Book world in Africa

The 29th World Congress of the International Board on Books for Young People (Ibby) kicks off in Cape Town on September 5.

Hosted in Africa for the first time, the conference has attracted about 500 delegates from 60 countries, including 17 African states.

During the five-day congress lectures and workshops will run concurrently in five venues at the Baxter Theatre Centre, and many of the sessions will offer simultaneous translation between English, French and Spanish.

Colleen Higgs, of the Centre for the Book in Cape Town, notes that the events “will bring together writers, illustrators, librarians, publishers, academics and other children’s book enthusiasts”.

Ibby, which holds an international congress every two years, is a non-profit organisation founded in Switzerland in 1953. It aims to promote international understanding through children’s books; to improve children’s access to books; to provide support and training for those involved with children’s literature; and to stimulate research in that field. The South African Children’s Book Forum is the local branch of the organisation.

The “committee of honour” for the Cape Town congress includes Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Njabulo Ndebele; author and academic Professor Es’kia Mphahlele; former parliamentary speaker Frene Ginwala; and Cape Town Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo. Graça Machel is patron-in-chief.

Among the many prominent speakers are author Joy Cowley, who was awarded the OBE in 1992 for her services to children’s literature, and multi-award-winner Dr Beverley Naidoo, who is currently a visiting fellow at Southampton University.

A highlight of the conference will be the presentation of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Awards for children’s literature at the Artscape Opera House. The 2004 winners are Irish author Martin Waddell and illustrator Max Velthuijs of The Netherlands.

Another important award to be made at the conference is the Asahi Reading Promotion Award. Sponsored by the Asahi newspaper group in Japan, the prize is worth $10 000 and is given annually to a project that “brings books to children who have few or none”. First Words in Print (Isiqalo), an initiative of the Centre for the Book, has won the 2004 award. An innovative congress event will be inaugurated when South African author and storyteller Gcina Mhlophe weaves a fascinating tale for delegates in the Baxter Concert Hall.

The conference also offers an interesting “fringe” programme, which includes exhibitions such as a “Kids’ Lit Quiz” and a symposium on humour in children’s literature.

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