This year Ireland hosted International Children’s Book Day!
Letter to the children of the world
Readers often ask writers how it is that they write their stories – where do the ideas come from? From my imagination, the writer answers. Ah, yes, readers might say. But where is your imagination, and what is it made of, and has everyone got one?
Well, says the writer, it is in my head, of course, and it is made of pictures and words and memories and traces of other stories and words and fragments of things and melodies and thoughts and faces and monsters and shapes and words and movements and words and waves and arabesques and landscapes and words and perfumes and feelings and colours and rhymes and little clicks and whooshes and tastes and bursts of energy and riddles and breezes and words. And it is all swirling around in there and singing and kaleidoscoping and floating and sitting and thinking and scratching its head.
Of course everyone has an imagination: otherwise we wouldn’t be able to dream. Not everyone’s imagination has the same stuff in it, though. Cooks’ imaginations probably have mostly taste in them, and artists’ imaginations mostly colours and shapes. Writers’ imaginations, though, are mostly full of words.
And for readers of and listeners to stories, their imaginations run on words too. The writer’s imagination works and spins and shapes ideas and sounds and voices and characters and events into a story, and the story is made of nothing but words, battalions of squiggles marching across the pages. Then along comes a reader and the squiggles come to life. They stay on the page, they still look like battalions, but they are also romping about in the reader’s imagination, and the reader is now shaping and spinning the words so that the story runs now inside his or her head, as it once did in the head of the writer.
That is why the reader is just as important to the story as the writer. There is only one writer for each story, but there are hundreds or thousands or maybe even millions of readers, in the writer’s own language, or perhaps even translated into many languages. Without the writer the story would never be born; but without all the thousands of readers around the world, the story would not get to live all the lives it can live.
Every reader of a story has something in common with every other reader of that story. Separately, and yet in a way also together, they have re-created the writer’s story in their own imagination: an act that is both private and public, individual and communal, intimate and international. It may well be what humans do best.
Author, editor, translator and former Laureate na nÓg (Children’s Laureate of Ireland).
Doris Gebel is the President of USBBY and Head of Children’s Services at the Northport-East Northport Public Library in Northport, NY.
The International and Global Literature Collection at Northport Library was launched in December 2012. This growing collection features children’s and young adult literature translated from a language other than English, imported from outside the USA, or written by an author with international roots.
Never the less, he is just one of the famous animal characters that populate British children’s literature. He stands proudly next to Paddington and the creatures of The Wind in the Willows. Little people are no strangers to British children’s literature beginning with the folk character of Tom Thumb to Jonathan Swift’s Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels to Norton’s Borrowers.
Britain stands among the first nations to institute the position of Children’s Laureate, naming Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Anthony Browne (author and illustrator of that famous gorilla), Michael Morpurgo (author of nearly 100 books for young people and recently come to our attention by way of War Horse), and the current Julia Donaldson (if you don’t know the Gruffalo, check out Donaldson talking about her process http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk2UFQSfndo and see the universal appeal of the story from Hong Kong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIAU8eWL43w to Italy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj0RYFLrMAs.)
Children of long ago cherished books like A Child’s Garden of Verse, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. From the more recent past there’s The Chronicles of Narnia, The Sword in the Stone, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The likes of Joan Aiken, Leon Garfield, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mollie Hunter, Helen Cresswell, Ian Serrraillier, Philppa Pearce, William Mayne and Roald Dahl stand in the halls of great British writers for children. Contemporary authors such as Eva Ibbotson, Phillip Pullman, Hillary McKay….dare I mention J.K Rowling are also currently popular in England.
And this doesn’t touch on the great tradition of picture books. Just consider the works of the great nineteenth century illustrators, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway and Beatrix Potter, to name just three.
Check out these popular Irish authors and illustrators: Roddy Doyle, Siobhán Parkinson, Oliver Jeffers, Shibhán Dowd, Eoin Colfer, P.J. Lynch.
We are all familiar with the Newbery and Caldecott awards and wait with anticipation for their announcement each January. The British equivalent of these awards are the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/home/index.php Also of interest is the Guardian Prize http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/guardianchildrensfictionprize
Chambers, Aidan. Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk. Pembroke, 1996.
Townsend, John Rowe. Written for Children: an outline of English-Language children’s literature. Scarecrow Press, 1996.
The list of Outstanding International Books 2014 is now available. This list is compiled annually by the United States Board on Books for Young People. It recognizes books originally published outside the United States and now available from U. S. publishers. Many of the books are on international themes. As a whole, this is a remarkable collection of books that reflect both the shared commonalities of youth and a diversity of experiences throughout the world.
An article by Brenda Dales with the annotated list is now available from School Library Journal