Introduction: A River of Stories
The Commonwealth—a voluntary organization of fifty-four countries with a shared set of values and an equal standing in the Commonwealth, irrespective of size or GDP—is remarkable for the diversity of the countries it encompasses. From the tiny island of Nauru in the Pacific, with an estimated population of around 10,000 people, to the sprawling Indian subcontinent with a population exceeding 1,186 million, the Commonwealth includes a spectacular range of religions, geographies, climates, and languages. Each country has retained a unique storytelling tradition despite the colonial history these nations share, and this issue of Bookbird celebrates this mix of indigenous, colonial, and Commonwealth values.
The Commonwealth Education Trust (CET) began in 1886 as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee that were to take place the following year. Her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was personally involved in raising funds to establish an Imperial Institute that would unite the peoples of the Empire through education, research, and related activities. The majority of the £426,000 raised came from ordinary people living in towns and villages across the Empire. In the 125 years since then—from the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II—the Empire has given way to a Commonwealth of Nations, and the Institute is now the Commonwealth Education Trust.
Over half of the Commonwealth population is under twenty-five, which is why the CET is committed to funding research in education and the benefits that such an education can bring to communities worldwide. The Trust’s change of name has signaled a significant policy shift. Over the years, the original Institute had become decidedly inward facing, with a large physical presence in the UK. The CET is more outward facing in its promotion of education throughout the countries of the Commonwealth. Two of the papers in this issue of Bookbird showcase recent activities in which the CET has been engaged, both of which call upon the dynamic story traditions of the Commonwealth.
The cover illustration by the award winning illustrator Jan Piénkowski is taken from A River of Stories, an anthology of poems and stories from across the Commonwealth compiled and edited by Alice as part of the CET’s 125th anniversary. Last year, Judith Hanratty OBE, the Chairman of the CET, Jan, and Alice were delighted to be invited to Buckingham Palace to present this collection to Her Majesty the Queen for inclusion in the Royal Windsor Library. The anthology’s theme of water draws on the idea that the world’s waters connect nations yet, as Alice also explains [End Page iv] in her article, water is a precious resource, and the anthology has a strong ecocritical focus. The CET is now working with experts in New Zealand to develop accompanying teachers’ materials to address these global issues, with the aim that A River of Stories can become a useful learning resource for children in schools throughout the Commonwealth.
The other CET project we showcase in this issue is from Morag Styles, Professor of Children’s Poetry at the University of Cambridge where the CET has established a Centre for Commonwealth Education. In our Children and their Books section, Morag introduces us to the Caribbean Poetry Project, which is a collaboration between poets, teachers, and scholars, as well as publishers and arts administrators in both the Caribbean and the UK. The project’s main goal is to bring children and the vibrant, dynamic poetry of the Caribbean together, and it has already had some remarkable successes.
These two papers are specifically related to the CET, but reflect the same values and concerns as IBBY. Both organizations strive to promote international understanding through children’s books and to ensure that children have access to books with high literary and artistic standards. To these ends, both organizations are also involved in the publication and distribution of quality children’s books, especially in developing countries. IBBY members are often teachers, teacher-trainers and/or academics concerned with the interface between children and their books, and the CET...