ABDVol.32 No.4

Global Network of Children's Books
Tayo Shima

What Is IBBY

 IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) is a global network of people involved in the world of children's books. People in many countries, representing a wide variety of lifestyles, ages and positions in their societies reach across their differences to work together in this organization, and one immediately recognizes the particular conviction all these people share. That conviction is that the books we read when we are children become an indispensable source of personal, inner strength throughout our lives, and that it is extremely important to the lives of children for them to be aware of and exposed to the treasures of human knowledge and insight available in books.
  One finds, moreover, that people who are involved with books for children all over the world are those who have a clear recollection of their childhood. Not all these memories are of comfort, family warmth, and happiness; often they include bitter, cruel experiences they could not escape. Some people distinctly remember the solace and salvation they found in books.
  Five centuries have passed since the invention of the printing press, which made it possible to print and mechanically produce large quantities of information that until then could only be passed down by word of mouth or by hand-copying. But books truly written for children, existing expressly for them, did not really appear until after the beginning of the twentieth century. Until then the books children read were mainly works about knowledge and manners, or religious doctrine conceived by and for adults.
  In 1932, the French scholar Paul Hazard, in Books, Children and Men wrote memorably about how children, following their own instincts, had found among the many books imposed upon them by adults, those that truly spoke to their needs, as follows:

"Give us books," say the children; "give us wings. You who are powerful and strong, help us to escape into the faraway. Build us azure palaces in the midst of enchanted gardens. Show us fairies strolling about in the moonlight. We are willing to learn everything that we are taught at school, but, please, let us keep our dreams."

  Children took books that had not originally been written for children and made them their own, books like Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, and Don Quixote. The universality of those outstanding books that children chose of their own volition, in the limited time and space of their childhood-stories that spun the tales of their own lives-forms something that I believe sustains the coexistence of humankind at its very foundations. From those children grew adults who have tried to pass down the books that provided what they considered to be indispensable nourishment for the human spirit, and those adults are now devoted to putting good books in the hands of children.

Lepman and the Foundation of IBBY

 Many of those people come together in IBBY, the world-linking network which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2002. Founded by Jella Lepman in 1953 in the conviction that the only hope for world peace lay in helping children to learn about and understand other peoples and countries through reading books, IBBY is devoted to putting good books in the hands of children. One of its greatest challenges today is the movement to eradicate illiteracy among the massive number of children in the world who still do not know how to read. It also engages in projects to promote good reading habits and improvement of publications for children in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania.
  Returning to her war-devastated homeland in Germany after the end of World War II, Lepman found starving children everywhere. A bare subsistence diet was provided for most of them through aid from the Allied Forces and the Red Cross, but Lepman realized that perhaps their greatest need was for some source of spiritual support and sustenance. Her rallying cry to the world to "Give us books for the children!" was answered, and IBBY was founded in Zurich in 1953 against this background of the ravages of war.
  IBBY now has 63 National Sections and functions in the status of an NGO affiliated with UNESCO and UNICEF. The conviction that children's books are the key to peaceful coexistence for all humankind championed by the founding members has spread over the past fifty years to countries all over the globe and spawned an important earth-girdling network of people working in diverse environments under very disparate conditions.


 IBBY's activities revolve around the network of National Sections whose projects unfold on both the international and national levels. Its international vibrancy is fueled by active initiatives undertaken on the national levelsムthe regional conferences they organize, the newsletters they publish, the special programmes they sponsor, and the selection committees they form.
  The Hans Christian Andersen Awards sponsored by IBBY are aimed at recognizing and encouraging the lifetime work of outstanding writers and illustrators of children's books. The IBBY Honour List is a biennial catalogue and exhibition of recent titles selected by IBBY National Sections for their outstanding quality of writing, illustration and translation. The IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award presents a 1 million yen award to an exemplary project promoting children's reading. Examples are portable libraries started in Thailand, the bibliobuses that visit refugee camps in Palestine, and the braille picture book gallery in Osaka, Japan. Each year on Andersen's birthday, 2 April, IBBY celebrates International Children's Day to call attention to children's books. Since 1967 a different National Section has had the opportunity to be the international sponsor of the day and to choose a motto inviting a prominent author to write a message to the children of the world and a well-known illustrator to design the commemorative poster. The IBBY Documentation Center of Books for Disabled Young People is connected to the University of Oslo, Norway. Bookbird is a quarterly journal designed for everyone with an interest in the children's books of the world. It is edited in the United States and Europe and published in Canada. Regional cooperation and networking are the lifeblood of IBBY, and these energies are brought together every two years at the IBBY Congresses, the recent ones in New Delhi in 1998, Colombia's Cartagena di Indias in 2000, and in the near future in Basel in 2002, Capetown in 2004, and Beijing in 2006.


 IBBY's tasks seem somewhat overwhelming when we survey all the challenges we face. How to compete with the forces of the contemporary entertainment market that so enthrall the children of today? How to undo the knots of ethnic and religious intolerance? How to prevent war and violence? While we may not yet have answers to all these questions, we do know the tremendous power and nourishment that can be provided by books. We need to be ready when our children seek new realms of experience, ask new (and old) questions, and turn to the kind of support and solace that only books can provide. IBBY is the network Lepman founded to coordinate the endeavours of all those who know the importance of children's books by providing a common platform to share ideas and experience and to combine their strength in the task of maintaining the priceless heritage of books for children.

Tayo Shima
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1937. After graduating from the University of the Sacred Heart, she worked as an editor at a publishing company, and a consultant at the Children's Literature Center of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. from 1983-1987. She is now IBBY President, Board member of Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY), Board member of Tokyo Children's Library, Lecturer at the Design Department of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and Co-director of Musee Imaginaire, a private reference library of historical picture books.
Tayo Shima
President, IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People), Mpmmemweg 12, Postfach, CH-4003 Basel, Switzerland, e-mail: ibby@eye.ch, URL: http://www.ibby.org