Sunday, August 21, 2016

On the nature of writing from the heart and winning an IBBY Honour Award




I’ve just come back from an exhausting but inspiring four days at the IBBY World Congress (The International Board on Books for Young People), held this year in Auckland. As well as having my mind fed by the host of inspiring writers and illustrators who presented at the congress, I was thrilled to have my book “Singing Home the Whale” named as one of their 2016 Honour Books.  What does that mean? According to their website at www.ibby.org:

 The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries. The IBBY Honour List is one of the most widespread and effective ways of furthering IBBY's objective of encouraging international understanding through children's literature...  Important considerations in selecting the Honour List titles are that the books are representative of the best in children's literature from the country and that the books are suitable for publication throughout the world. The selection provides insight into the diverse cultural, political and social settings in which children live and grow and it can be used by all those involved with developing educational and literacy programmes and publishing initiatives to develop exemplary “international” collections.

As you can imagine, I’m over the moon! The thought that my crazy whale book will be winging around the world and find a home among the world’s best is mind blowing!
International Youth Library in Munich where my book will live!


I didn’t know much about IBBY as an organisation before this (to my shame) – but I was utterly inspired by the speeches from its current President Wally de Doncker, a highly respected writer in his own right. Two of IBBY’s focuses in its Mission Statement include:

  •     to promote international understanding through children's books
  •      to protect and uphold the Rights of the Child according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

What I find exciting is that they don’t just give these lofty goals lip service. As well as supporting writers from around the world, they have instigated wonderful programmes such as working to reduce illiteracy and giving children access to books, understanding that reading is knowledge and a window into the wider world. For instance, they have supported children caught up in the flood of refugees into Italy, and 'called on the US Government to care for the thousands of unaccompanied refugee children and families after they cross the Mexican/USA border on their incredible journeys from their war-torn and violent homelands in search of a place to live and grow.'

In Wally de Doncker’s 2016 New Year newsletter he said:

A human being is a human being. A child is a child. An individual. Not an anonymous statistic. Books and reading save lives and give traumatised children a chance to become whole, contributing citizens as they grow up. . . . Always IBBY has believed that every child everywhere in the world must have access to books and the opportunity to become a reader in the fullest sense. We see this as a fundamental right and the doorway to empowerment for every child.

I LOVE this! I love that an organisation with books at its heart is prepared to stand up and voice their concerns, and to work for the betterment of the whole world’s children. And if you read the profiles of the writers they nominate and award each year for their various prizes (including the Hans Christian Anderson Award - the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children's books, and won by our own Margaret Mahy in 2006) it is clear they appreciate the many social and personal issues explored through the medium of children’s fiction and celebrate the positive impact such writers have on their readers. That they view writing as a means of EMPOWERMENT is something I couldn’t agree with more.

At the congress we heard from inspiring writers from places like China, Haiti and Ghana, whose work is designed to express the unique issues and concerns of their given country – to help the readers understand and form their own unique identity - all brave and inspiring torch-bearers.

I was asked to give a ten-minute introduction to my work at one of the author breakfasts during the congress – here’s the start of what I said:

I write because I can’t help it, it’s part of who I am. And I write because I’m baffled and angry with the cruelty and greed I see around me – and the stupidity of destroying our life source – our planet. I write because I’m worried (I’m an habitual worrier!) – I’m worried for my children, their children, your children, and for the children who have no voice. I feel helpless. The only thing I can try to do is to write about the outrages with an honest thoughtful eye – and to shine a light on the truth of what is going on around us. Often I write about loss and grief and the hurts we all battle, and I try to show a path through – to offer hope. But most of all I write about the need to ask questions – to challenge the spin and artifice – and about the need for kindness, generosity, compassion and love – yes, love most of all. I want my readers to think, to question, to activate, to care for others, to engage in what is going on around them. …
Thank you IBBY! You’ve made this writer a very happy woman!