Wally De Doncker on how to battle illiteracy

March 6, 2015
Wally De Doncker. Photo: IBBY

Wally De Doncker. Photo: IBBY

Guest blogger this month is IBBY president Wally De Doncker:

I joined IBBY the moment I began my career as an author. IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) has taught me that the horizon lies beyond the borders of my own country. As the newly‐elected president of IBBY International, it is a privilege for me to work with people worldwide to realize the mission of IBBY.

This mission is 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. One of our objectives is battling illiteracy. A recent UN‐report states that globally, there are still 781 million adults who lack basic literacy skills, and that 58 million children are out‐of-school at primary level and a staggering 63 million children do not attend at secondary level education. Furthermore, an estimated 250 million children of primary‐school age are reported to be failing to acquire basic literacy skills. Added to that, half a billion women today are still completely illiterate. These figures really are cause for concern. The closing of libraries in Europe, often because of financial cutbacks, is also a cause of deep worry.

Children have the right to be able to read and IBBY supports this basic right by initiating and backing many wonderful projects around the World:

In many parts of Bolivia, families have no books and there is no culture of reading. IBBY Bolivia, together with Taller De Experiencias Pedagogicas and the Thuruchapitas Library, began a project in the San Miguel neighbourhood of Cochabamba to encourage reading and storytelling within families.

IBBY Afghanistan set up a library project to give young children a chance to read and increase their interest in reading books. The project is currently running in different provinces of Afghanistan with the support of Aschiana. The children living in refugee camps, orphanages, juvenile rehabilitation centres and different disability centres will benefit from this far‐reaching Project.

In response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa, IBBY and IBBY Italy launched the project “Silent Books, from the world to Lampedusa and back”. The project involved creating the first library on Lampedusa to be used by local and immigrant children.

Belgium ‐ O MUNDO
The aim of this Flemish IBBY project is to select excellent books from all over the world that allows migrant children to share something about themselves, their culture and their background with their school colleagues. Thus opening the eyes of all the children in the school class to the value of a multicultural society.

As a world organization, we have to keep arguing that reading is a basic right for everyone. 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 only do so because their parents have the means to buy books. IBBY must continue to advocate for all children to have access to great literature; this includes children from underprivileged families, immigrant children, refugees, children with disabilities and sick children. Those who cannot (or may not) read are excluded. This is something that IBBY cannot accept.

At the 2012 Membership Assembly, IBBY members approved 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 be included in the current IBBY Statutes. Because of that action it is our responsibility uphold these rights. It is unacceptable that there are countries in this day and age where girls are banned from reading or even learning to read. It is also inacceptable that many children are unable to read at an adequate level after finishing primary school.

I would like to forge new ties with institutions and other international organizations such as the ALMA. After all, Astrid Lindgren was one of the founding members of IBBY and supported IBBY’s mission always. On a personal level, I learned to love Sweden and the Swedish language because of her books and the television series based on her stories.

ALMA and IBBY are fighting for the same values and we are exploring ways in which we can collaborate to bring children and books together.

Wally De Doncker, IBBY President

 More about Wally De Doncker’s vision on IBBY here


The world’s strongest girl celebrates her 70th birthday

February 20, 2015


We´re talking about Pippi Longstocking of course. The first book about the world’s strongest girl was published in November 1945, but as it was Astrid Lindgren’s daughter Karin who came up with the idea about Pippi, and received the Pippi manuscript on her birthday on May 21 from her mother, the Pippi celebrations will take place on that specific day.

– She is a 9-year-old child who is totally independent of all adults, because she is stronger than they, and do not need their money, says Karin Nyman in a press release from the Astrid Lindgren company Saltkråkan. It could have made her insufferably smug and contemptuous of others, but instead she became kind, generous and courageous.

Pippilotta Provisionia Gaberdina Dandeliona Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking can look back upon an eventful life. It´s actually a few things she hasn´t been through. She has made millions of children, and some adults, from all over the world laugh and maybe become a bit thrilled, while she has driven some pedagogues, debaters and professors crazy.

