Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, March 2011 – “We Want Them To Know They Are Not Alone” by Chieko Furuta Suemori

Monday, March 4th, 2013

March 11th marks the 2nd anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake – two long years of striving and rebuilding for those whose lives were altered by the disaster.  At the IBBY Congress last year, JBBY, the Japanese section of IBBY, hosted a very well-attended early-bird session, where we learned about the phenomenal work being done to bring books to children, and the healing that those books were and are able to effect.  Each speaker gave a personal account of their own experiences on 11th March 2011 and the different children’s book and library projects they have been instrumental in getting off the ground.  You can read the presentation given by JBBY President Takao Murayama here, in which he introduced the “Books for Tomorrow” project.  Hisako Kakuage spoke “To the Children of Fukushima, and for Children with Special Needs”, showing a selection of multi-sensory books, including cloth books and music (I was delighted to see Suho’s White Horse there).

Chieko Suemori, a former Executive Member of IBBY and founder of publishing house Suemori Books, launched the 3.11 Ehon Project Iwate within days of the disaster.  To date, they have received more than 232,000 books, which reach children via the Ehon Car mobile library project.  Chieko has given me permission to reproduce her presentation here.  Six months after the IBBY Congress, it is still very relevant and definitely worth reading, especially around this time when our thoughts turn towards those who are still suffering because of what happened two years ago – and to those who are doing all they can to help them.

We Want Them To Know They Are Not Alone by Chieko Furuta Suemori
~ Presentation given at the IBBY Congress, London, August 25, 2012

One year before the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I moved from Tokyo, north to Iwate prefecture. The place where I live is inland, but still the shaking of the quake was horrible. It was a quake stronger than anything I had felt in my life. Electric power shut down, so we had no telephone, television or Internet access. Probably many of you were seeing the images of the tsunami on TV before we did.

Yamada is one of the coastal towns hit hardest by the 11 March tsunami. After the waves destroyed the town, fires raged from huge gas storage tanks and spilled crude oil, and even the water of the harbor was on fire. This once-peaceful place was a haven to my ancestors, who fled persecution of Christians in Kyushu, several generations ago. As soon as the telephone and Internet began to work, many friends asked me what they could do to help us in Iwate. I recalled the work of IBBY’s [founder] Jella Lepman, and I thought: we must gather books for the children. A newspaper reporter I had known since the IBBY Congress in Basel wrote a story about my plan, and within days we began to receive an overwhelming stream of picture books from all over the country. I had not realized how much confidence Japanese place in picture books as a source of strength for children. Some days we would receive 200 to 300 boxes of books! Within two months, we had 230,000 books.

We also had a wonderful team of volunteers who helped us at the Central Civic Hall that was the base of our project. They opened the boxes, unloaded the books, and filed the letters and messages enclosed by the senders. Then we began to sort and organize the books, following the advice of our experts on picture books.

On 4 April, three weeks after the quake, I first visited the disaster zone. Amid the rubble of the town of Yamada I came upon a young Buddhist priest wearing only straw sandals even as snow continued to fall. Desperately wanting to do something, he had come, determined at least to pray for the dead. He was not even sure how helpful that was, but still he kept on praying in those wretched streets of broken homes, washed out streets, and burned out workplaces. All he could do was pray, he said, but he would walk the whole length of the long, convoluted coastline of Iwate. At night he faced the ocean, which had claimed the lives of so many, and after a deep bow, raised his voice high, chanting a sutra for the repose of their souls. My encounter with that young priest was a blessing, an experience I will never forget.

The tsunami washed away schools and libraries. In some cities, even the mayor and members of the city hall staff were caught up in the deadly tide. The children said nothing, but I could see how bravely they understand the situation. On the day I visited a day care center, there was a little girl in a pink shirt who did not join the circle of children listening to a story, and while the others played happily, sat alone, gazing at the floor. She was one of the children waiting for a mother who would never return. All I could do was to take my chair over and sit next to the girl in the pink shirt. I wanted her to know she was not alone.

When we invited the children to pick a book they liked to keep, they began to search through the boxes. One boy kept on searching for one of his favorite books, and when he found it, he clasped it dearly as he left. I realized that the children were searching for their favorite picture books they had read at home, kindergarten or day care before the tsunami.

