Last weekend, over a hundred people gathered from around the world to attend an IBBY Canada meeting. As a program presenter I logged in early and to see faces rapidly filling the screen as others joined the meeting was truly exciting. There were the faces of friends and colleagues from across the country, many whom I hadn’t seen in years or had not yet met, and faces from IBBY chapters in Pakistan, Spain, the US, Switzerland, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand. Many exclamations of delight and greeting were heard as attendees discovered who else was in the room.
(Pausing here to note how natural it has become, one year into the pandemic, to use words like “gather,” “meet,” “attend” and “in the room,” even when talking about a virtual meeting.)
Attendance from far and wide would obviously not have been possible at a typical Saturday-morning IBBY Canada in-person meeting in Toronto. What made the virtual aspect of this meeting in particular especially apt was the panel discussion that began the event.
The subject was The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman. Katie Scott, the book’s editor would lead a chat with me (the author of the book) and Marie Lafrance, its illustrator. Jella Lepman founded IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, in 1953, after establishing the International Youth Library in 1949 – a lasting version of a traveling exhibit of children’s books from around the world that she set up in four cities in Germany in 1946. After a warm welcome to all from IBBY Canada president Patti McIntosh, we were honoured to have Liz Page, head of IBBY International in Basel, Switzerland offer an introduction to the subject of Jella Lepman and The Lady with the Books. Then it was over to Katie, Marie, and me.
The project originated with Katie at Kids Can Press. It was clear that people enjoyed hearing about why each of us was drawn to the idea of a book about Jella Lepman and the impact of her work, about the research involved in creating both text and art, and about how the project developed. Questions poured in after our discussion. A reading of The Lady with the Books (the story part, not the factual back matter) served as a transition to the business meeting, where again benefits of meeting virtually were apparent.
It felt entirely appropriate, when IBBY’s awards were presented, that there was a large and appreciative audience to honour and celebrate those receiving them. The Claude Aubry award was given to Barbara Greenwood and Robert Soulières, each for their “significant contribution to Canadian children’s literature.” The Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver award was given to Marie-Louise Gay “in recognition of outstanding artistic talent in a Canadian picture book,” in this case The Three Brothers published by Groundwood. We got to hear from each of the honorees too, who would not likely have been present had the meeting not been virtual. And about IBBY Canada’s nominees for two international awards: Sydney Smith and Angèle Delaunois for the Hans Christian Andersen award and Eric Walters for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial award.
Because I believe in IBBY’s philosophy of fostering international understanding through children’s books, I’ve been a member for almost as long as I’ve been writing children’s books (almost 40 years). IBBY Canada was struggling just to stay viable when I first joined. Now it runs a wonderful range of programs and activities that bring awareness of books and actual books to children in need and those who support them: Readers and Refugees, the Indigenous Picture Book Collection, Books for Beirut, Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, and the Silent Books Collection.
As I listened to reports on these activities at this year’s meeting, it occurred to me how well what IBBY Canada is doing links back to the organization’s origins – with Jella Lepman setting up her exhibitions in Germany in 1946 because she believed that what German children needed then, as much as food to fill their tummies, was books to feed their souls. This is no less true for many children today.
Whether you are involved in the children’s book industry, or simply believe in the potential of good children’s books to build bridges of understanding between people, I hope you will join me in supporting IBBY’s work by becoming a member or making a donation.
The visual for this post is the logo for the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund to which the author is donating a portion of her royalties.