contribution to book-promotion programs for children and young people. The 2003 cash award of $10,000 was given to the "Sister Libraries" project, a reading and writing program in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Run by volunteer teachers who engage children in reading and writing, this program serves eight hundred disadvantaged youths annually, providing library and book events. A special commendation was given to the "Reach Out and Read" program of greater Cleveland, Ohio, which involves pediatricians, parents, and their children in twelve low-income communities in Cleveland.
The IBBY Documentation Centre of Books for Disabled Young People. This center, with headquarters at the Norwegian Institute of Special Education in Oslo, Norway, promotes international exhibits, seminars, and bibliographic surveys of books for and about disabled young people. Some of its projects, cosponsored by UNESCO, have been exhibited by IBBY worldwide.
IBBY's International Children's Book Day. On or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, April 2, the International Children's Book Day is celebrated to call attention to children's books. Each national section of IBBY is invited to sponsor ICBD for one year. Often the national sponsor commissions a poster to commemorate the day.
Janusz Korczak Literary Prize. This international children's book prize commemorates the Polish humanitarian who established orphanages in Jewish ghettoes in Poland during World War II. It is sponsored by the Polish National Section of IBBY and is given biennially to living writers whose books are distinguished for their human and artistic values and for their promotion of understanding and friendship among children worldwide. Two awards are conferred: one for a book for children, and one for a book about children.
Those interested in a more personal account of the early days of IBBY should read Jella Lepman's Die Kinderbuchbrücke (1964; Eng. A Bridge of Children's Books, 1969), in which she tells the story of the establishment of an international children's book field. The book was reissued in 2002 by the O'Brien Press of Ireland and the United States Board on Books for Young People and is available through the United States Board on Books for Young People.3
International Literature in the United States
Relatively fewer children's books are imported to the United States today than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is due largely to the rapid growth in this century of U.S. children's book production. It is due also to the additional costs of translation and to the difficulty of selling many of these books in this country.
Reporting on the status of translated books in the United States is hampered by the fact that no U.S. agency officially tracks such information. We must rely on the estimates of children's book experts. According to them, for the past several decades the number of children's books published in the United States, compared to total annual children's book production, has been about 1 percent.4 Even considering the titles not included in these estimates, the number of translated children's books brought to this country annually is a mere trickle.
Books originally written in English in other English-speaking countries and then published in the United States are more numerous than translations, but again, there are no exact figures for how many of these books are imported each year. Estimating these figures is further complicated by copublication arrangements, which sometimes make a book's country of origin difficult to determine. It is safe to say, however, that the great majority of imported English-language books comes from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.
In 1966 the Children's Services Division (now the Association of Library Services to Children), a division of the American Library Association, founded the Mildred L. Batchelder Book Award Program to encourage international exchange of high-quality children's books. This annual award is made to an American publisher for a work considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States during the previous calendar year. The Mildred L. Batchelder Award list is an excellent source for international titles.
The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) is the U.S. national section of IBBY. USBBY's purposes are to explore and promote excellent children's reading materials that have been produced throughout the world, to cooperate with IBBY and with other groups whose goals are comparable to those of USBBY, to facilitate exchange of information about books of international interest, and to promote access to and reading of these books by children and young adults in the United States and elsewhere. It provides support for, and disseminates information to, those involved with children and children's literature, and it stimulates research and scholarship in the field of children's literature. For an overview of USBBY, its activities, publications (including two extensive bibliographies of translated international children's books available in the United States), biennial conferences, and sponsored appearances of international authors and illustrators in the United States, visit their web site (www.usbby.org).
Northern Illinois University
This article is based on part 1 of Children’s Books from Other Countries, ed. Charles M. Tomlinson (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1998).
1 For more information, visit the International Youth Library's web site (www.ijb.de).
2 For further information about the Honour List exhibit currently in the United States and other IBBY activities, contact the executive director, IBBY Secretariat (email@example.com). IBBY's web site (www.ibby.org), also offers a wealth of information, including a complete list of Andersen Medal winners.
3 To order a copy of A Bridge of Children's Books, contact the executive secretary of USBBY, Alida Cutts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
4 See the works by Bamburger; Horning, Kruse, and Schleisman; and White listed in the works cited.
Bamburger, R. “The Influence of Translation on the Development of National Children's Literature.” In Children's Books in Translation: The Situation and the Problems. Ed. G. Klingberg, M. qrvig, and S. Amor. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.
Horning, K. T., G. M. Kruse, and M. Schleisman. CCBC Choices 2001. Madison, Wisconsin: Friends of the CCBC, 2001.
Lepman, J. A Bridge of Children's Books. Dublin, Ireland: O'Brien Press and United States Board on Books for Young People, 1969; Chicago: American Library Association, 2002.
Raecke, R., and L. Maissen. What Is IBBY? Basel, Switzerland: International Board on Books for Young People, 1994.
White, M. “Children's Books from Other Languages: A Study of Successful Translations.” Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 5, no. 3 (1992), 261-75.
Carl M. Tomlinson is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Literacy Education at Northern Illinois University. He served as president of the United States Board on Books for Young People in 1999 and is the editor of Children's Books from Other Countries (Scarecrow Press 1998) and the co-author of Essentials of Children's Literature (Allyn & Bacon 2003).
“From the April-June 2003 issue of World Literature Today (3:1), pages 68-70. Copyright © 2003 World Literature Today.”