Co-Editors Interview: Cathy Kurkjian & Sylvia Vardell on Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature

Cathy Kurkjian on Cathy Kurkjian: “I am a professor in the Department of Reading and Language Arts at Central Connecticut State University where I teach graduate courses in Reading and Language Arts and in Children’s Literature.

“I have had a life-long love of children’s literature as a classroom teacher and in my work as a university professor. I served as a columnist and Department Editor of Children’s Books for The Reading Teacher and, before that, as president of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association as well as co-editor of its Journal, The Dragon Lode.

“In addition to editorial experience on The Dragon Lode, I was editor of the New England Reading Association Journal for eight years. Currently I am president of this regional literacy organization. I am very interested in the intersection of literacy, literature, and the Internet, and I have focused my research in this area.

“Right now I am serving as one of a team of two editors of Bookbird, an international journal of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). I feel that all I have done has led me to this work, and there is no other position that is more suited to my passions, interests, and talents.

Sylvia Vardell on Sylvia Vardell: “I’m a professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University where I teach graduate courses in children’s and young adult literature.

“I’ve written four books on poetry and literature for children, as well as 20 book chapters and about 75 journal articles. I’ve been lucky enough to have served on several national award committees including the ALA Odyssey Award for audiobooks, the ALA Sibert Award for informational literature, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction, and the NCTE Award for Poetry.

“I am currently co-editor of the international journal, Bookbird, and previously was President of the United States Board on Books for Young People, the U.S. arm of the International Board on Books for Young People.”

Could you tell us about Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature? What are the goals of the journal?

Bookbird publishes articles on children’s literature with an international perspective. Our goal is to provide a forum for considering books, topics, themes, and issues in the field of children’s literature that are of interest to professionals and scholars around the world.

Articles that compare literatures of different countries are of interest, as are papers on translation studies and articles that discuss the reception of work from one country in another.

Articles concerned with a particular national literature or a particular book or writer are also featured from time to time.

What can readers expect from Bookbird?

CK: Readers can expect that Bookbird will speak to an international audience with voices that appeal to a broad international readership.

Readers can look forward to scholarly literary pieces, commentary on timely issues/themes of concern, and analysis of both seminal and current children’s literature from around the world.

They can also expect a cornucopia of resources on international literature which include reviews of international children’s books in the form of “Postcards from Around the World” and professional resources found in our “Books on Books” column.

In our “Focus IBBY” column, readers will find information on upcoming events and IBBY projects whose goal it is to bring books to children around the world, especially in developing countries.

Finally, readers can count on Bookbird to be a journal with aesthetic appeal. One yearly issue that will be particularly appealing–both from an aesthetic and literary perspective–is our Hans Christian Anderson issue in which we will highlight the illustrators and authors who are nominees for this prestigious award.

What inspired you to become involved in Bookbird?

CK: Each of us has a passion for children’s books as well as intersecting and unique skills and talents that prepared us for this editorship.

More importantly, we are both committed to the idea of books as a way of promoting understanding, friendship, and joy among the peoples of the world.

Could you offer us some history of the publication? How has it changed over time?

CK: The first issue of Bookbird was published in 1963. Dr. Richard Bamberger of Austria who was connected to IBBY for over 50 years was a co-founder of the journal along with Jella Lepman, the founder of IBBY.

The first issue was sixteen pages long and largely contained reports and proceedings of various IBBY events. Through Dr. Bamberger’s leadership, it quickly evolved into a journal that highlighted contemporary issues, research, and books from around the world, and by 1968, it grew to the length that it is today. Dr. Bamberger’s editorship extended until 1982.

Since then Bookbird has been in the hands of editors from Austria, the U.S., and Ireland and now back to the U.S. Each editorial team has put its own personal stamp on the journal to include the many features it retains today such as a format that has a strong aesthetic and visual appeal.

We’d like to express our appreciation to Valerie Coghlan and Siobhan Parkinson, our Irish predecessors, for paving the way for us.

What are your roles as editors?

CK: We see ourselves as stewards of Bookbird with the responsibility of carrying the legacy of Jella Lepman and Richard Bamberger into the future.

As such, we generate articles that will promote children’s literature in support of IBBY’s mission to bring books to children around the world.

This means highlighting the important work of IBBY, disseminating information and resources that are of interest to our international audience, and providing scholarly international literary pieces to our readers.

