The History of IBBY in Russia


Children’s literature and its influence on shaping moral values and interests of young people have always remained in the focus of attention of Russian intellectual circles. Therefore, we can fairly accurately say that the Board on Books for Young People of Russia, which we formed with the support and under patronage of the Russian Cultural Foundation as a non-profit organization that incorporated works by prominent Russian literary figures was the “brain child” of the contemporary Russian intelligentsia. And even though this event did not receive a lot of publicity, we consider it our remarkable personal achievement.

It was also a symbolic event, for it confirms that Russian intelligentsia has remained true to its eternal commitments oriented at shaping the minds of young Russian people in the best traditions of the Russian culture. By creating the Russian Board and getting it approved as the Russian national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), Russian intelligentsia, quite altruistically, has kept a “window to the world” open for our national children’s literature. Our membership in IBBY, and, as a result, our participation in its many projects and programmes, has given Russian books a unique chance to avoid complete isolation and to be included into the modern world cultural heritage.

The history of the Russian Board goes as far back as the 1960s when we realized that it was imperative for us to join IBBY. Without this important step Russian books for young people would have stood no chance in becoming part of the XX century world literary heritage. IBBY was founded in 1953 in Zurich, Switzerland and by the 1960s had already involved more than 20 countries in its activities worldwide. Currently, 68 countries are members of the Board. Back in the 1960s I appealed to the Soviet Government with a request to form a Russian national section of IBBY and, luckily for us, my initiative was approved and supported. So the development of the International Board actually proceeded side by side with the foundation and evolution of our national section.

As time went by, IBBY gained more and more authority in the world; its activities were supported by such coryphaeus of the modern children’s literature as Erich Kastner, Astrid Lindgren, Otfried Preussler and many others. Now these names have become legends in the literary world and works by these authors are considered “classics” of their genre. However, back in the 1970s there were periods of time when the Russian section even had to support IBBY financially. It was then that a world famous Russian artist Ilja Glazunov joined the Board.

The Russian section was quite active in generating ideas and rendering IBBY valuable assistance in organizing various international functions and events. For example, the famous BIB, the world known and reputable international review of children books illustrations, held in Bratislava, began its life thanks to IBBY’s initiatives.

We have used every possibility to promote children books by Russian authors and make them better known in the world. We continue pursuing the same policy now. We have participated in practically all international congresses and seminars organized by IBBY, members of our section have judged various IBBY projects and competitions, including serving on the Jury of the Hans Christian Andersen Award – the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children's books. Due to promotion work, carried out by our section, over 40 writers, illustrators, and translators from all republics of the former Soviet Union have received honorary diplomas of IBBY. Among them we can name Boris Zakhoder, Valentin Berestov, Urij Kushak, Irina Tokmakova, Yakov Akim, Imant Ziedonis, Spiridon Vangeli, Kajum Tangrykuliev, Roman Seff and many others. These are writers, but one may see equally remarkable names of illustrators and translators, the pride of our national children’s literature, in catalogues of the IBBY Honour List. Eleven Russians have been nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards: A. Barto, B. Dekhtjarev, B. Diodorov, B. Zakhoder, U. Koval, R. Pogodin, T. Mavrina, M. Mitchurich, L. Tokmakov, V. Chizhikov, E. Uspensky, A. Koshkin, S. Kozlov, G.A.V. Traugot and myself. Although only Tatiana Mavrina received the Andersen Award (illustrators Award 1976), it is a great honour just to be nominated to such a prestigious prize, almost as great as to be included into the short list for the Nobel Prize. By the way, in the world of children’s literature the Andersen Award has indeed been nicknamed “A Small Nobel Prize”.

Even during its most difficult years the Russian section has always tried to nominate candidates for international awards, though such initiatives often involved not only a lot of organizational efforts, but also considerable expenses. Such are the rules of membership in international organizations! Lately we have received a lot of help from the Russian community, public structures, private publishing companies and cities’ authorities. Ironically, we received offers of financial assistance not only from Russia. For example, in 1996, the “Argus” and “Samovar” publishing companies, the Administration of the Archangelsk area and the government of Bashkorstan sponsored the nominations of our writers and illustrators for international IBBY awards.

So all in all by founding the Russian section of the Board on Books for Young People we managed to overcome a critical situation that threatened Russian children’s literature with a complete isolation from world cultural heritage. Typically, for it has often happened in the Russian history, we had not fallen into despair, and, instead of crying out for help, came to our own rescue! Writers and artists, businessmen and young private publishing companies, libraries and newspapers, in a joined effort have contributed to our cause to the best of their abilities. This is a very important factor for it has enabled us to succeed!

Sergey Mikhalkov