Children’s Books Ireland Conference ‘Belonging’ 2019 Round-Up

After months of preparation and hard work, Children’s Books Ireland’s 2019 annual international conference ‘Belonging’ has now come and gone and we firmly believe it was a great success!

From the get-go things were off to a roaring start, with Kwame Alexander, the American verse novelist earning himself a standing ovation with his moving and inspiring talk about his journey to literary success. Of particular interest, was his new picturebook, The Undefeated, which delivers a powerful message about the history of slavery in America and the ways in which we can educate children on such a difficult topic. An excellent opening that set the tone for the remainder of the weekend.

Followed by Daisy Hirst, who gave us a look inside her sketch-book and took us through the process she follows for each of her gloriously funny picturebooks. We particularly loved the way Daisy’s work has encouraged children to create their own books, and find their place in the world of words by telling their own stories.

Then we had Celia Rees in conversation with fellow novelist, Anna Carey, where she shared her thoughts on the power of historical fiction to give unheard women and girls a voice, and riveted the audience with how she incorporated the imaginative world of the Bröntes into her latest novel.

The rest of Saturday was equally as informative, featuring a spellbinding panel made up of Deirdre Sullivan, Sarah Maria Griffin, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, and Mairi Kidd where they shared some insights into how they come up with their magical worlds, and the feminist role witchy stories can play in the world of children’s literature. Focusing specifically on the impact of their Irish roots on how they handle issues of female autonomy.

And closing out our talks for the day on a more than welcome lighter note was Jarvis, who lifted the audience up with a fantastic Abba inspired picturebook melody of his work and spoke about what we do to feel like we belong, and how extraordinary it can feel to find someone who makes you feel accepted for who you are.

Then ending the day was the awarding of Children’s Books Ireland Annual Award to the JCSP libraries and their very surprised but thrilled leader Kathleen Moran, for all of their incredible work providing support for the literacy needs of underachieving, disadvantaged students in lower secondary school. A beautiful way to conclude our first day.

Not to be outdone, our group of speakers on Sunday kept-up the pace and ensured everyone was engaged for another full day. To start our second day Francis Hardinge in conversation with Julia Eccleshare, was thrilling, allowing us all to see inside her creative process and captivating us with a reading from her new fantasy novel Deeplight.

Next, we had the amazing #WeAreThePoets panel which saw Brian Conaghan and Dean Atta led in conversation by Máire Zepf, discussing the power of poetry to truly engage young people in the written world and capture complex emotional moments on the page.

We were also thrilled to continue our practice of giving new voices a space to share their work, and were doubly excited to be able to go even further this year by not only welcoming our usual group of first time authors and illustrators to speak, but to also provide The Lit – Young Writers Festival a platform to talk about their event and the need for young people to have creative spaces to express themselves.

Clémentine Beauvais followed and gave a fascinating talk on the world of literary translation, showing how complicated it can be to retell a story across languages in a way that lives up to the power of the original.

And finally we had Mary Murphy, the perfect speaker to close out this year’s conference, who shared her years of experience as a picturebook creator with us, and made the very salient point about how ‘fitting in’ is not the same as ‘belonging’.

Overall, this conference was full of brilliant moments of insight from all our speakers, leaving us all with a deeper understanding of the many facets of the children’s book industry, and with someone new ways to look at this year’s theme ‘Belonging’ and the role books can play in fostering a sense of place for young readers. Not to mention all the wonderful cake and cookies we got to enjoy at each coffee break!

It was a great weekend, that just flew by, and we can’t wait for next year!

About Elaine Smyth

Children's Books Ireland Summer Intern 2019, and Masters student of Children's Literature at Trinity College Dublin.