About a year after the tsunami, on the 5th of February, I visited Rikuzen Takata, a large city that suffered massive damage. I visited the school gymnasium. It had been designated as an evacuation center in case of emergency, but the 200 people who had fled there were caught up in the tsunami and whirled around as if in a huge washing machine. Except for two or three, almost all had died. Although a year had passed, the city still had buildings crammed with upside down automobiles washed along by the tsunami and tangled rubble everywhere. There I found a small stuffed animal lodged in the sand. Somehow unwilling to just leave it there, I wrapped it in a handkerchief and took it home. A cute pink figure of a cow, it had a broken bell around its neck. It must have belonged to a small girl. Thinking of the fate of that little girl, I keep the little pink cow on my windowsill.

With support from IBBY and many others, our Ehon Project Iwate has launched six Picture Book Car mini-bookmobiles. In the disaster zone are a number of people whose homes were not damaged in the disaster who have set up small bunko home libraries. The vehicles are small so they can pass along narrow roads and streets, and the managers of the home libraries can easily drive them. They are equipped with winter-use tires and even insurance policies.

This year, in order to provide information and encouragement for these home libraries, we started regular gatherings in Morioka centering on picture books called “Picture Book Rendezvous” (Ehon Salon). By offering various enjoyable events and a place for networking, we hope to support the endeavors of people devoted to bringing books to children in communities throughout Iwate.

We have decided to continue this project for 10 years, helping the people managing bunko libraries in their homes along the Iwate coastline. By then, the city offices, libraries, and schools that were destroyed in the disaster will have been rebuilt and restored to some extent.

In closing, I would like to ask you to listen to a song. It is a song about finding hope in the midst of despair and about what we want to leave to our children. All sorts of people are singing—actors and actresses, singers, television entertainers, professional sports people—all of them with roots in the disaster zone. The recording was originally part of an NHK program, but for this IBBY Congress we have prepared a special version with English translation by Roger Pulvers. The song gives us a visible sense of the meaning of hope and shows that we have taken up the torch to carry on for those who have died.

We think of the many children throughout the world who suffer in many different ways, even without destructive earthquakes and tsunami. For those children as well, we must sustain hope through our commitment to children’s books.

Latest news on IBBY regional and international conferences and more! Mark your calendars.

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

IBBY logo International Board on Books for Young People

paw_sm3The IBBY press conference at the 2013 Bologna Children’s Book Fair will take place March 25 at 2:30 pm. Highlights will include:

~ IBBY Documentation Centre of Books for Disabled Young People
~ IBBY Projects (including the the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund and the IBBY-Yamada Programme)
~ International Children’s Book Day 2013
~ 2013 Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities
~ 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Awards

paw_sm3The United Arab Emirates Section of IBBY (UAEIBBY) will organize the First International Board on Books for Young  People Conference for the Region of Central Asia and North Africa (CANA): Bringing Books and Children Together in Sharjah, UAE,  April 21 – 23, 2013.

paw_sm3The Indonesian Section of IBBY (INABBY) has announced the  1st Asia and Oceania Regional IBBY Congress to be held in Bali, Indonesia, May 23 – 26, 2013.

paw_sm3The USA section of IBBY ( USBBY) is sponsoring the 10th IBBY Regional Conference: BookJoy Around the World in St. Louis, MO,  October 18 – 20, 2013.

paw_sm3IBBY Cuba will be hosting the Congreso Internacional Lectura 2013: para Leer el XXI  to be held October 22 – 26, 2013 in Havana, Cuba.

paw_sm3IBBY India and Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children (AWIC) is organizing The International Conference on Literacy Through Literature to be held in New Delhi, India, February 6 – 8, 2014.

paw_sm3The IBBY 34th International Congress: May everyone really mean everyone. Reading as an inclusive experience will be held in Mexico City, Mexico, September 10 – 13, 2014. Submissions are now being accepted for a special issue of Bookbird to coincide with the Congress. Papers are welcomed that examine texts for children from Mexico or the Latin American world as they relate to or intersect with the conference theme. See Bookbird’s website at for full submission details.

paw_sm3The 33rd IBBY Congress took place this past summer in London and a selection of videos of some of the plenary and other sessions are now available on the Congress website. Click here to watch them. Hopefully PaperTigers Editor Marjorie Coughlan’s session Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: picture books that relate refugee stories, and their importance will be uploaded soon so that those of us that couldn’t attend can enjoy her presentation.

