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International Children's Books
Editor's Desk: International Children's Books
Julie Corsaro As the new decade dawns, we turn our attention to international children’s books as a way to learn about the world and its peoples. For our purposes in this newsletter, international children's literature is defined as books that originate in countries other than the United States, either in English or another language.

The grand notion of children’s literature as a means to promote intercultural cooperation and understanding largely originated with Jella Lepman who founded the International Youth Library (IYL) in post-World War II Germany. In Spotlight, I speak to my own experiences as a fellow at this German “Book Castle” in the spring of 1990. Children’s Literature Professor Susan Stan--who was a fellow at the IYL in 2003--also shares her experiences at the library in Best Practices, along with her recommendations for teaching international children’s literature and her related tenure as president of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). While Professional Resources may also spark your interest in USBBY, Lepman’s memoir and the Batchelder Award website featured in Professional Resources may likewise open your heart and mind to translated children’s books. In keeping with the notion of children’s books as peacemakers, Awards has an interview with Eliza Dresang who speaks about her decade-long tenure as a juror on the Jane Addams Book Awards committee. NoveList Strategies models how you can use the “Author’s Nationality” and "Cultural Identity” limiters to find books in English created by authors from around the globe.

In Case You’re Wondering reminds readers of the Percy Jackson book party highlighted in our September issue. With no movies based on children’s books coming out in January, we've become a bit self-indulgent by revisiting a favorite Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, in Silver Screen.

Happy New Year!

 

Keep reading,

Julie

Julie

Spotlight: International Youth Library
Julie Corsaro

In the spring of 1990, I was a fellow at the International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich, West Germany. It was exciting to go to work everyday in a medieval castle that housed the world’s largest and oldest collection of children’s books from around the world. This distinctive professional experience was made even richer since it was a time of enormous political and social upheaval in Europe. The Berlin Wall had fallen the previous November and Germany was on a fast course to reunification. The Cold War was coming to an end.

Some of the most moving encounters I had at the library were with people who worked there or were also serving as fellows. I remember walking outside with Marianne, an IYL reference librarian, when she pointed to some wildflowers. “We used to eat those when I was I child because we didn’t have much food after the [second world] war. They grew in the woods and we could put those in pancakes.” Marianne still couldn’t believe that the Wall had finally come down and that she was now permanently reunited with family members from “the east.”

South Afrikaner Isobel Randall--another IYL fellow--also expressed a similar feeling of disbelief at the dismantling of Apartheid. A school librarian and editor in Johannesburg, Isobel was married to Peter Randall, an education professor who was a founder of Raven Press, considered “radical” because it published books critical of the government and about and in the languages of black South Africans. Peter had been banned for five years, a censorship that meant he was allowed to speak to only one person at a time. Isobel related an unforgettable incident: one evening she had made a big meal and decided to invite some neighbors over for dinner. Because she knew that the police could hear them talking if they sat in the front of the house, everyone ate in the back. When the neighbors snuck out by way of the garden door, they saw that their cars had been “keyed,” a not very subtle warning from the authorities.

The first fellow who had ever been allowed by the Albanian government to come to the library--Brikena--was also the first person I had ever met who told me that whom she chose to be friends with was a matter of life and death. Brikena said that it wasn’t unusual for her friends to disappear for a month at a time because they had been rounded up and jailed by the authorities. She also related how as a child her father, an etymologist, had been allowed to go to Paris. He brought back books from France that Brikena brought to school and shared with her friends. That evening, Brikena’s teacher came to her house to tell her parents that she hadn’t reported the incident to the police yet but if Brikena brought the books back the next day, she would have to turn her into the authorities.

While I had the great pleasure of attending the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair, editing a manuscript about international children’s books, and reading books from other countries in English related to themes of peace and tolerance as part of my fellowship, I will never forget the voices of these women who had experienced conflict and oppression in their everyday lives, stories that were conveyed at a library dedicated to children’s books as bridges to international understanding.

