2000 in Cartagena de Indias


For full Congress proceedings, click here.

The New World for a New World – Children's Books for the New Millennium

"Estoy muy contenta con el Congreso" were the last words of a radiant Silvia Castrillón upon departure from Cartagena. The dream of a joint Latin American IBBY Congress in Colombia had come true after five years' of intense work. As the Congress chairperson she was happy to conclude with the certitude that the 27th IBBY Congress, which took place from 18 to 22 September 2000, had been a great success for participants and organizers alike. To secure support and raise the necessary funds as well as convincing all potential participants that Cartagena de Indias in Colombia is a safe destination for foreigners was a remarkable achievement. Eight hundred people from 41 countries came and thoroughly enjoyed their stay. The historic city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast was an ideal setting for the many activities of the Congress. The rich programme at the Convention Centre provided a wide array of choices for everybody, from academic lectures to meet-the-author sessions and possibilities to present institutional activities and to purchase books at the Iberoamerican Book Fair. The Andersen Awards have rarely been presented in a more beautiful setting than that of the art-nouveau Teatro Heredia. The exhibitions of books (Andersen Award winners and candidates; IBBY Honour List) and original artwork were held at the Museo Naval (Utopia exhibition; Anthony Browne) and the Modern Art Museum (BIB'99; Posters relating to books and reading).

"The New World for a New World — Children's Books for the New Millennium" was the theme chosen by the Latin American IBBY sections — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela — for the programme. In the words of the organizers "books and readers, publishers, authors, illustrators, libraries and bookstores of Latin America are a new world yet to be discovered for a world that is new and about to be constructed". This was emphasized at the opening ceremony by Gustavo Bell, Vice-President of Colombia, and Silvia Castrillón, the Director of Fundalectura. IBBY's President Tayo Shima reminded the participants of IBBY's common goals and mission to promote dialogue and cooperation regardless of political and economic as well as ethnic, religious and institutional differences.

Globalization and new technologies, their effects on books and reading and the fear of the unknown, were recurrent topics of the speakers throughout the Congress. Silvia Castrillón concluded her speech by quoting the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: "The crisis of our society arises from the fact that while the old is dying the new is in the process of being born, laboriously, without having acquired its definitive form yet."

The first lecture, National Identity in Children's Books, was given by Margaret Meek, who is a well-known education specialist at the University of London. She emphasized that when children are more confident of their own identity, which can be enouraged by reading, they are also more interested in others (foreigners, strangers, marginals). Children's literature has a vital role: it does not simply copy the past but predicts the future and is firmly linked to the social and emotional future of its young readers.

Brazilian author Nilma Lacerda's talk, poetically entitled Wounded Wooden Flowers: The World Cut in Half, also dealt with the past and the present, the near and the far, images and responsibilities. In her talk In Praise of Encounters, the French anthropologist Michèle Petit spoke about the discovery of one's self through the discovery of what happens elsewhere, in a remote place. "During any meeting of men and women who recall memories of their encounters with books during childhood, the same self-discovery returns. What they felt, sometimes even at a very young age, was the presence of what is possible. What happens elsewhere. Outside over there. The strength to leave the confined spaces."

Katherine Paterson, the celebrated Andersen Award winning author, related her talk Children's Books: Bridges to New Worlds to her own experiences as a person who, while being an American, was born in China and has lived and worked in Japan. Her central question was to what extent writers of another generation and culture can communicate with today's children.

Teresa Colomer, professor of language and literature and education specialist in Barcelona, dealt in depth with issues that concern all those who review children's literature: A New Criticism for the New Century. Colombian scholars William Ospina and Fernando Cruz Kronfly reflected about the purpose of children's literature. Cruz Kronfly stated that to restrict it to merely ethical and formative could lead to a simplification of the complex notions of good and evil, the ambivalence of the bipolarity of the human soul.

The well-known Argentinian author and translator Graciela Montes received a standing ovation for her brilliant speech entitled The Woods and the Wolf. Constructing Sense in Times of Cultural Industry and Compulsory Globalization. The woods that she spoke of as a symbol for the mysterious and the unknown were exemplified through a children's rhyme about a wolf in the woods as well as the forest in Tove Jansson's novel Summer Book (Sommarboken). "Any construction of meaning — any instance of reading — is the result of a dialogue, forever renewed, between our certainties and our uncertainties. What we call 'identity' is nothing else but a reading of ourselves. It is also historical, and must thus be reinterpreted through a never-ending dialogue with otherness and uncertainty. However, uncertainty is not just stimulating, it is also foreboding and thus our societies have designed different strategies to keep it at bay. Children's literature — placed on a crucial spot in the territory of culture — can play an interesting role in this crossroad when it becomes urgent to explore and charter new horizons."

Many different voices were heard at round tables as well as during seminar sessions that dealt with literary criticism, reading and new technologies and book publishing and circulation in Latin America and the rest of the world. Furthermore, during smaller sessions, the participants greatly enjoyed the opportunities to meet a large number of prominent writers and illustrators who talked about their books. Among them were former Andersen Award winners Lygia Bojunga of Brazil and Mitsumasa Anno of Japan, the 2000 winners Ana Maria Machado and Anthony Browne as well as one of the finalists, the Swedish author Ulf Stark. The author presentations in the Monteiro Lobato Salon also included the ten nominees for the IBBY Honour List who had been able to come to Cartagena to receive their diplomas personally. Illustrators from 17 countries had submitted slides presenting their work in the Mistumasa Anno Salon.