She has been transformed into eight feature films, two television series, two television films and at least 800 professional theatre productions. She has given rise to academic theses, has been appointed as the most important cultural case for the last 150 years, and gotten interpreted lengthwise and crosswise from every conceivable perspeictive. But, as Astrid Lindgren herself wrote in her memoirs, “As usual the children didn´t care about what the grownups said, they loved Pippi unreserved.”

The books about Pippi Longstocking have been translated into 70 languages and have sold approximately 60 million copies. Saltkråkan will celebrate the anniversary throughout the year with free materials to libraries, schools and daycare centers.

2011 ALMA Laureate Shaun Tan from Australia visited fairytale house Junibacken in Stockholm during the 2011 Award week. Photo: Stefan Tell

2011 ALMA Laureate Shaun Tan from Australia visited fairytale house Junibacken in Stockholm during the 2011 Award week. Photo: Stefan Tell

2010 ALMA Laureate Kitty Crowhter from Belgium. Photo: Stefan Tell

2010 ALMA Laureate Kitty Crowhter from Belgium. Photo: Stefan Tell

The original.

The original.

Key dates spring 2015

February 18, 2015
One of the interviewrooms at the National Library of Sweden. Photo: Stefan Tell

One of the interviewrooms at the National Library of Sweden. Photo: Stefan Tell

Do not miss this spring’s key dates for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. To be marked in your calendar!

March 31

This year’s laureate is presented at 1:00 pm CET at the National Library of Sweden. The announcement is broadcast live on www.alma.se/en and streamed live to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Italy.

April 9

The laureate/s is presented at the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books in Stockholm. Open to the public. Admission free but limited seating.

May 25 – June 1

Award week including seminars, lectures, workshops and meetings with press and media. More information on the award week will be published later on.

June 1

Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall.

2014 laureate Barbro Lindgren and Crown Princess Victoria at last year's Award ceremony. Photo: Stefan Tell

2014 laureate Barbro Lindgren and Crown Princess Victoria at last year’s Award ceremony. Photo: Stefan Tell

Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits – now as opera for children and adults

February 16, 2015
The Rabbits is based on original illustrations by Shaun Tan. Picture: Georges Antoni

The Rabbits is based on original illustrations by Shaun Tan. Picture: Georges Antoni

The world premiere of the production was held at the Heath Ledger Theatre on Friday night as part of Perth International Arts Festival.The Rabbits, composed by popular and classically trained songstress Kate Miller-Heidke with Libretto by Lally Katz, and adapted and directed by Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s John Sheedy, is the short, sweet and straight-to-the-point story of the Marsupials, whose world is one day invaded by the Rabbits.

The Rabbits (1998) is a symbolic portrayal of Australia’s colonial past or, more generally, of what happens when a technologically advanced culture meets one rooted in nature.  It was originally written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan, who has described the book as a major step forward for him on a personal level. After initially not succeeding to get a proper feel for John Marsden’s text, he eventually found a solution. He presented, as he puts it, “… more unexpected ideas to build a parallel story of my own. Not an illustration of the text, but something to react with it symbiotically.” Shaun Tan describes The Rabbits as a story about power, ignorance and environmental destruction, but also as a dark, serious animal fable, a narrative form he believes is understood by everyone.

Picture book artists collaboration exhibited at the Nordic Watercolour Museum

February 10, 2015
Work in progress. Kitty Crowhter and Eva Lindström. Photo: Nordic Watercolour Museum.

Work in progress. Kitty Crowhter and Eva Lindström. Photo: Nordic Watercolour Museum.

Fourth upon a time… Harriët, Eva, Kitty, Nadja, is the title of the new exhibition at the Nordic Watercolour Museum. Four artists and picture book creators, Harriët Van Reek (The Netherlands), Eva Lindström (Sweden), Nadja (France) and 2010 ALMA Laureate Kitty Crowther (Belgium) have chosen to work together and let their different worlds collide and meet in new art, new pictures and new stories.