Best Practices: International Children's Books
Susan StanThe multifaceted Susan Stan--Professor of English at Central Michigan University--shares her insights into teaching international children’s literature, serving as a fellow at the International Youth Library (IYL), and as president of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY).
JC: How did you become interested in international children’s books?
SS: With a master’s degree in English, I worked for Lerner Publishing from 1974-1984. We went to the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair every year where we bought a lot of nonfiction series. This experience really opened my eyes to international literature for young people. When I went on for my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I knew that’s what I wanted to study.

JC: What do you teach at Central Michigan University?
SS: I am a Professor in the English Department where we serve all the Language Arts students in the Education Department. Because these students have to take a minimum of two children’s literature classes, I am currently teaching two sections of the children’s literature survey course, as well as international children’s literature. Next semester, I’ll switch out one of my survey courses for multicultural children’s literature.

JC: Going off on a bit of a tangent, I just re-read [IYL founder] Jella Lepman’s autobiography, A Bridge of Children’s Books and was struck that she never talks about being Jewish.
SS: Having read many children’s book set during World War II, this really doesn’t surprise me at all. I think that many Jews like Lepman would have identified themselves first as Germans and second as Jewish. We just read David Chotjewitz’s Daniel, Half Human: And the Good Nazi in the international children’s literature class. [In this Batchelder honor book set in Hamburg], Daniel’s mother’s people were nonobservant Jews, a fact that isn’t even on the family’s radar until Hitler comes to power. I think that being defined as Jewish sent many in Europe back to their faith.

JC: What other books do you read in your international children’s literature class?
SS: We start by reading classics like Heidi, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Little Prince, and Pippi Longstocking. Although these books are household names in their countries of origin, many of my students haven’t read them or know them only through film. Lately, we’ve also been reading books in Herge’s Tintin and Goscinny’s Asterix series.

We then read contemporary books in translation that I change depending on what has been recently published. For the first time this semester, we’re reading Holly-Jane Rahlens' Prince William, Maximilian Minsky and Me. It’s a German book about a 13-year-old Jewish girl living in Berlin. Although it pushes the envelope as far as sexual innuendo goes, I think it is wonderful and indicative of what young people are reading in Germany today. I suspect that many of my college students are going to find it too lighthearted even though it was named Germany’s best book of the year for young adults. The one title we always read in this class because of its popularity is Susie Morgenstern’s Secret Letters 0-10. I also like to make connections between the classics and contemporary books. For example, we’ll  read and discuss Pinocchio, and then compare it with the modern Italian fantasy, The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari, a writer who--to my amazement--is also a surgeon.

Click here to read the entire interview with Susan Stan.


NOVELIST CONNECTION: Are you looking for ready-to-go lists of classics that originated in both the U.S. and abroad? Next to Find in NoveList K-8, enter "classics;" then click on Go. Next, point your browser to the Curricular Connections tab for two recent lists compiled by NoveList's own Beth Gerall that highlight children's books with universal themes that have stood the test of time.
NoveList Strategies: Author's Nationality and Cultural Identity
Mary is a librarian at a K-8 elementary school in northwest Chicago. Her school serves a large population of children of recent immigrants from Russia. At the last faculty meeting, the teachers requested that Mary mount a display in the library of children’s books by Russian authors in English.

How can NoveList K-8 help Mary? Here’s what she should do:

1. On the NoveList K-8 Plus homepage, click on the blue “Advanced Search” button.

2. Scroll down to the “Author’s Nationality” limiter and highlight “Russian.”

3. Next to the “Author’s Cultural Identity” limiter, highlight, “Russian-American.”

4. Click “Search” at the bottom of the screen.


Mary is surprised to see that the first title in the results list is by Isaac Asimov who--as it turns out--was a Russian immigrant to the United States. She also sees plenty of Russian fairy tales and folktales written and/or adapted by Sholem Aleichem, Katya Arnold, Aleksander Puskin, Gennady Spirin, Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Vagin. There are also original stories and folktales by Maria Polushkin, as well as Caldecott medalist Feodor Rojankovsky. Also included are original picture storybooks by Vladimir Radunsky and Esphyr Slobodkina, the latter being the author and illustrator of one of Mary’s childhood favorites, Caps for Sale. Gudrun Pausewang and Nicholas Kalashnikoff offer novels, while Svetlana Chmakova has written a graphic novel series. Mary feels ready to begin work on the display.