Sylvia and I work as a team in creating a vision for each issue so that there are some major intersecting foci within our collection of selected articles. Sylvia coordinates the manuscripts from the department editors focusing on IBBY Projects and Professional Books. I coordinate book reviews from the department editor of Postcards from Around the World. Each of us edits these pieces and sends them off for proofing.

I take on the primary role for generating a backlog of manuscripts in order to meet our quarterly deadline. At times, I contact authors and commission a piece on a topic of their expertise.

Generally, I have the first contact with the authors as I facilitate the reviewing process to keep them informed regarding the status of their respective manuscripts. Since this is a referred journal, I also coordinate the process of sending manuscripts to our editorial board for their review and work to keep our editorial board current and growing.

At each quarterly interval, Sylvia and I work to select complementary manuscripts that provide a given issue with a coherent focus. Once the authors are notified that their piece has been selected, we gather images to accompany each article and begin to work with our amazing graphic artist, Regina Dardzienski, in formatting the journal.

Sylvia has the primary responsibility to work with the author to fine-tune and edit manuscripts to get them ready for publication. Sylvia works with the images and the manuscript to format the article in an aesthetically appealing and accessible way.

Finally, we send the manuscripts off to be proofread by the brilliant Connie Rockman, and then to the graphic artist for formatting.

Both Sylvia and I do a final proofreading to make sure that we are ready to go to press.

We work well as a team and build on each other’s areas of interest and expertise. This is our second round of editing, and I believe we have a successful modus operandi in place that will be further streamlined and refined as we go through a yearly publication cycle.

Who are the other major players, and what do they do?

SV: Dr. Glenna Sloan at Queens College in New York solicits and coordinates the mini-book reviews of children’s books from around the world for our “Postcards from Around the World” feature. These are brief 100-150 word book reviews focused on international books for children and young adults. Anyone can write them and send them to Glenna for consideration for publication in Bookbird. This is where we keep our radar tuned for the next “Harry Potter” sensation from other countries.

Dr. Christiane Raabe, Director of the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, coordinates our “Books on Books” column that features reviews of professional books published in various countries. For example, in our April issue, you can read critiques on books about the child/adult stance in children’s literature in France, on capturing “memorial culture” and the history of children’s literature in Germany, on the relationship of painting and illustration to Russian folklore and history, on the 100 years of New Zealand School Journal, and on the scholarly study of fairy tales, myths, and legends from Spain.

Liz Page, works for IBBY headquarters in Switzerland as member services, communications, and new projects director, and she gathers the information about IBBY activities around the world and writes the Focus IBBY column for Bookbird. Here, for example, you’ll learn about how the Irish IBBY section raises funds to support the literacy activities of the Zimbabwe IBBY section in a “twinning” project.

Those are the major contributors to each journal (besides the authors of articles), but there are even more players behind the scenes, so to speak. We rely on over 15 members of our editorial review board in India, Denmark, Italy, Australia, and beyond to review manuscripts.

We also appreciate the support of our Bookbird board, headed up by Dr. Joan Glazer, and including treasurer Ellis Vance and members, Alida Cutts from the U.S., James Tumusiime from Uganda, and Mingzhou Zhang from China. Finally, we also want to give a shout out to Carol Hamblen, at Johns Hopkins University Press, who handles distribution and subscriptions.

Who writes the articles? If applicable, how can prospective contributors contact you? What should they know?

CK: Articles are written by researchers, professors in library science, children’s literature and other related areas, as well by as authors and illustrators. We have designated people as departmental editors who write or recruit articles for their area of focus.

There is a rolling deadline for many of our issues, but at times we plan to call for articles revolving around thematic topics or for feature articles. For example, each year we have an issue that focuses on the Hans Christian Andersen award and highlights all the nominees.

We also have a special issue focusing on the hosting country in which the IBBY World Congresses is held.

We also rely on the national sections of IBBY in 60+ different countries to help us generate manuscripts. Both Sylvia and I recruit at international Congresses, at the annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and at other professional conferences. We do our best to be inclusive of as many cultures as possible.

A style sheet is posted on our website and submission information is also included on the web and in each journal. We can be reached at and

How can we support Bookbird?

SV: Subscribe. Write. We’re looking for readers and an ever-widening audience, as well as writers who have something to say to an international audience.

