The First International IBBY Canada Meeting

IBBY Children in Crisis FundLast 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.

12 Comments

  1. mitchellcatherine on March 10, 2021 at 9:37 am

    What a fabulous post, Kathy. You have done the best thing possible for the section and for all those mentioned. I am forwarding to Barbara, Robert, and Susane in case they are not on your distribution list, as well as Basarat in Lahore. We Zoomed yesterday and she told me how wonderful it was to be present, especially for your panel.

    That’s generous of you to give some proceeds to the Children in Crisis fund.

    Onward and upward!

    • Kathy on March 10, 2021 at 12:22 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Catherine, and for passing along the link to the post to those mentioned — and anyone else you think might be interested. It was great to see you Saturday!

  2. Janet Barclay on March 10, 2021 at 10:20 am

    How exciting to be able to meet with people from all over the world like that! I haven’t participated in anything remotely as impressive (yet) but I did organize a Zoom meeting of people from a Facebook group, many of whom only know each other through the group. It was so exciting to be in the same room (and I love what you said about phrases like that being “normal” now).

    I have no doubt this book is going to be a worldwide success. I’m very proud of you!

    • Kathy on March 10, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      It wasn’t quite as exciting as the IBBY Congress in Athens, but it was pretty darn good! 🙂 I think this “zooming” is proving a great benefit to many groups — like this one and yours.

      There are five translations of The Lady with the Books already and hopefully there will be more soon. I think kids in many parts of the world would find both the fictional story based on a real situation and the factual story about Jella Lepman (“the lady” herself) both comforting and inspiring.

  3. wendy mason on March 10, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    How wonderful and thank you for sharing. I remember when IBBY interviewed me about books and reading. Such a superb organization it is. I look forward to your new book.

    • Kathy on March 10, 2021 at 6:13 pm

      Thank you Wendy. A superb organization that interviewed a superb bookseller!

      • wendy mason on March 11, 2021 at 12:50 pm

        Oh thank you Kathy for your kind words. I can’t to have a copy of your upcoming book, illustrated by the amazing Francois. ———- Original Message ———-

        • Kathy on March 11, 2021 at 1:17 pm

          Oh good! I’m glad you’ve heard about that one. I’m really excited about The Girl Who Loved Giraffes, and so is “the girl, “Anne Innis Dagg.

          • wendy mason on March 11, 2021 at 1:50 pm

            I am so looking forward to having a copy in my hands. I’ve had sneak previews of Francois art and a snippet of text and that made me cognizant of how important and special this book will be. If there’s any way I could obtain a signed copy from you…bonus. If not, I understand. I will make sure that my department at Indigo/Yorkdale has copies. I’m still not back to work yet but hoping by June I can return to recommend, feature and sell Canadian for kids. ———- Original Message ———-



          • Kathy on March 11, 2021 at 4:20 pm

            I’m sure that one way or another a signed copy can be arranged. I’m glad your sneak peek gave you a sense of the wonderful book it promises to be.
            You will have such fun hand-selling it, I know, and all the other great books that have been coming out, when you can at last get back to doing that. This will happen!



          • wendy mason on March 11, 2021 at 4:31 pm

            That would mean so much to me but I always understand if it cannot happen. Of course I would be featuring it, recommending it and selling it if only I could return to my bookselling passion. In the meantime I will ensure that my department has copies. ———- Original Message ———-



          • Kathy on March 11, 2021 at 8:32 pm

            That’s great, Wendy. Thank you. I hope you’ll get back where you want to be before too long.



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