1998 in New Delhi

For full Congress proceedings, click here.


Peace through Children's Books

The Opening Ceremony of the 26th IBBY Congress in New Delhi, 20-24 September 1998, started an intense and interesting week that brought together some 400 children's book specialists from 45 countries. Five years of hard voluntary work by the members of the Indian Section of IBBY, the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC), symbolically culminated in the beautiful Indian tradition of lighting the lamp and chanting a Vedic hymn. The current President of India K.R. Narayanan, Vice-President Shri Krishan Kant and Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee had sent their greetings. Former President Shri R. Venkataraman and former Prime Minister Shri I. K. Gujaral addressed the audience personally and Congress chairperson Manorama Jafa, IBBY India's President Ravi Shankar and IBBY President Carmen Diana Dearden invited the guests to participate in the programme devoted to the all-important theme of peace — peace through children's books.


Keynote Speech by Empress Michiko

Her Majesty Empress Michiko of Japan had been invited to be the keynote speaker. She had to cancel her attendance in the aftermath of the reactions to the Indian nuclear tests in May that had also provoked heated discussions among the membership about IBBY's position in political issues. However, the Empress underlined that though she would not attend in person, there was no change in her support for the Congress itself. In a sincere and moving audiovisual speech — a first-time sensation in the history of Japan and therefore widely publicized through transmission on national television — she talked about the role of books in her own development and concluded:

Believing that whatever be the political situation in a country, as long as there are children, IBBY has a role to carry out. Please continue, as you have done up to now, IBBY's important work of linking books and children in the belief that books are children's valuable friends and are a help to them.

  • So that children have firm roots within themselves
  • So that children have strong wings of joy and of imagination
  • So that children know love, accepting that at times love calls for pain
  • So that children see and face the challenge of life's complexities, fully taking on the life given to each, and finally, upon this earth which is our common home, become, one day, true instruments of peace.

Hans Christian Andersen Award Ceremony

One of the highlights of any IBBY Congress is the presentation of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards to the two winners. The 1998 Illustrator Award winner Tomi Ungerer was not able to attend personally but had sent a fascinating video with a thank-you speech reflecting, with humour and wisdom, on his career as illustrator. The Author Award winner Katherine Paterson (USA) was there to receive her gold medal and diploma from Jury President Peter Schneck who also transmitted the congratulations of the patron of the Award, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. Katherine Paterson has the capacity of combining an international outlook with personal experiences, he said, thus creating characters that are captivatingly real with true human qualities.

Can you imagine how thrilling and how overwhelming it is for me to stand here in New Delhi to be told by you who know what literature is and who care deeply for children that I have written books that will truly matter to children around the world? was Paterson's reply. In her speech she elaborated on a theme that was to be central in the discussions of the following days: the responsibility of adults towards children.

I owe children respect. Neither can I be sentimental about children. Those of us who are parents or teachers or librarians living and working day in and day out with children know that they can be infuriating as well as delightful, malevolent as well as innocent, cowardly as well as heroic, depressed as well as joyful. They are, in short, human with all the glory and the anguish the word implies. But they are humans with less experience and a narrower perspective than we have. They are, therefore, more vulnerable to injury, and, to a heartening extent, more resilient and more teachable than we who are older. But to write for them is an enormous responsibility, and the writer for children must never be allowed to forget this fact.

Plenary Sessions

The six plenary sessions dealt with a wide variety of issues around the central theme. "The Concept of Peace in Literature - Past and Present" was introduced by Dr. Jayant Narlikar who is one India's leading scientists and science fiction writers for children. This was followed by thoughtful essays by two professors of education, Joan Glazer (USA) and Metka Kordigel (Slovenia), on the possibilities of a peaceful future through children's literature. "Coping with Violence - Can Books Help the Child?" was the question to which answers were sought by the author and psychologist Ira Saxena (India) and Padma Edirisinghe, author, journalist and education specialist in Sri Lanka, a country painfully torn by civil war.