– The project started out when Kitty Crowther visited the museum a couple of years ago, she wanted to do a collaboration with other invited picture book artistes, says Sofia Olofsson at the Nordic Watercolour Museum.

In the exhibition, the artists will present their books, but also completely different sides of their work. The artists have been working together in a workshop in December and February.

– I´ve actually never done anything like this, Eva Lindström says in an interview with Swedish National Radio. It is a very tolerant atmosphere. What we talked about making the catalogue was that we not were supposed to be polite to each other, rather questioning each other’s pieces to see what that resulted in.

The artists have a deeply personal visual language and create narratives that challenge and cause one to marvel. Kitty Crowther want the audience to meet themselves in the exhibition:

– I love this awkwardness that´s not trying to please, saying “ah, be careful, you´re making books for children, it´s have to be pleasant”, children also have very strong feelings, and I get very annoyed when adults think “oh this is not for children”. Well, do you remember when you were a child? Yes? Well, then let´s talk about it. If you don´t? Well, just step back.

The exhibition is available until May 3rd.

Photo:  © Nordiska Akvarellmuseet

© Nordiska Akvarellmuseet

Photo: Nordiska akvarellmuseet

Photo: Nordiska akvarellmuseet


A Book Can Change a Life

February 6, 2015
Photo: Stefan Tell

Workshop during ALMA Award week 2011. Photo: Stefan Tell

He was perhaps 13, face shadowed under his hoodie.

‘Got any spare change?’ he asked.

It was some time past ten pm in St Vincent’s emergency waiting room, where my husband was struggling to breathe with a bone caught in his throat. There were no free beds, so the doctors were attending him there, till the surgeon arrived.

I gave him a little. I didn’t have much – I had not expected an ambulance ride at 9.20 pm. I knew where the money would go, too – into his arm when he ducked outside.

It didn’t. He took it to the vending machines, chose a sandwich and a packet of chips. He gulped down the sandwich, then ate each chip more slowly than I have ever seen a child eat before, making each one last.

Two social workers arrived. They said ‘We’re sorry, Sammy. We’ve been looking for two hours to find you a bed. No luck.’

He said, ‘Please, don’t send me out there. I’m scared out there. Please don’t send me out into the night.’

They said, ‘We’re sorry. There’s nothing more that we can do.’

I ran after them. Said, ‘I’ll pay whatever it takes. He can come to our hotel.’

They said, ‘It’s not as easy as that. You can’t just throw money at it. The bed needs to be registered.’

Perhaps they were right.

I went back to my husband just as the registrar arrived to say they had found him a bed. And the boy who had no bed cheered for us and gave us the thumbs up as we went in.

I couldn’t find him again.

I spent ten days crying, on and off, sitting on the floor of my study, till my nephew, who works with the homeless, told me to stop being self indulgent. ‘Do what you can,’ he said. ‘Instead of crying for what you can’t.’

And that is why I accepted the role of Australian Children’s Laureate, 2014-2015. Because I reasoned that, yes, I wanted to give that boy a bed and the security that he would always have a bed and food. But I also desperately wanted to give him books because, when I was 15 and for a short while had no home to go to, my extraordinary, wonderful teacher gave me books, armloads of them, not just her own but ones she had hunted out or me.

Because of those books I never once doubted that life could be good.

It is a lesson I have relearned many times since: as part of a UN mission to the Phillipines, to encourage the children’s book industry, seeing how child sex workers were shown what their lives might be like, with the power of story. I have seen it in the past year, as the laureate. I talked to the men at Castlemaine Prison in Victoria, and, when they heard that I was dyslexic and can’t spell or read forms easily, all but one man admitted that they were unable to read. As one said, ‘What job can you get if you can’t read? That’s how I landed here.’

