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Glimpses of 29th IBBY Congress held in Cape Town in September 2004

A voice from the fringe

Veronica Behm

The nervousness began when I realised that the Cullinan Hotel did not have storage place for the "Welcome Kits". I had arranged with Blaauwberg Library Services that Alan take 25 Welcome Kits to Huis der Nederlanden on the Thursday before the Congress, 100 to the Baxter Theatre and the rest to the Cullinan Hotel on the Friday. Fortunately, after umpteen telephone calls, and loads of prayer, I was informed that the Conference Room at the Cullinan would be available on Saturday 4th September.

Just as well because, come Sunday 5th September, we were inundated with delegates registering for the Congress. There would have been chaos had we not been able to organise the venue the day before.

On Saturday evening (4th), the IBBY Executive, the Executive of ASSETEJ (a related organisation specialising in children's theatre) and some members of the SACBF met at a function held at Welgelegen (the house which Cecil John Rhodes had purchased for his secretary and her family). I felt that a smile and a welcome to South Africa went a long way, and soon everyone was mingling and enjoying the South African cuisine, wines and sherry.

The Congress officially opened with a Gala evening at the Artscape. A select few were invited to a cocktail party with the mayor before the main event. The music events were marvellous. The Children's Choir from the New Apostolic Church was the talk amongst many delegates for days. Martin Waddell's acceptance speech was a little too long, whereas Max Veltjius kept his talk brief and to the point. The Dutch delegation even handed out a small edition of one of his "Frog" stories and a toy version of "Frog". This was a thoughtful touch. I think that he is indeed a worthy recipient of the illustrator's Hans Christian Andersen Award.

On Monday it was up early, as I was on registration duty at the Baxter. As a result, I was not able to attend the first session. I did, however, manage to attend the "Can stories help?" panel discussion chaired by Barbara Lehman from the USA. Eve Tal (the first scheduled speaker) was absent for personal reasons. The other speakers, however, acquitted themselves well within the parameters of their papers. Through the use of PowerPoint we could get a visual glimpse of work done in the respective areas.

I found the Poster session by Rhona Dubow and Noni Siyoyo heartening, as it showed what can be achieved in a partnership (Herzlia-Weismann and Ntwasashlobo Primary Schools). I was ecstatic when Philip de Vos received a diploma from IBBY for his work as a translator.

The speakers (Representations of Africa in American Books for Young People) showed the misconceptions created in American books because of the messages conveyed through illustrations. The weaknesses of "The Culture of the World" series were also considered.

On Monday evening I went to the Centre for the Book, where four magnificent exhibitions were being held.

On Tuesday morning, Professor Elwyn Jenkins had a marvellous way of "sharing our stories". The universal storytelling moment followed. Gcina Mhlope had everyone riveted. She is by far the best storyteller in South Africa. Thereafter we were given a glimpse into Under the spell of the moon (the fundraising book for IBBY).

I felt that Richard van Dongen from the USA could have presented his paper, "Reading literature multiculturally", in a more lively, visual way. Valerie Coghlan from Ireland spoke in a vibrant way ("Ireland's response to a multicultural society"). The next speaker in this group spoke in French and I think I lost a little in the translation. Niki Daly, however, outshone them all. His paper had a touch of humour, and was concise and simply outstanding. I felt really proud to be a South African.

I met with Mariella Bertelli during the lunch break. I needed to acquaint myself with her, as I was to chair her workshop the following day.

"Views from Africa" was very interesting. Professor Tötemeyer from the University of Namibia spoke about the efforts made in Namibia to provide books in the local languages. Although Fatou Keita spoke in French, the visual presentation was interesting and not much was lost in the way of simulcast. Marita Snyman's "Mapping production trends" clearly showed the knock which publishing took in South Africa.

I was on duty after tea on Tuesday and did not attend any of the late afternoon sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the Zip Zap circus evening event. Supper at the Italian Club was a little chaotic, as we had to queue for the food.

On Wednesday I really enjoyed Beverley Naidoo's "Out of bounds". Jean Williams was very nervous. Her time had been cut and it showed in her presentation. Her visuals were excellent and I felt that they could have cut Dr Neville Alexander's talk as I had heard it before. I must say, however, that the delegates from overseas found what he had to say very interesting.

"New directions in the age of multimedia" was an eye-opener. John McKenzie showed what has been done when using "augmented reality". Ann Weeks gave us a glimpse into the database which is being developed for children who do not have access to books.
After lunch I chaired Mariella Bertelli's storytelling workshop. It was fabulous to see the different aids in action (banners, the old German Bankelsang, tall puppets and the Japanese Kamishibai Storycard Theatres).

Milnerton Library - Canadian Children's Book exhibitionAfter the workshop I rushed back to Milnerton Library to assist with the setting up of the Canadian Children's Books 2002-2003 exhibition. Approximately eighty delegates came. The evening was hosted by the Canadian High Commission and proved to be a great success. Thereafter, Kimete Basha and I went out for supper.

The closing ceremonies took place at Somerset House and Somerset College in Somerset West. The sit-down supper was a good idea, as it afforded us the opportunity to relax and enjoy one another's company.

Although the Congress was not without the occasional hiccup, I can honestly say that it opened many doors and hearts for me, and that I feel fortunate that I was able to be a part of it all.

Veronica Behm is a librarian at the Milnerton Library - one of the many libraries where fringe events took place during the IBBY Congress.

LitNet: 23 September 2004

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