We also appreciate help spreading the word about our international gem—professors using it in classes, librarians subscribing to it for their libraries, authors reading it for insights into international trends, etc.

What do you see in the future of the journal?

SV: The journal has an outstanding reputation and excellent support from the sponsoring organization, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), so we are very optimistic.

We hope to continue featuring the mix of articles and columns by scholars, teachers, authors, and illustrators.

In addition, we’re looking at how to maximize a Web interface to enhance access to journal content. For example, we hope to publish some of the journal articles in their native languages on the Web, while the English translation is featured in the print journal (since the journal is published in English). And of course, previous issues of the journal are available online through Project Muse.

Why should all of us care about international children’s literature?

SV: We live in a global world and can learn a lot about what is universal about books, reading, childhood, and pedagogy by sharing ideas and information about our beliefs and practices around the world.

It can be very enlightening to read about the depiction of war in books for young people in China, for example, or consider the roots of storytelling in Denmark. There are teachers, writers, artists, and scholars whose lives are dedicated to creating unique books for kids in nearly every corner of the world. It can be fascinating to see how alike—and different—we are.

If we did not cast an international net, we would miss out on gems like Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, Mary Poppins, and Harry Potter, to name just a few!

What are current matters of particular concern?

SV: The role of censorship plagues nearly every country that publishes literature for young people. That is a concern for all of us in the field of children’s literature.

In the U.S., we struggle with responses to books that may be perceived as controversial.

In other countries, however, writers struggle to have the freedom to write the truth at all.

Access to quality literature continues to be an issue in many places in the world, too, as well as providing opportunities to respond to books through discussion, drama, drawing, etc.

In some countries, books provide a respite and release for children who face natural disasters, armed conflicts, and crises of all kinds. Bookbird tries to highlight those issues and share stories of how books are helping in these difficult situations.

What are areas within the body of international children’s literature that are particularly exciting right now?

SV: The art in children’s books is a fascinating area across the globe. As there are new opportunities for budding artists and illustrators, and new publishing companies and technologies, there is great experimentation in how a children’s book can look.

People are trying all kinds of media, styles, and stories—with graphic novels and more heavily illustrated fiction being particularly popular at the moment. And when those artists are from Korea or Hungary or Japan, for example, it’s an eye-opening experience to see what emerges.

More personally, what are a couple of your favorite children’s books from around the world?

SV: Well, I grew up on Heidi and Winnie-the-Pooh and Pippi Longstocking, all creations by international authors (Swiss, British, and Swedish, respectively). And I’m loving a lot of the YA fiction coming out of Australia now, like the work of Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak.

But I’m particularly keen to find poetry from other countries. Of course, I’m looking for poetry written in or translated into English—which limits my global selection—but I’ve enjoyed several recent collections, especially these:

Argante, Jenny. Ed. 2007. Poetry Pudding; A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit. Ill. by Debbie Tipuna. Auckland, NZ: Reed Publishing, p. 105.

Cashman, Seamus. 2004. Something Beginning with P: New Poems from Irish Poets. Dublin: O’Brien Press.

Lujan, Jorge. 2008. Colors! Colores! Translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt. Ill. by Piet Grobler. Toronto: Groundwood.

Wright, Danielle (Ed). 2008. My Village; Rhymes from Around the World. Wellington, NZ: Gecko Press

CK: Like Sylvia, I was weaned on Heidi. It was one of my very favorite childhood books. The characters in Beatrix Potter‘s books fascinated me as well, particularly the hedgehog, Mrs.Tiggy Winkle!

Not to mention Collodi‘s Pinocchio! I am particularly fond of the version illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, the Hans Christian Andersen award winning illustrator in 2008.

One of my most recent favorites is the wordless graphic novel The Arrival by Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan.

Don’t get me started….there are so many works of art from around the world that it is hard to single out a few.

Collodi, C. (2005). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Ill. by R. Innocenti. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.

Tan, S. (2006). The Arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

SV: Look for a new feature in Bookbird: a poem on the last page of each issue of the journal. We’ll be featuring a variety of children’s poets from around the world. We’re proud of that new addition to the journal’s tradition.

CK: In our efforts to be inclusive, we are hoping to capitalize on our website to post translated articles published in their original language. Be on the lookout for our issue focusing on Spain. We will publish the translated articles in English in Bookbird, but will post pieces in the various languages of Spain online at the IBBY website.