Bookbird is, as we know, a journal of “international children’s literature.” What does that mean? Specifically, what does “international” mean? I think I know what the founding mothers and fathers of IBBY and the International Youth Library meant with the term—something along the lines of “quality children’s literature from all over the world that transcends linguistic, cultural and national borders, ultimately bringing mutual understanding and peace on earth.” But is that how the term is understood today? This is not just a rhetorical question. I have had reason to think about it after a few email conversations I have had recently, and it has made me consider the purpose of Bookbird.
First, there are those who write to me doubting the “international” relevance of a book from a small country, and written in a language unfamiliar to most Bookbird readers. However, for Bookbird, size and scale does not matter in the least. A children’s book in a language threatened by extinction could have enormous international relevance, precisely because of its importance as a carrier of language and culture content. In any case, it appears that neither the country nor the language needs to be particularly small to trigger doubts about relevance. I have heard it from children’s literature experts from some of the largest countries and languages in the world. The extreme version of such a self-deprecatory understanding of “international” is that nothing really qualifies as international unless it is in English to begin with or has been accepted into the English children’s literature canon through translation.
But this is not the position of Bookbird, or of me as editor. Rather, Bookbird’s unique position as an academic journal devoted to children’s literature, our “sales pitch,” so to speak, is that we strive to include pieces on children’s books from all over the world and from as many languages and cultures as is possible. Of course, our language medium is English—and this does present a real problem since it indirectly favors coverage of English language books—but our ambition is unequivocally to give place to articles on literature from all corners of the globe. I would, for instance, encourage the translation of recent important critical texts into English so that they may be published in Bookbird, too.
This matters because “International children’s literature” does not only mean that Bookbird is (or should be) a forum for literature that has already been canonized; it is itself a vehicle of recognition. By being analyzed and commented on in Bookbird and (let us be generous!) other academic journals, books from all over the world are recognized and “internationalized.” It is a dynamic process. For journals like Bookbird are not just reflectors of a given situation, but creators, too.
The second question I have received is in many ways the complete opposite of what I have just discussed: “can I write for Bookbird even if I focus on well-known English books?” It stems from the notion that “international” [End Page 2] refers to literature that comes from outside one’s own national borders (or language community). For me, it would mean that anything not written in Swedish would be “international.” Thus, what is regarded as international depends on your nationality. In practice, however, the term has not gained much currency outside the United States and is almost uniquely applied to books that have not been published in the United States (or in English) originally. In these cases, I sympathize with the sentiment—why should Bookbird promote yet another article on English children’s literature? Yet it would be untenable and paradoxical to exclude children’s literature written in English in the name of “internationalization.” English children’s literature (and culture) is driven by the culture industry and reaches all corners of the world. For this reason alone, it is necessary not to ignore English children’s literature in a discussion of international children’s books. Moreover, English is an important vessel for literatures of diverse cultures and geographies, and not only the mouthpiece of the culture industry. These reasons aside, the simplest answer (which I offered one...