NOVELIST CONNECTION: Searching for up-to-date lists of books about Russia's peoples, history, and culture. Next to Find in NoveList K-8 Plus, enter "Russia;" then click on Go. Click on the Curricular Connections tab for two bibliographies featuring high quality and available fiction and nonfiction books for grades K-2 and 3-5, respectively.
Professional Opportunities: US Board on Books for Young People
Like the International Board on Books for Young  People--the UNESCO-sanctioned organization that grew out of a global conference at the International Youth Library in 1951--the mission of USBBY is to promote intercultural understanding and tolerance through children’s books. In order to achieve these goals, USBBY hosts its own regional conference and also co-sponsors sessions at the national meetings of the American Library Association, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the International Reading Association. USBBY is also responsible for selecting the American contenders for the Hans Christian Anderson Awards. These prestigious international medals given for the body of an author or illustrator's work are often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Children’s Literature.” In addition, USBBY also supports the compilation of an annual list of Outstanding International Children’s Books that is published in the February issue of School Library Journal. USBBY membership benefits include an ample twice-yearly newsletter and the opportunity to serve on committees.
Silver Screen: Revisiting Harry Potter
book jacketHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J.K. Rowling
Scholastic (1999)
ISBN 13: 978-0-4392-3635-8 

Since each movie grossed in the neighborhood of one billion dollars, it’s hard to argue with the box office success of director Chris Columbus’ first two Harry Potter movies—The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. But when director Alfonso Cuarón came on board for The Prisoner of Azkaban, I finally found the full measure of magic and emotion I had been waiting for. My favorite scene perfectly captures early male adolescent camaraderie as Harry, Ron and their Gryffindor mates with their derring-do and silliness are sitting around eating magical candy not knowing what foreign sound might come out of their mouths next. There’s also Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black—a favorite Potter character—who is there to assuage Harry’s perpetual longing for family. In the film’s dramatic climax, Sirius appears as his dog animagus to battle his old pal Professor Lupin who is also a werewolf. As an added bonus, the film’s parallel time travel helped me visualize similar goings-on in 2009’s high profile fantasy, When You Reach Me.

NOVELIST CONNECTIONS: Are you seeking read-alikes about young people who--like the most famous wizard of them all--possess magic and power? Next to Find in NoveList K-8, enter "Harry Potter;" then click on Go. Open the Recommended Reads tab for "If You Like...Harry Potter."

Professional Resources: In Translation
A Bridge of Children’s  Books: The Inspiring Story of a Remarkable Woman.
Jella Lepman
The O’Brien Press Ltd. (Rev. 2002)
ISBN: 0-86278-783-1
o.p.

Although the word “inspirational” is tossed around quite easily these days, it seems an apt description for the intelligent, witty, and energetic Jella Lepman, founder of the International Youth Library. A German-Jewish journalist who escaped to England in 1933, Lepman returned with some reluctance at the end of World War II to work for the American military as Advisor for Women and Children’s Educational Affairs. Amidst the destruction and chaos of post-war Germany, she convinced her supervisors that after years of propaganda, Germany’s children needed the “spiritual nourishment” that books from around the world--including nations that had recently been enemies--could bring.