Poetry Friday: Dashdondog Jamba and the Mongolian Mobile Library

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

It was a real thrill for me to meet not only Dashdondog Jamba at the IBBY Congress last month, having interviewed him last year, but also Anne Pellowski, who worked with him on the Libraries Unlimited edition of Mongolian Folktales.  Here’s a photo of us all:

Dashdondog was a member of a superb storytellers’ panel with Michael Harvey telling a tall tale in a mixture of Welsh and English and Sonia Nimr recounting hers first in English then in Arabic.  It was fascinating in both cases how much audience participation was possible, regardless of the language they were speaking, simply (and of course, not simple at all really) becasue they were such fine storytellers.

Dashdondog’s story-telling in Mongolian was accompanied by a slideshow that provided the necessary context and I loved his verse rendition of the work of the Mongolian Mobile Library that he founded in 1990 – the onomatopeia could be universally understood. You can watch part of it here. As well as his gift for storytelling, this part of Dashdondog’s presentation provided an indication of how committed the Mobile Children’s Library is in ensuring library books reach as many children as possible, regardless of the challenges of terrain, distance and weather conditions they encounter.

Do read Dashdondog’s article about the library here – and you can read some of his vibrant poems translated into English on his blog.

First Issue of IBBY Asian Newsletter!

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The first issue of IBBY Asian Newsletter has come out and is definitely a must read! This newsletter belongs to all national sections in Asia: from the Middle East to the Far East, and contains a wealth of information and photos. Following the decision of the Asian national sections’ gathering at the 2010 IBBY Congress, two issues of this newsletter will be published each year (April and September).

Included in the April 2011 issue are:
• Report from Australia
• IBBY India’s activities
• News from Iran
• JBBY describes its wide ranging activities
• KBBY reports
• Alif Laila Book Bus Society Brings Children and Books Together!
• Palestinian IBBY

32nd International IBBY Congress – speeches and photos are now online.

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

The 32nd International IBBY Congress was held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain this past September with the theme The Strength of Minorities:

Why would the majorities want to change a society in which they are perfectly comfortable and privileged? It may seem at a first glance that the majority is the dominant force in every society, but those who dramatically change their world, now and throughout history, always belong to the minority. Minorities –social, ethnic, linguistic, gender, religious- possess a force and an internal dynamism that this Congress will address by critically evaluating and highlighting today’s situation for all minorities. We hope that the Congress will encourage equity that will lead to empowerment of minorities throughout the world.

You can now read the detailed program and speeches from the Congress online by clicking  here. Photos from the event can be seen here.

Planning for the 33rd International IBBY Congress in London is already underway. The dates are set for August 23 – 26, 2012 and the theme of the Congress is Crossing Boundaries: Translations and Migrations. Participants will explore how books and stories for children and young people can cross boundaries and migrate across different countries and cultures. The congress will look at issues such as globalization, dual-language texts, cultural exchange and the art of translation. For more information, check out the IBBY 2012 Congress website.

Gita Wolf of Tara Books blogs about her recent presentation at the 2010 IBBY Congress

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Gita Wolf, publisher and director at Tara Books,  has posted a wonderful entry on the Tara Books Blog entitled The Politics of Voice: Folk and Tribal Art in Children’s Literature in which she talks about her presentation at the recent IBBY Congress:

“It may seem, at first glance, that the majority is the dominant force in every society, but those who dramatically change their world, now and throughout history, always belong to the minority.”  With this motto, the International Board on Books for Young People – IBBY – organized their Congress this year in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The theme was The Strength of Minorities. Given Tara’s work with folk and tribal art communities, I was invited to contribute, to talk about how these ‘outsider’ artists could change the course of children’s literature.

The fundamental question for me had to do with how we can re-imagine children’s literature. What possibilities are there in a publishing world that is increasingly dominated by big business, bestsellers, and a certain sameness in what we think is suitable for children?

When we started publishing in 1995, there were very few picture books for children in India. Ours has been a largely oral tradition, and the notion of children’s literature came from abroad. So Indian children’s books tended to be derivative. To create something that was original, we looked around for Indian illustrators, and what excited us most was the potential we saw in traditional artists.

To read the rest of the article (which contains some lovely illustrations and images!) click here .

Note: The image above is by Gond artist Bhajju Shyam and is from the book The Flight of the Mermaid, text by Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao (Tara Books, 2009).  Bhajju is currently featured in our PaperTigers Illustrator Gallery.

