February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

USBBY Welcomes International Literary Luminaries to NYC


Kate DiCamillo captivates the crowd.

The invitation was irresistible.

“In a city known for its diversity, join participants in this conference as they form a community, tightly bound by its passion for the potential of books to impact the lives of young people, but eager to expand its membership internationally to the diverse stories and perspectives that await.”

So wrote Janelle Mathis, president of United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). She did not fail in the promise of that exceptional community.


Verse novelists Terry Farish, Padma Venkatrama, Holly Thompson, and Margarita Engle.

A wonderland of enthusiasm and new perspectives

On a crisp mid-October weekend, children’s book enthusiasts, experts, and creators—including Lois Lowry, Chris Raschka, Susan Cooper, and David Almond—flocked to New York City’s Leman Manhattan Preparatory School to join that community.

Through the Looking Glass: Exploring the Wonderland of International Children’s Literature, IBBY’s 11th regional conference, sponsored by the United States Board on Books for Young People, was a joyful sanctuary of bookish pleasures.

Kate DiCamillo opens up

Kate DiCamillo shares a laugh with  SLJ's Luann Toth

Kate DiCamillo shares a laugh
with SLJ‘s Luann Toth

The first general session featured the sitting National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo, in conversation with SLJ’s own Managing Editor, Book Reviews, Luann Toth.

Fittingly introduced as a “yarn-spinner extraordinaire,” the distinguished writer provided insight into who she is as an artist. She touched upon her childhood (“I was a kid who loved to read”) and writing process (“Eavesdropping is beneficial.”)

Lewis Carroll in a new light

Noted children’s book historian, author, and critic, Leonard Marcus, kept with the Wonderland theme by opening day two with his talk “Alice, Milo and the Freedom to be a Child.” He delighted listeners with a fresh look at two seminal works of children’s literature: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

Two discussion points particularly enthralled listeners­: Whether Charles Darwin may have influenced Carroll and The Phantom Tollbooth being Jules Feiffer’s entry into the world of children’s book illustration.

Illustrator panel shows off


Graphic novel panel: Mark Siegel, moderator, with Françoise Mouly, Liniers, Andrés Vera Martinez, and Gene Luen Yang.



Several panel discussions took place. An especially lively one was between illustrators Roger Mello, 2014 Hans Christian Andersen (HCA) Award winner from Brazil; François Place national HCA Award nominee from France; and former HCA winner from Austria, Lisbeth Zwerger, moderated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

It concluded with an entertaining draw-off. While Mello and Place worked on a board in front of the audience, Zwerger jokingly presented hers on a computer— getting a chuckle as she slowly revealed a familiar work in her trademark style, one not created on the fly at all.

Translators key

The art and importance of translation was explored in a fascinating session moderated by Enchanted Lion publisher Claudia Bedrick, with translators Ajia, Laura Watkinson, and Mara Lethem. Each panelist provided unique insight into the work of the translator. Indeed, their anecdotes about specific books made it abundantly clear that translation needs to be more widely recognized as a major part of book creation.

Graphics on the rise

First Second’s Mark Siegel moderated a graphic novel panel with Gene Luen Yang, Françoise Mouly, publisher and Editorial Director of TOON Books, Liniers, and Andrés Vera Martínez.

Siegel marveled that the last couple of years have seen a major shift in the acceptance of graphic novels in the U.S. general population; Yang concurred. He said it was amazing to him that the increased sales of graphic novels had made it possible for him to “quit his day job.”

Mouly spoke of comics being a comforting part of her life in France, both as a child and an adult. Martinez then drew personal comparisons to growing up with comics in Texas. Liniers gave a different viewpoint, though, commenting that in Argentina, comics are not yet seen in such a progressive way. This suggests that, worldwide, graphic novels have different degrees of acceptance. All agreed with Yang’s sentiment that “comics are the bedrock of cultural exchange” providing a unique immediacy through images that doesn’t require conventional translation for meaning.

Until next time

In addition to ample time for informal talk and networking during meals and breaks, there were also book discussions (with a curated set of titles), poster sessions, and smaller breakout sessions. The latter two included explorations of Indonesian boys’ lit, displacement and war, Inuit culture and identity, audiobooks, nonfiction, wordless books, book-making, climate change, verse novels, diversity trends, and empathy for characters with disabilities in different cultural settings.

The conference closed with an invitation to the 12th regional conference to be held in 2017 at the University of Washington in Seattle.


photos by Junko Yokota

Slide 1
Translation panelists Aija (Chinese), Mara Lethem (Spanish and Catalan), Laura Watkinson (Danish) and moderator Claudia Bedrick
Slide 2
Illustration panelists Lisbeth Zweger (Austria), moderator Paul O. Zelinsky, Roger Mello (Brazil), and François Place (France)
Slide 3
Verse novelists Terry Farish, Padma Venkatrama, Holly Thompson, and Margarita Engle
Slide 4
Marc Aronson, Betsy Bird, and Luann Toth
Slide 5
Leonard S. Marcus
Slide 6
Translator Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Slide 7
Oralia Garza de Cortes and Ellis Vance
Slide 8
Kate DiCamillo
Slide 9
Etienne Delessert
Slide 10
Conference organizer Doris Gebel
Slide 11
Caroline Ward with illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Slide 12
Christiane Raabe, director of the International Youth Library, and Bookbird editor Bjorn Sundmark
Slide 13
Kate Dicamillo cuts up with Luann Toth
Slide 14
Dorothy Briley lecturer Susan Cooper
Slide 15
IBBY executive director Liz Page
Slide 16
Jenny Brown with illustrator Peter Sis
Slide 17
Keynote speaker David Almond
Slide 18
Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang
Slide 19
Slide 20
Mark Siegel and Françoise Mouly