IBBY Press Conference, Bologna Book Fair 2015

Introduction by IBBY President, Wally de Doncker


On behalf of IBBY I’d like to welcome you all here to the International Press Conference of IBBY.  Bologna is of great importance to IBBY. Intense EC-meetings preceded this press conference. And during the book fair itself, countless meetings take place between passionate IBBY-members from all over the world.  I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the director of the Fair, Roberta Chinni, for her generous support of IBBY and its presence at this, the most important book fair for children’s literature in the world today. 

I would like to continue by thanking everyone engaged in IBBY. You are making a difference for future generations. Those who help children to evolve into readers are building a brighter future. Reading is a fundament right for all children. To liberate, to be able to read and write, is to possess a kind of power. Literacy is also a defence against demagogy and extremism. It is the job of ‘our’ IBBY to make sure that every child can obtain this ‘power’. 

Last September, the IBBY community was present at the IBBY world conference in Mexico City. Nearly a thousand attendees enjoyed the enthusiasm and generosity of IBBY Mexico. This conference taught us that there’s a lot of dynamism in IBBY. The great interest in our social media efforts teaches us that there’s a power hidden behind the mission of IBBY and the legacy of Jella Lepman. It is our duty to further explore that power and to nourish it.

In 2015, the IBBY-community has grown. Four new countries joined our ranks: Jordan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Hungary. We are overjoyed by their engagement to our cause. As always when a group wishes to establish a new national section, we emphasized that an IBBY-section must be inclusive. All professional groups (promoters of reading, librarians, authors, publishers, illustrators, researches, teachers…) should be part of the IBBY national sections as much as possible.

The, Frankfurt Book Fair was another important meeting-place for IBBY-members. A public panel about the ‘Children in Crisis’-projects was organised in the Children’s and Young Adult’s Media Forum. Valerie Coghlan talked about the IBBY-Asahi Award winning SIPAR project that promotes reading in Cambodia, while Murti Bunanta presented reading projects in Indonesia. My assignment was to moderate the panel. 

In December, I attended the EU-workshop ‘Stop Reading Crisis’, which is an initiative of the Slovak IBBY-section and the Embassy of Slovakia to mark the fiftieth anniversary of BIB.  I was also invited to speak at a successful event organised by the Dutch IBBY-section in the municipal museum of Den Haag. 

Earlier this year IBBY was asked to endorse a Children’s Literacy Charter that has been prepared by the 2014 IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion winner PRAESA in South Africa. The charter, as you can see here, is aimed at young children and comprises 8 rights that children should have to become readers and writers in the fullest sense. Copies of the charter are available at the IBBY stand.  This is sends a very powerful message about what literacy means and echoes IBBY’s own aims and goals.|

Before we go further with this press conference, I would like to draw your attention to the new trends in the world of children’s and youth literature, which could have an impact on IBBY in general.

Closing Libraries

According to UK author Neil Gaiman, closing libraries is the equivalent of eating your seed corn to save a little money. A recent survey that showed that among poor white boys in England, 45% have reading difficulties and cannot read for pleasure.  As the leading organisation in the realm of children’s and youth literature, we need to reiterate that we do not agree to closing of libraries. Libraries are and will remain a sound investment.  I gladly repeat what I said during my speech in Mexico: “It makes sense to have a moral reaction to the closing of libraries, literacy underscores the universal declaration of human rights, including the right of education, the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Libraries are an economic investment.” 

Reading Education

A Danish survey of schoolchildren found that the proportion of nine- to 12-year-olds who read books in their free time has climbed from 56% to 61% since 2000. The study attributed the increased interest in physical books to the focus schools have placed on reading over the past decade or so 

Nevertheless, reading for pleasure remains a major concern for the IBBY. Too many children fail to reach an adequate level of reading, even after finishing primary school. The Danish project is an example of how it could be.


Despite the embrace of e-books in certain contexts, they remain controversial. Many people just don’t like them. After years of growth, sales are stagnating. In 2014, 65% of 6 to 17-year-old children said they prefer to read books in print—up from 60% two years earlier. This new trend seems to continue and shows that publishers of children’s books need to keep investing in the physical book. 


In the Baluchistan region of Pakistan the female literacy rate stands between 3% and 8% – we as IBBY should not accept this reality. We all must continually bring attention to the fact that it’s unacceptable for girls not to be able to learn how to read. 

Brain Power

More and more adults are now beginning to wake up to the power they wield when they read stories to children: they are offering them the benefits of this superbly nutritious brain food.  Medical professionals have been able to scientifically prove the importance of reading by showing through brain scans being told stories stimulates many parts of our brains and not just the “language regions”. 


Dutch publishers of school books still provide their authors with lists of subjects they cannot use in their books and use methods to make sure they will be able to sell their products to orthodox and protestant schools. Wizardry and socially-controversial themes, for example, are on that list.

IBBY believes that books play an essential role in education and are thus an effective means to promote humanity, tolerance and international understanding. The following was written in a Dutch article: IBBY is a counterweight to censorship. I could not have said it better myself.

Monday 30 March 2015, 14.30, Auditorium "Concerto", Bologna Book Fair