Friday, July 1, 2011

Inspired by international books for children

I was inspired by the panel discussion presented by the United States Board on Book for Young People (USBBY) at last week's American Library Association annual meeting. USBBY is the American regional section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), and last week's session was entitled, “Independent Publishers-International Children’s Books.” Representatives from four US independent publishers shared their thoughts on international books. Groundwood Books, Kane Miller Books, NorthSouth Books, and Chronicle Books each shared about their particular vision, story, and favorite titles.

I was particularly moved by Kira Lynn, of Kane Miller, as she talked about the quieter, subtler sensibility that foreign children books can bring to our children. “And that can be as simple as what people are having for dinner, what their apartment looks like, or how they dress.” Ms. Lynn continued on by drawing comparisons between going to foreign films and reading foreign books, that there’s a moment when you become so engrossed in the story – because it is truly about story, after all – that you forget that you are in a different place, and the different becomes familiar. Ms. Lynn told her audience,
“And so it is with foreign children’s books. They allow the reader to comfortably, effortlessly, fall into another way of life. They bring to their readers a level of understanding that comes from seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. The beauty of children’s literature, for us, the beauty of children’s literature from other countries, is that it forces us to think, to place ourselves in all kinds of times, in all kinds of worlds and in venues other than the familiar, with all kinds of people we otherwise would not have met.”
And so I left the ALA meeting inspired to share more international books with my students, talking about what makes these books feel different, but also what brings us together as we look at these books. I am also inspired to join the USBBY, an organization I have been wanting to join for some time now. For those who are interested, a wonderful resource is the USBBY Outstanding International Books List, available online.

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