Kids often have few choices about the life they live, but because of books I knew exactly the life I wanted. Because of those books I had the tools to reach it. And because of books I have lived that life, in a house I built (with a book of instructions and inspiration at hand) and wild animals about me, fruit trees and gardens, books to read and books to write.

Once we believed that only bright kids read books. Now we know, via MRI scans, that reading stimulates the development new neurons and new connections between neurons, in a child’s brain (and in adults too, but the effect is far smaller than when the brain is actively growing).

Empathy is a learned skill, and books and stories are the best way for it to grow. Each time a child reads or hears a story, they are the protagonists. No matter how small your social or physical world is, a book can take you across the universe.

If we want intelligent children, give them books.

If you want children free of prejudice, who can empathise so strongly with others that they will not knowingly or unknowingly do harm, give them books.

If we want a future for this planet based on the best that humanity is capable of, give our children books.

Teach them to read them, too.

Australia is not good at this. One in eleven children has major reading difficulties. One in four does not reach the national literacy benchmarks. Few schools have paid professionals to tutor children who have literacy problems, but rely on volunteers to do so, or on the useful cliché unteachable’.

In Tasmania, nearly fifty percent of adults are unable to read and understand the front page of a newspaper. In my own area, we found that over 40% of adults over forty could not read the chemist’s instructions on their medication.

This is changing, but it has been, is and will be, a hard battle to get educational authorities and teacher training institutions to accept that every child can read and every child must learn to read – or we have failed. There have been many times when I have blessed the sheer existence of Sweden, and all of you who have fought – and won – what we must strive for in so many social areas, not just literacy. If Sweden can do it, so can we all.

When I accepted the Laureateship, I thought I would be doing the same work that I have been doing for a quarter of a century – writing, speaking and using the power of books and storiesies.

But something changed. I realised that the role of Laureate is, perhaps primarily, to thank those who already do so much. You often hear of someone being an untiring worker for children (usually at their funeral) but I have never met one. Everyone who works with kids is often tired. My job has been to say, ‘Thank you. Please don’t stop.’

I had not realised how my own passion for the power of literacy and story would deepen, evidenced not just in what I say but what I write.

In the past year projects have almost seemed to create themselves: the My Story Project, in partnership with the Sydney Writers’ Festival, where young people from racially diverse western Sydney are encouraged to write and share their stories, and the most eloquent will meet to talk about the present, the future and solutions to problems. The tentative beginnings of the Kabulwarnamyo Bush School in remote Arnhem Land where the community, as well as a committee I am privileged to be on, will try to design a school where indigenous kids can learn what they need to proceed to tertiary study if they wish to, without compromising the deep needs of country, pioneering techniques and understandings that may help solve some of the rifts and tragedies of Australian indigenous education.

Next year I and my dear friend and passionate reader, Elaine, as well a her husband Chris, will speak to tens of thousands of Tasmanians; Elaine has no eyes and Chris, like me, is profoundly dyslexic, learning to read as an adult. He’s now a teacher. If we can learn to read, he’ll tell them, anybody can. And, no, you are not stupid if you can’t.

The most profound experience was possibly in a detention centre, where Australia keeps those who have landed on our shores seeking asylum. The parents brought their children to hear a story. So many children lapse into apathy, unable to talk or smile, from the trauma they have experienced or the deep uncertainty of a life where you may be moved tomorrow, or find your living quarters filled with ten newcomers or your friends disappear as they are released. But how do you tell a story to kids with nearly thirty languages, none of them English and no translators?

Never underestimate the power of story. We became animals, each child choosing their own, led by two Singhalese girls who appointed themselves my helpers. We danced through the centre, growling tigers growling at the guards, flying like cranes and butterflies across the table.

All but one small boy, who sat and didn’t move. Mindful of regulations, I could not touch him, but the two small girls did. They hauled him to his feet, demanded to know what he was till he whispered a roar that told us who he had become. A dragon. And as he led us, uttering dragon roars, his father stood expressionless, with tears running down his face, watching his son respond and play.

