Issue : June / July 2017 Lifestyle
A congress for children's literature facilitates the pedagogic power of books
While many people might think print books are dying out, print books are in fact flourishing, especially children’s books. Research, especially in the US and UK, shows that e-book sales are falling while sales of paper books are growing – and the shift is being driven by the younger generation. In the UK, for example, sales through shops increased 7% but e-book sales declined by 4%.
In Thailand, people also read more in both print and digital forms, according to a survey by TK Park, a modern multimedia learning space for children. Research in 2015 found that 46% of Thais read books, which increased to 66% in 2016.
The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) recently held the 3rd Asia Oceania Regional IBBY Congress at TK Park at CentralWorld, Bangkok. Those with a passion for children’s books from around Asia gathered to share experiences and thoughts on how to encourage young people to read in the digital age. Co-organized by IBBY, ThaiBBY and TK Park, the Asia Oceania Regional IBBY Congress is a platform for building networks and collaborating to create fulfilling lives and a flourishing reading society. Children’s books are among the best tools for empowering children and encouraging the imagination, critical thinking and healthy habits.
Elite+ had an opportunity to talk to the leaders of the three organizations – IBBY president Wally De Doncker, ThaiBBY president Khunying Kasama Varavarn and TK Park acting director-general Rames Promyen – and discuss the future of children’s books in Thailand and the need to support children reading, learning and using their imaginations.
Can you briefly explain IBBY and its mission?
De Doncker: IBBY started in 1953. But it started already before that because Jella Lepman, a Jewish librarian in Germany, was already interested in international children’s books. In 1933 she had to flee Germany, from the Nazis, and flew with her family to the United Kingdom. She worked for the Foreign Office and the BBC during World War II and from 1941 for the American Broadcasting Station in Europe. She was an adviser for questions related to children and young people at the American headquarters in post-war Germany. Even without funding she organized an exhibition of children’s illustrations and children’s books from 20 countries in Munich in 1946.
In 1953, she started the international Board on Books for Young People, and famous authors were a part of it, such as Erich Kästner and Astrid Lindgren. The mission was to promote international understanding between people.
A lot of things were promoted by IBBY, such as the Asahi Reading Promotion Award, and workshops around the world in order to have contact between illustrators, authors, publishers and librarians to improve the publishing industry in their countries. Another important project is to help children in war areas and we try to help refugee children.
How many countries are involved in IBBY?
De Doncker: This year we have 75 country members. We have regional congresses like the one in Thailand and world congresses for IBBY members to come together. Last year it was held in Auckland, New Zealand. IBBY Europe was held in Bologna and it will be in Seattle, Washington, for the North America section and the Africa section was in Kampala, Uganda. Our audience is everyone who has something to do with children’s literature – authors, illustrators, researchers, journalist, teachers.
Explain the theme of this year’s congress: ‘Read = Life: Children’s Books in the Digital Age’.
Khunying Kasama: Nowadays people mostly read content from digital media. But at this congress a lot of people were talking about the decline of e-books, as many readers found it difficult to read from tablets without the feeling of holding a book or flipping through pages. So I believe e-books were a trend and now printed books are coming back. But we still live in a digital age and we have to adapt to change. Normally our participants are children’s books’ authors, illustrators and those working on promoting children’s books who gather to exchange experiences, research and ideas. We have a lot of campaigns and children’s libraries that we develop from our experiences visiting other libraries around the world. When guests come to us and see our libraries, we love to share this inspiration with them to develop children’s libraries in their countries.
In the past, there were only a few media platforms people could access. How does IBBY adapt to today’s rapid changes?
De Doncker: In 2011, the e-book reading rate was high and now it’s decreased by almost 20%, so I think it is still important for children’s book publishers to invest in printed books. Also, from my personal experience, I’m the grandfather of five grandchildren. They really want to feel the book, they want to see the book and smell and keep it with them. I think it is still important.
Why is reading important?
De Doncker: Imagination is important. When you read text, you can imagine it in your mind. But when you see a film, somebody else creates the imagination for you. Another important thing is we can read out loud with parents or grandparents and have intimacy together. So books can create bonds between people and create imagination and critical thinking. You have to be critical all the time and for a lot of things. Children have a lot of options in terms of books, and when they learn to read they will be more open-minded so they can accept other cultures and other genders and religions.
How does ThaiBBY encourage children to read?
Khunying Kasama: We have had a lot of campaigns to promote children’s books and reading habits. For example, Book Start was a campaign encouraging parents to read books to their children from a very young age to help develop their language, brain and other skills, and also create a close relationship among family members. Parents can start reading to their kids from six months old so that the children feel love and warmth from their parents. Colours, sounds or words help develop children in all areas. We have research proving that reading helps children develop their brains.
Young children who read children’s books will change their habits to read comic books when they become teenagers, which is good as well. In the past I was anti-comic books but now there are a lot of great comic books children can enjoy and learn things from. In order to encourage children to read more, we might have to create edutainment comic books so they can continue reading and are not afraid to read.
Books are valuable. Books can open the world and encourage children to use their imagination, and that develops their brain. Books also create bonds in a positive way among family members.
How is reading important to Thai children and society?
Rames: In order to develop the country, we need to invest in children. Reading is one of the tools for them to hone their skills, use their imaginations, have creativity and learn to think analytically. We have to be concerned about the quality of the content they read as well. When they read, they will be inspired to discover more content they are interested in. If they keep reading, they learn to be open-minded, and have more knowledge and life skills to make better decisions and adapt in an increasingly fast-paced and changing world.


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