Opening in 1946 with children’s literature donated from almost 20 countries, the traveling International Exhibition of Children’s Books was seen by over one million German children and their families. Using this start-up collection with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Library Association and Eleanor Roosevelt, the International Youth Library opened in Munich in September, 1949. Not merely a depository of books, the library had a dizzying array of offerings--story hours, book discussion groups, book reviews written by young people, book quizzes, puppet shows, theater groups, movies, an art studio, a Children’s United Nations, and language classes with children’s books as texts. Filled with personal anecdotes and stories that highlight the importance of determination and commitment, this engaging memoir concludes with the forward-looking and diplomatic Lepman’s travels to the Middle East. 

book jacketMildred L. Batchelder Award
A former school, public, and academic librarian, Mildred Batchelder worked at the American Library Association from 1936-1966 where she served as the Executive Director of the Association for Library Service to Children. Like Lepman--whom Batchelder introduced to the American practice of open library stacks and programming for young people--Batchelder also saw children’s books as a means to promote peaceful coexistence among the world’s nations and peoples.

Founded in 1968, the Batchelder Award is given to the most outstanding children’s book of the year that was originally published “in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.” Unlike most literary awards, the Batchelder is presented not to the author but to the publisher in the hope that the recognition will encourage them to keep looking for distinguished literature for young people from other countries in other languages. In addition to the winning book, Batchelder Honor Books have been on the roster since 1994. The Batcheder Medal is given for distinguished writing that must convey a sense of the country where it originated.

If you are having trouble finding these prize-winning books from other lands, you might want to take a look at Crossing Boundaries with Children’s Books (Scarecrow, 2006), edited by Doris Gebel. In the opening section, Northwestern University librarian Jeffrey Garrett--former head of the English Language Section at the IYL--provides a  brilliant essay about why translated children’s books tend to have a short shelf life in the U.S. arguing that, despite (or perhaps because of) our identity as a “melting pot,” our cultural norms are actually quite narrow.

Awards: Jane Addams Children's Book Awards
Eliza Dressingbook jacket

Eliza Dresang is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children’s and Youth Services at the University Of Washington Information School. Concluding her tenth and final year as a judge for the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards, she shares her insights into these noteworthy literary prizes.
JC: Who administers the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards?
ED: The awards were established in 1953 and are administered by the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA), which is the U.S. Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The latter was founded in 1915 and has sections around the world.

JC: What is the purpose of the awards?
book jacketED: The purpose of the awards, one for younger and one for older children, is to identify and make available outstanding books that reflect themes of “peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of all sexes and races.” The awards have a dual purpose in that the winning books must not only exemplify social justice themes but also demonstrate literary excellence. It can sometimes be hard to find books that do both in an outstanding manner.

JC: Who serves on the committee?
ED: The bylaws state that there should be diversity on the committee [to reflect different points of view] based on geographic location, ethnicity, culture, age, sexual orientation and occupation. While the members are not necessarily librarians or  teachers, they do need to be knowledgeable about children’s literature. The number of committee members is a little loose and can range from 10-14 at the discretion of the chair and the JAPA Board.

JC: How were you appointed to the committee?
ED: Ginny Moore Kruse, the former Director of The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), nominated me when she was chair of the committee. No other member lived in Florida (nor is there anyone else in the Pacific Northwest where I now live). Board members, committee members, and the chair can nominate people when there is a vacancy, and nothing says that individuals can’t self-nominate. I received a written query from the chair and I had to respond with a CV and a letter explaining why I should be on the committee. The board then approved my tenure. Currently, committee members can serve 3 three-year-terms. However, the JAPA Board is considering changing the tenure to 2 four-year-terms.

To read the entire interview with Eliza Dresang, click here.
In Case You're Wondering: Percy Jackson
book jacketPercy  Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Having successfully dodged the humongous bullet that was New Moon by rescheduling its release date, The Lightning Thief will finally arrive on the big screen on February 12th, 2010 (President’s Day). If you’re looking for great tips on hosting a Percy Jackson book party, check out our interview with youth services librarian Susan Kunkle in the September 2009 “Book Discussion” issue of NoveList School News. If you subscribe to NoveList or the NextReads Tween Newsletter, take a look at their “If You Like Lightning Thief” read-alike lists.

International Youth Library
Because the working languages of the IYL are English and German, you don't have to speak German in order to serve as a fellow.

Coming Next Month: Multicultural Literature