Never underestimate the power of story.

Jackie French

Australian Children’s Laureate 2014-2015

Jackie French

Jackie French

“…a suspicious resemblance to Bambi.”

February 3, 2015
Sagan om Micky Sammetspäls, written by Barbro Lindgren at the age of 12. Photo: Sölvberget

Sagan om Micky Sammetspäls, written by Barbro Lindgren at the age of 12. Photo: Sölvberget

“…a suspicious resemblance to Bambi.” Barbro Lindgren’s description of the story written by her as a 12-year-old and sent to editor Astrid Lindgren at Raben&Sjögren.
“Those got returned, of course, with some encouraging words from Astrid. She wrote that all authors have their first manuscripts refused, and it was no reason to get discouraged! And indeed I didn’t. I thought just getting a letter was fantastic. And this letter was from Astrid, and it had wax seals! ”
Now the manuscript is exhibited at the ongoing Nordic Children’s Books Convention. #nbbk2015 #sølvberget

Henry Ascher in documentary

January 27, 2015
Henry Ascher. Photo: Stefan Tell

Henry Ascher. Photo: Stefan Tell

Professor of paediatrics and jury member Henry Ascher is being portrayed in Bo Harringer’s new documentary Aven de döda har ett namn (“Even the dead has a name”), now featured at the Göteborg International Film Festival. The context is really a journey through time. Partly Henry’s political journey from the Vietnam War to his involvement in the Palestine-Israel conflict, but also a trip even further away in time about his parents and grandparents, his entire family on his father’s side who was murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Bo Harringer wants the film to be “an appeal to all people to learn from history and thus fight Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, all oppression of people of different religions. We must learn to say no, we cannot allow the Nazis to march unnoticed on our streets.” An extremely important and urgent issue, not the least today, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

ALMA and Barbro Lindgren to Children’s Book Conference in Stavanger

January 23, 2015
Library Sölvberget in Stavanger, Norway. Photo: Anne Lise Norheim

Library Sölvberget in Stavanger, Norway. Photo: Anne Lise Norheim

The first few days in February nearly 300 writers, illustrators, librarians and publishers representatives will gather in Stavanger, Norway to participate in this year’s Nordic Children’s Book Conference.

ALMA participants are Director Helen Sigeland, 2014 Laureate Barbro Lindgren and jury members Mats Kempe and Anna Höglund. This year’s theme is “Downfall – or transition?” and should be seen as a comment on the seriousness that seems to be growing in literature for children and young people, and the many challenges the field of children’s literature faces in our digital age.

– The goal has been to create a common meeting place for Nordic children’s literature, and it´s incredibly fun that the interest is so huge, says Project manager Siri Odfjell Risdag. The conference will be opened by the Director of the Norwegian National Library, Aslak Sira Myrhe. Furthermore, the recipient of the Nordic Council’s Children and Young People’s Literature Prize2014, Øyvind Torseter and Barbro Lindgren, Laureate of the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, will participate in the program.

The Nordic Children’s Book Conference will proceed February 2-4.

Barbro Lindgren. Photo: Stefan Tell

Barbro Lindgren. Photo: Stefan Tell


Now it’s possible to nominate candidates for the 2016 award

January 20, 2015
Workhop at Kulturhuset with 2011 ALMA Laureate Shaun Tan during the Award week. Photo: Stefan Tell

Workhop at Kulturhuset with 2011 ALMA Laureate Shaun Tan during the Award week. Photo: Stefan Tell

Today the nominating process for the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award begins. Appointed nominating bodies from all over the world may propose authors/illustrators/storytellers whose work for children and young adult is of the highest artistic quality characterised by the human values that Astrid Lindgren treasured. They may also nominate persons, organisations, institutions working with reading promotion for children and young adult. The possibility to nominate candidates is open until May 15.

More information on the nominating process here


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