8th IBBY Regional Conference "Children's Books: Where Worlds Meet"

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Doris Gebel, USBBY Board Member, has asked us to pass along the following information for the 8th IBBY Regional Conference to be held Oct 2 – 4 in St. Charles, Illinois. The conference is open to anyone interested in international children’s books, including educators, librarians, authors, and students. You do not have to be a member of USBBY to attend or reside in the USA. Everyone is welcome! Registrations will be accepted until all spots are taken.

This year’s conference Children’s Books: Where Worlds Meet will offer attendees a rare opportunity to interact with an unparalleled line-up of international authors and illustrators, and to explore global connections through children’s literature.

International speakers include Shaun Tan from Australia; Yohannes Gebregeorgis, founder of Ethiopia Reads; Arvind Kumar, book distributor extraordinaire from India; Ana Maria Machado, Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning author from Brazil; and others, from a total of fourteen countries on five continents. Carmen Diana Dearden from Venezuela, editor and publisher of Ediciones Ekaré, will deliver the prestigious Dorothy Briley Lecture.

Speakers from the United States include Katherine Paterson, David Wiesner, Anne Pellowski, and publisher/editor Arthur Levine. Naomi Shihab Nye will deliver the closing keynote address.

Stimulating and thought-provoking book discussions and small group sessions will provide opportunities to network with concerned professionals and to think about issues related to the use of international literature to build intercultural understanding. Fascinating traveling exhibits include the International Youth Library’s “Imaginary Library” of original artwork by celebrated illustrators from around the world, the 2008 IBBY Honour Books, and the 2008 IBBY Outstanding Books for People with Disabilities. These exhibitions will be explained through “gallery talks” by such guests as IYL Director Christiane Raabe, IBBY Executive Secretary Liz Page, and others.

The 8th IBBY Regional Conference is an opportunity to show commitment to promoting international understanding through children’s books, and to join an international community devoted to providing children around the world with equal access to quality literature. This event promises to be outstanding, and is not to be missed.

September 2008 Events

Monday, September 1st, 2008

(Click on event name for more information)

Library Card Sign-up Month~ USA

National Poetry Week~ ongoing until Sep 7, Australia

Singapore International Storytelling Festival~ ongoing until Sep 9, Singapore

Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art~ ongoing until Sep 14, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Beijing International Book Fair~ Sep 1 – 4, Tinjian, China

National Literacy and Numeracy Week~ Sep 1 – 7, Australia

New Zealand Book Month~ Sep 1 – 30, New Zealand

Christchurch Writers Festival: Getting Between the Covers~ Sep 4 – 7, Christchurch, New Zealand

Shanghai Conference On Children’s Publishing~ Sep 5 – 6, Shanghai, China

Cape Clear Island Storytellling Festival~ Sep 5 – 7, Cape Clear, Ireland

31st IBBY World Congress~ Sep 7 – 10, Copenhagen, Denmark

Hans Christian Anderson Awards Presentation~ Sep 7, Copenhagen, Denmark

International Literacy Day~ Sep 8

UNESCO Literary Prize Awards Presentation~ Sep 8, Paris, France

29th Manila International Book Fair: Words Without Borders~ Sep 12 – 16, Manila, Philippines

Bath Festival of Children’s Literature~ Sep 19 – 28, Bath, United Kingdom

Brisbane Writers Festival~ Sep 17 – 21, Brisbane, Australia

CYA later, Alligator – Children’s and Young Adult Writers And Illustrators Conference~ Sep 20, Brisbane, Australia

6th Annual Houston Latino Book and Family Festival~ Sep 20 – 21, Houston, TX, USA

International Day of Peace~ Sep 21

9th Annual Hog Wild About Reading: A Motorcycle Ride For Literacy~ Sep 21, Port Moody, BC, Canada

Raise-a-Reader Day~ Sep 24, Canada

International Children’s and Youth Literature Festival~ Sep 24 – Oct 4, Berlin, Germany

National Book Festival~ Sep 27, Washington, D.C., USA

Kidlit Bloggers Conference~ Sep 27, Portland, OR, USA

SCBWI Illustrator Day~ Sep 27, San Francisco, CA, USA

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read~ Sep 27 – Oct 4, USA

Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival ~ Sep 28, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Entry Deadline for the Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations~ Sep 30