LG Lore

- Jeffrey Canton, column editor


Twenty years ago the Canadian section of the International Board on Books for Young People was founded, thanks to three women: the National Library of Canada's Children's Literature Librarian Irene Aubrey, Irma McDonough Milnes, founder of The Canadian Children's Book Centre, and Toronto Public Library's Children's Coordinator Ruth Osler, all of whom shared IBBY's vision of promoting international understanding through children's books.

By 1980, with the unprecedented growth spurt that Canadian children's book publishing was experiencing, Irene Aubrey was clearly aware that making international connections was of vital importance. Aubrey was then acting as Canada's official liaison with IBBY International, administering IBBY business as it pertained to Canada, answering correspondence and preparing nominations for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. The work soon required the involvement of more people. Aubrey, Milnes and Osler struck a committee and the rest, as they say, is history.

"When asked about her initial vision for IBBY-Canada," writes past-president Eva Martin in the IBBY-Canada Newsletter, "Irene replied that she saw it as a means of promoting understanding around the world through children's literature; that people who can meet and talk to each other will come to understand one another; that the time had come to promote more widely and enthusiastically what was being done in the field of Canadian children's literature."

And what better way to honour twenty years of IBBY-Canada than to recognize the books that have been going forth into the world on behalf of the Canadian section? A traveling exhibition has been mounted that will visit four Canadian cities: Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. It includes not only the last twenty years' worth of Canadian books chosen by IBBY-Canada for the Honour List, but also all of the international selections that make up the 2000 IBBY Honour List, giving Canadians a rare opportunity to see this remarkable collection.

The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books honouring writers, illustrators and translators from the many IBBY member countries. One book can be nominated in each of the three categories: Writing, Illustration and Translation. For a country with a substantial and continuing production of children's books in more than one language (French and English in Canada), up to three books may be submitted for writing and translation in different languages. IBBY-Canada has been nominating books for the Honour List since 1980. The international Honour List dates back to 1956 and highlights books that for their outstanding quality are considered suitable for publication throughout the world. The Honour List offers a unique opportunity to member countries to present their best books to an international audience and is one of IBBY's most effective ways of furthering its objective of encouraging international understanding through children's literature.

What makes being chosen for the Honour List so special? Let the books chosen for the 2000 IBBY Honour List speak for their predecessors...

English-language text: In Uncle Ronald, Brian Doyle takes readers back 100 years into the boyhood of Mickey McGuire in this deliciously comic novel that will move young readers as it makes them laugh. Doyle brilliantly juggles the pain that Mickey conceals as a victim of his father's violent abuse with the hilarious hijinks that make up daily life in the little village of Low in the Gatineau Hills, north of Ottawa. The eccentric cast of characters includes the mischievous O'Malley sisters, Even Steven and, of course, Mickey's wonderful Uncle Ronald.

French-language text: Dominque Demers's La mystérieuse bibliothécaire (The Mysterious Librarian) follows librarian extraordinaire Miss Charlotte into an utterly fantastic world where the magical worlds that lurk inside books aren't quite so inaccessible after all and the enchantment of reading can be so strong as to twist the boundaries between what is real and what is not. The most marvellous things happen when Miss Charlotte shares her love of books with the children who visit her in the library in this humorous fantasy about the importance of culture, books and reading.

Illustration: Author/illustrator Ian Wallace's Boy of the Deeps gives voice to the voiceless in his stunning evocation of a Cape Breton, Nova Scotia coal mine at the turn of the twentieth century. James follows in the footsteps of generations of men and boys who have descended into the blackness of the coal mines, thousands of miles beneath the Atlantic Ocean. With his father as his guide, James discovers this hidden world under the surface of the earth and, before the end of his first day in the deeps, has to find the strength and the determination to survive. Wallace's illustrations not only capture the blackness of the mines but honour the men and boys who spent their lives in the depths of the earth.

Translation (French to English): David Homel's translation perfectly captures the spirit of Rémy Simard's fanciful Mister Once-upon-a-time. Whether he's needed or not, Mister Once-upon-a-time arrives whenever anyone begins telling a story. He doesn't just choose conventional ways either, and can be found sliding down your chimney or squirting out of the faucet in order to begin whatever story you tell with those magical words, "Once upon a time." While everyone loves a good story, Mister Once-upon-a-time becomes dreadfully annoying and the villagers are determined to put an end to his unwelcome interruptions. But as with all good stories, there is a satisfying ending. Homel brings to this translation both Simard's wonderful sense of humour and his delight in storytelling.

Translation (English to French): Marie-Louise Gay writes fluently in both English and French and was the natural choice for translating her award-winning picture book, Stella, Star of the Sea into French. In Stella, étoile de la mer, Stella and her little brother, Sam, are spending the day at the seashore. Stella is keen and confident, trying to entice Sam to come and enjoy the cool shimmery water. But Sam is apprehensive. He asks question after question while a very patient Stella gives imaginative answers, trying to soothe Sam's fears. Gay's translation captures the essence of a child's first encounter with the seashore as well as the hidden joys of exploring this new and very different world that await the initiated.

These books join the ranks of those chosen biennially since 1980 by IBBY-Canada to represent outstanding Canadian books, authors and illustrators. After twenty years, it's a truly marvellous list with plenty of wonderful surprises.


Bibliographic information:

Demers, Dominique. La mystérieuse bibliothécaire. Montréal: Québec/Amérique, 1997.

Doyle, Brian. Uncle Ronald. Vancouver: Groundwood, 1996.

Gay, Marie-Louise. Stella, étoile de la mer. Saint-Lambert, Québec: Dominique et co,1999.

Simard, Rémy. Mister Once-upon-a-time. Illus. by Pierre Pratt. Trans. by David Homel. [Toronto]: Annick, 1998.

Wallace, Ian. Boy of the Deeps. Illus. by the author. Toronto: Groundwood, 1999.


Jeffrey Canton is a Toronto writer and reviewer whose writing on children's books also appears in Quill and Quire, Children's Book News and Chapters On-line. This article is adapted from the introduction to the IBBY-Canada Honour List exhibition catalogue, which he edited.

Volume 4, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, 2000

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