by Nancy Bo Flood
Books can help readers heal. Stories can create compassion. Every one needs to find “their story” in books.
The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) is part of The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a world-wide organization that works to build bridges of understanding through children’s and young adult books. “A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.”
USBBY/IBBY brings together authors and illustrators, editors, librarians, teachers, and readers who support the creation of books that speak to children and their parents whatever their home country or language. IBBY’s Hans Christian Andersen Medal celebrates the best world-wide author and illustrator whose words and images excite imagination, and its Astrid Lindgren Memorial award is given to authors, illustrators, storytellers, and persons and organizations that work to promote literacy. Each award is selected from the nominations of over a 100 participating regional units, such as USBBY.
This year’s USBBY conference was held in New York City, lower Manhattan. The conference is kept small, under 300 attendees, so the atmosphere is friendly, like old friends coming together to share new ideas, new trends, and new award-winning books from around the world. What a celebration of books! This year the opening speaker was our very own National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo. She spoke about her journey from writer to published author.
Persistence! Kate affirmed that within each of us we have stories to tell. But to successfully move from that first page to a published book, one needs to believe in oneself, write and re-write, and stubbornly pursue the quest of finding the right editor. With humor Kate described her initial ten years of first thinking about writing before actually having the courage to put pen to paper and write. Then came 470 rejection letters. Now Kate has 22 million books in print world-wide, translated into 41 languages. She calls herself a “late-bloomer.” Her first book was published a few years before she turned forty. Even today, Kate is “still surprised that I ever got published.” When asked why her books are read by all ages of readers in countries on every continent, she imagines that somehow the stories she writes have universal appeal because she writes honestly of experiences and emotions we all share – fears and hopes, disappointments and sorrows. Kate asserts, that “the love of story is in the core of humankind.” Through story we step into the heart of another and walk within their journey. Kate also affirms that “every child has the right to learn to read.”
This universal love of story was reiterated in a later talk by Susan Cooper, one of England’s greatest storytellers (The Dark is Rising), a creator of many worlds, a writer of fantasy. Susan asked, “is it possible for storytelling, this basic love of story that all cultures share, to be a way to heal the divisions of our world? Through the magic of entering another place, another culture, can we increase compassion and come to accept differences, erase prejudices based on ignorance?” Yes, both Susan and Kate contend, books can build bridges. They can tell universal truths. They can let us walk within the heart and skin of another person and feel “both joy and sorrow as sharp as stones.”
A child might sit in a classroom, on a park bench, or snuggled under bed covers with a flashlight, and become lost in a book. Or a child might sit in front of a tent in a refugee camp or a detention center near a border crossing. Books let us enter new worlds, consider new ideas, rethink old hates. Both Kate DiCamillo and Susan Cooper agree that stories help us laugh and give us hope.
This year at the conference I was part of a “war panel.” The smiling trio in the photo, “the war panel,” presented different perspectives about war and the effects on children. Today over forty million children live as refugees. Here in the United States, more veterans—mothers and fathers of children—die from suicide than from combat. How do their children make sense of war? We need well-written books about war so children can find their stories and begin to heal.
Thank you, Colorado Author’s League, for supporting me with a travel grant to attend this USBBY conference. I encourage writers and illustrators to become a member of this international organization. Throughout the year USBBY is involved in a variety of projects that bring appropriate books to children and parents. As Kate DiCamillo stated: “Every child has the right to read.”