This led to another plenary session with a poetic title "Islands in the Stream — how literature can help preserve identity in a global environment". Tayo Shima of Japan, elected as President of IBBY for the coming two-year term, talked about the importance of books in her own life and the role of parents and educators in the development of every child. Meni Kanatsouli, a professor of children's literature at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, also spoke about forming and preserving identity.

Jay Heale, children's book specialist and President of the South African Section of IBBY, opened our eyes to see the differences between prejudiced and authentic images of Africa in children's books. A series of well-chosen slides also enlivened the presentation of Barbara Scharioth, Executive Director of the International Youth Library in Munich, whose task was to illustrate the promotion of the reading habit in a world of visual media in developed countries while the editor Huang Jianbin of China and the well-known writer and educator Surekha Panandikar of India treated the same theme in the context of a developing country.

"The Best for All Through Every Medium - Translating a Book into Visual and Other Media" was the topic shared by the Australian author Libby Hathorn and Feisal Alkazi of India who is a well-known personality in the field of children's media in India. He spoke about his experiences in children's theatre and TV productions, among others about the creation of a series based on the autobiographical works of India's leading children's author Ruskin Bond. Libby Hathorn, who has also produced interactive stories, spoke from the point-of-view of an author whose works had been adapted into films and opera productions.

Sukumar Das (India) is Secretary General of the Afro-Asian Book Council, with first-hand knowledge about the topic he dealt with: the need for a balanced flow and better distribution of books — a still unresolved problem in many developing countries. Maureen White is a professor of education at the University of Houston (USA) where she teaches children's literature. In her speech entitled "Children's Literature Above All Barriers" she presented an interesting overview of books translated into English in the United States pointing out the subtle differences in approach and style that characterize a book of "foreign origin".

IBBY Honour List

"Of foreign origin" could also be the subtitle of the 1998 IBBY Honour List, featuring a selection of 119 titles from 41 countries in 30 languages. Leena Maissen presented this list of outstanding books through slides, grouping the titles according to some similarities, such as topic, genre, style, age group. It was a pleasure to celebrate the creativity and commitment of the 13 authors, illustrators and translators — from Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, Lebanon, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa and Spain — who had made the journey to India to receive their diplomas. Noha Tabbara Hammoud, a writer from Lebanon, thanked on behalf of the nominees and pointed out that our chance for peace and for survival as a species lies in accepting and celebrating our differences. Through each children's book one sees a whole different new world, emanating from a whole different country and a whole different culture.

Other Sessions, Meetings, Exhibitions

The rich programme also included a number of other events which enabled the participants to share information and experiences. Representatives of nine National Sections — Greece, Brazil, Iceland, Japan, Canada, Norway, Sweden, France and Iran — presented some of their outstanding activities. Several seminar sessions, workshops and storytelling sessions as well as IBBY's General Assembly were held simultaneously. The small exhibition area was crowded with the books by the Andersen Award winners and nominees, the IBBY Honour List books, original Indian children's book illustrations, poster sessions with materials from different countries under the topic "On the Wings of Peace", the stands of IBBY, AWIC, Bookbird and next Congress organizer.

Three outstanding separate exhibitions were organized to coincide with the Congress. The National Book Trust sponsored "The Best of India", a selection of children's titles in the main Indian languages, together with an exhibition of the winners of the Noma Concours of Illustrations. The Max Müller Bhawan Institute presented the collection of picture books on peace "Hello, dear Enemy!", organized by the International Youth Library, and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts hosted the Panchatantra exhibition.


The Congress concluded with a farewell gala, with speeches and thanks by the Congress chairperson Manorama Jafa, IBBY India's Vice President R. K. Murthi, the Finance Minister of India, Shri Yashwant Sinha, as well as the outgoing and incoming Presidents of IBBY, Carmen Diana Dearden and Tayo Shima. Manorama Jafa handed over the torch to Silvia Castrillon who through a lively video invited the participants to join the next IBBY Congress in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in September 2000. A scintillating performance of traditional Indian dances and music suitably concluded this memorable 26th IBBY Congress in New Delhi.

Leena Maissen