Closing Ceremony Museo Franz Meyer, Mexico City, Mexico

Wally de Doncker new elected IBBY President 2014

Dear friends,

First and foremost, I would like to say that I have really enjoyed this wonderful congress in this beautiful city. During an IBBY-congress, one meets people from all over the world. People you have met before during previous congresses and people whom you have met for the first time. Although it is sometimes difficult to speak to one another because our different languages, we are all connected because we share the same passion. At the same time, we perpetuate the legacy of Jella Lepman and so many other historical figures from IBBY’s past.

Today, I would like to focus on the future of IBBY as a world organisation. What is the importance of IBBY today? And what future do I, as newly elected president, have in mind for IBBY? To see into the future, one must first look into the past. Let us go back to a time in which an organisation such as IBBY did not exist.

First let us go back to the early nineteenth century when African-American slaves were breaking the law just by being able to read, their teachers were also harshly punished. The 1819 Missouri Literacy Law, for example, forbade both assembling slaves and teaching them to read and write. The 1832 Literacy Laws in Alabama and Virginia ordered whipping and fines for people who taught slaves to read. Flogging was the most common punishment for slaves who pursued literacy, but they could also be branded or mutilated (their tongues slit) – or even have their hands cut off.

The recent blockbuster 'Twelve years a slave' shows us what life was like in the USA in those days. Was it any better in other countries? I doubt it. Simple working-class people did not often get the chance to learn to read properly. No wonder, they were destined to work in menial jobs; even children as young as five or six years of age were forced to work in the factories. This state of affairs was maintained by the landowners and ruling classes. They believed that if the masses were kept illiterate and subjugated, they would not rebel. Mind you: this is a tactic that is still being used today in some places.

Reading is and remains crucial for the freedom of human kind and I believe that it is even more important today than it was a few centuries ago.

Just before World War II Jella Lepman, the founder of IBBY had seen the novels of Erich Kästner and others thrown onto bonfires – books and reading were dangerous. She fled Germany together with her children and started a new life in England. During the war she was employed as an advisor for women’s and youth affairs by the BBC and the ministry of foreign affairs. When the war was over, she was sent to the ruins of Germany to work towards the re-education of the young people. During her work, an old idea of hers turned into reality: it was that children’s books could play a role in creating mutual understanding. Thus, in 1946, she organised the first exhibition of international children’s books in the Haus der Kunst in Munich. From this exhibition, the International Youth Library was born, and IBBY followed quickly afterwards.

Almost all totalitarian regimes abuse children’s literature. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia went as far as to ban the publication of all children’s books. The Taliban prohibits girls from reading – we all know what happened to Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. These are just two of the most extreme examples.

Since its beginnings in 1953, IBBY has steadily grown. As you all know, it has not always been easy to find funding. Still, the initiatives kept on coming and IBBY evolved into what it is today.

I would like to thank all who have played a role in the work done by IBBY over the years: Founders, sponsors, presidents, staff, EC-members, members past and present of the national sections, honorary and individual members, presidents and jurors of the Andersen Award and the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, the editors and board of Bookbird, and many others whom I might have forgotten in this list.

This brings us to the present day. What role has IBBY to play today?

People often ask me questions about IBBY. What exactly is IBBY? What does IBBY do? What does it stand for? I always ask them if they have enough time to listen to my response! If I drop some names of celebrities who were responsible for the launch of IBBY, they usually are quite impressed. However, that is just me getting warmed up: the Hans Christian Andersen Awards for children’s literature often rings a bell. If I tell them about the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, International Children’s Book Day, the Child’s Rightto Become a Reader: IBBY’s Books for Children Everywhere Campaign, which was the starting block for the IBBY-Yamada workshop programme, the IBBY Documentation Collection for Disabled Young People in Toronto, IBBY Honour list, Silent Books, the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund, and its partner the Sharjah/IBBY Children in Crisis Fund, IBBY World Congresses, our journal Bookbird... they are rendered speechless. In addition, I also give them examples of initiatives taken by some of the IBBY national sections worldwide. And, to top it off, I often tell them about the many institutions that are IBBY-related or that have resulted from an IBBY initiative: I have never met anyone who was not impressed by the international work done by IBBY. Still, I often get the question: How come we have not heard of IBBY before? Well, that is what we have to work on in the future. We have to make sure that a broad public gets acquainted with IBBY.

IBBY has accomplished a lot over the years. But we still have to work very hard, because I am somewhat worried about what the future may bring.

One of our objectives is battling illiteracy. IBBY takes this battle further than most other NGO’s who are concerned with the promotion of learning to reading. IBBY wants to promote a reading culture and give every child the opportunity to become a life-long reader and this is only possible if the child enjoys reading. To help this along IBBY focuses on quality literature for children.

A recent UN-report states that 40% of all children in the world cannot read; half a billion women today are still completely illiterate. These figures really are cause for concern.

The closing of libraries, often because of financial cutbacks, it also a cause of deep concern. I like libraries! I became who I am today through reading, but until my tenth birthday, our village did not have a library. Despite this, my hunger for literature was substantial. My mother bought me a new book every month from the newsagents. In class, once a month we could choose a book to take home and read… However, for those of us who devour books, two books a month is just teasing! Everything changed when a small library was built in the village. Finally, plenty of books became available for me to read whatever I wanted. I am still grateful to the librarian.