The slide presentation of the IBBY Honour List nominations by Leena Maissen has become a tradition at every IBBY Congress, where the books are shown for the first time, the biennial catalogue launched and the diplomas presented to the nominees.

But how to do justice to 128 marvellous books within an hour? The presentation can only give an overview, to outline topics and trends, to whet the appetite to study the books and the catalogue closer, with recommendations to make them accessible to as many children as possible, in original or translations. Austrian author Heinz Janisch thanked on behalf of all the nominees by telling a wonderful story.

Fabricio Vanden Broeck of Mexico, Andrés Guerrero, Rodez and Rafael Yockteng of Colombia were the four winners of the Utopia contest, the results of which were shown at the Museo Naval, together with the Andersen Awards and the IBBY Honour List exhibitions. Participating artists from Latin America had been requested to illustrate a passage from the speech Gabriel García Márquez gave on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature entitled"The Solitude of Latin America". The exhibition and an accompanying catalogue showed all the 68 entries of original artwork from 10 Latin American countries.

The highlight of every IBBY Congress is the presentation of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards. This time it was a particularly festive occasion, thanks to the wonderful setting provided by the freshly restored Teatro Heredia which was built in 1911 in art nouveau style. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, the patron of the Awards, had conveyed her congratulations to the winners and Mr. Carlos Ghosn, President of Nissan Motor Co. , the sponsor of the Awards, had sent a message. Jury President Jay Heale of South Africa referred to the famous tale by Andersen in his laudatio called In Praise of Nightingales. Ana Maria Machado, winner of the Author Award, entitled her acceptance speech In the Garden of Books.

"Getting to grow many different flowers, beautiful flowers that resist and survive, is not a task for one generation only. Developing an original literature – for children or adults – , sown in a fringe ignored culture, growing strong to the point of blooming and being harvested, is no individual task either. It presupposes continuity, one following the other's efforts. It asks for a careful selection of seeds, a wise use of techniques, a delicate balance between pruning and fertilizing, patient exercises at environment adaptation, rediscovery of local cultures. In other words, it demands a special talent, strong will and much love alongside a lot of work and information. It presupposes a great passion and hard discipline. But it is worth while. The result of this continuous work may be a joy forever, that thing of beauty praised by the poet. Not because in gardens we may harvest laurels to make the crowns which since Greek times have meant the highest honours. But because in gardens we may sow the seeds that one day will bring the beauty of flowers, the nourishment of fruit, the protection of shade, the oxygen we all breath. In this sense, I feel that the meaning of the Hans Christian Andersen Award which I have the honour of receiving today, is not in the past, in the celebration of an achievement, but lies in the future, in the hope of fulfilling a dream. The dream of a peaceful tomorrow, in a better world, where people may welcome strangers and not fight them only because of differences in language, religion, economic resources, cultural background or skin colour. A world built with the help of the written word, shared by all, and kept alive in books. Because good books – just like gardens – are children of time and bearers of life. They are built slowly and collectively, from buried promises. But they have the power to keep those promises alive, by feeding on human memory and imagination. Maybe they can even make dreams come true. So let us be with them. For the future, with hope."


In his acceptance speech Anthony Browne, the Illustrator Award winner, looked back on his career as a writer and illustrator. He pointed out that the vast majority of his books have not been about gorillas or chimpanzees, but about feelings. Often about lonely children, children who see themselves as outsiders, children who are bullied, feel jealous or unloved.

"They are mostly quite serious books, but I try to write and paint with humour and with hopeful, ambiguous endings. What excites me about making picture books is the relationship between the pictures and the words and the way a child makes the connection between the two. I love to place visual clues in my books, clues which tell us more about what is really going on in the head and heart of the protagonists, where the pictures sometimes seem to be telling a different story to the words.

I often go into schools, and this always reminds me of why I love writing and illustrating children's books. Children are capable of so much more than most adults realize, and can cope with sophisticated, complex ideas with relative ease. They are far more visually aware than adults, and notice the hidden details and clues in my books much quicker than their teachers or parents. I think it is a great shame that they are often taught that pictures are for little children, and that becoming educated and maturing has somehow to do with leaving pictures behind and growing into words."

The concluding ceremony of the Congress ended with many thanks to the wonderful team of Fundalectura, to Silvia Castrillón, Maria Osorio, Constanza Padilla, Consuelo Acevedo, Sandra Pardo, Rocio Castro, Diego Tenorio, Nelson Abril, Fernando Duque, María Cristina Duque, Juanita Muevar, Alba Lucía Silva, Janeth Caparro, Marcela Ardila, Sayra Benítez, and the many other individuals and organizations who contributed to the success of the Congress. The outgoing members of the IBBY Executive Committee were thanked for they had done for IBBY. And before everything ended with the swirl of music and dance of the Barranquilla carnival group, an invitation was extended to the participants to attend the next IBBY Congress: IBBY's fiftieth anniversary Jubilee Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 2002.

Leena Maissen