To Jella Lepman, the most important mission of IBBY was the promotion of mutual understanding between nations through good literature for children. In a globalized world, this should be self-evident. There are a few signs that tell us that we are succeeding in this mission as nations start to work together on economic, environmental, emigrational and cultural levels. However, there also many countries torn apart by conflict, such as Syria, Guatemala, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine, to name just a few, which show us that there is still a lot of work to be done.

What is my vision of the future of IBBY?

It’s clear from these present issues that there is a lot to be done in the future:

•  As a world organisation, we have to keep arguing that reading is a basic right for everyone. To be able to read, good materials, such as poetry books, novels, picture books, have to be available to all children. Recently, a librarian told me that we are creating a new elite, by which he meant that children who enjoy reading and devouring books could do so because their parents have the means to buy books. IBBY must continue to advocate for all children to have the right to great literature; this includes children from underprivileged families, immigrant children, refugees, disabled children and sick children. Those who cannot (or may not) read are excluded. This is something that IBBY cannot accept. 

In September 2013, just a year ago today, an article was published in the Guardian from the UK, it said: “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.”

•  In relation to this statement, I would like to encourage the IBBY national sections to continue to invest in reading and to set up more innovative projects. Projects such as the IBBY-library in Lampedusa, organised by IBBY Italy, the Motor-Bike Libraries of Indonesia, and the ‘O Mundo’ project, organised by IBBY-Flanders are exemplary of what IBBY is capable of establishing. Every section of IBBY has this potential.

•    I would also like to encourage the sections to work across borders. With any economic crisis, we often fall back to attempting to solve problems alone – too proud to ask for help. Cooperation on a regional level can help to bring about changes and offers of support. IBBY provides us with many opportunities to work together. A section that is financially sound can join with a struggling section to organise joint initiatives to promote reading. Often, these initiatives result in long-lasting friendships.

•  During the previous General Assembly, you approved the introduction of a formal commitment to the principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child as ratified by the United Nations in 1990 to the current IBBY Statutes. Because of that action it is our responsibility uphold these rights. Forgive me for repeating what I said earlier today, but it is important enough to say again. It is unacceptable that there are countries in this day and age in which girls are banned from reading or even learning to read. It is unacceptable that some countries destroy children’s libraries with impunity. It is also inacceptable that many children are unable to read at an adequate level after finishing primary school. It remains unacceptable that children’s libraries are being closed because of financial cutbacks, thus rendering books inaccessible to children from underprivileged families. Every child has the right to read.

•  IBBY also must have the courage to prevent dictators or other bullies from using children’s and youth literature as a means to brainwash children.

•  Internationally, I would like to strengthen the ties with the many IBBY- related institutions and international organisations. Furthermore, I would like to forge new ties with new institutions and other world organisations that support the mission of IBBY.

•  The steady and beneficial work done by IBBY must get more attention. Through the Internet and social media, we have seen that there is great interest in the mission and history of IBBY. We need to build up this interest. 

I would like to thank our former IBBY president. Four years go fast, Redza. You were an excellent team leader. You moved IBBY as a world organisation to a bigger platform.

I would like to thank Maria Jesus. You were a jury president with your whole heart. You didn’t walk the beaten path and together with the jury you made conscious choices.

I would like to thank Majo de Saedeleer, president of IBBY Flanders.  Without her strong support I shouldn’t be here!

Thanks also must go to Kiyoko for leading the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award so competently and well.

What would IBBY do without the effort of the IBBY Secretariat in Basel? On behalf of the IBBY community I would like to thank Liz and Luzmaria. I am looking forward to working together with you.

I also would like to thank Roxanne Harde. It is a huge task to be Bookbird editor. You did a perfect job. Many thanks!

I am looking forward to working together with:

New HCA jury president: Patsy

Treasurer: Ellis

Incoming Bookbird editor: Bjorn Sundmark

Bookbird Inc. Board: Valerie and Junko

Members of the IBBY Foundation: Patsy, Bruno, Dag and Jeff

Leigh Turina and her colleagues at The IBBY Documentation Centre for Young People with Disabilities, and the Toronto Public Library for hosting the Centre.

* Asahi Shimbun – Sponsor of the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award

* Nami Island Inc. – Mr Minn, Mrs Lee, Fred Minn and Mr Kang – Sponsors of the Andersen Award

* Mr Hideo Yamada – Sponsor of the IBBY Yamada programme

* Sharjah Government and Sheikha Bodour – Sponsor of the Sharjah /IBBY Children in Crisis programme

* All private sponsors who have supported IBBY and its Children in Crisis projects

And the biggest thanks must go to all members and supporters of IBBY. I promise that I will not only work with you and for you, but I hope to join you in working towards bringing children and books together

As my final word this evening, I would like to share my favourite quote from the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature with you: ‘To be literate, to be able to read and write, is to possess a kind of power. The history of literacy is in part the story of democracy.’ It is the job of ‘our’ IBBY to make sure that every child can obtain this ‘power’.

Thank you very much for your attention and trust!

Now I would like to welcome Libby Limbrick and Rosemary Tisdall from IBBY New Zealand who will tell us wonderful things about the 2016 IBBY World Congress in Auckland. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Wally De Doncker

13 September 2014
Mexico City