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Meg Farr, Pam Dix, Holly Tonks, Sophie Hallam, Roger Thorp and Alison Evans (left to right) Publishers enjoying the snow!

By Sophie Hallam*

Vilnius is a beautiful city. The Old Town with its wooden painted shutters and cobbled streets transport you to a fairy-tale world with snowflakes the size of peas. The perfect destination for a gaggle of children’s book lovers!

And so, it was with great delight that I joined fellow publishers Pushkin Press, Thames and Hudson, Flying Eye, Tate Publishing, Firefly Press, Parthian Books and Jantar Publishing along with IBBY UK and the British Council to attend Vilnius Book Fair (23-26 February). The trip was organised by the Lithuanian Cultural Institute in a spirit of collaboration and cross-cultural exchange in anticipation of the Market Focus on the Baltic States at London Book Fair in 2018.

Our introduction to the wonderful world of children’s publishing in Lithuania began with a tour of the ‘The Land of Books’ at Vilnius Book Fair. This was an amazingly creative space, with illustration and book-making activities, wooden block printing, a collection of old typewriters and braille writers, and a large mural for children to take part in. Of course, all the publishers had to have a go making their own prints!

UK publishers enjoying a printmaking session

The space also had a display of significant books from Lithuania, including an early example of a book made by a father during the Soviet occupation for his daughter so as not to forget the Lithuanian language. All in all, it was inspiring to see the dedication and passion to children’s books with activities for both adults and children to enjoy.

Dr. Kęstutis Urba, Chairman of the Lithuanian Section of IBBY, then met us at Vilnius Public Library – a hugely impressive place – and gave us an overview of 100 years of children’s books as well as some of the national awards and reading promotion programmes in Lithuania. We had an interesting discussion about the difference in format and style in Lithuania and the UK. There is so much to say about this that I’m saving it for a later blog!

A Conductor with a Brush: Kestutis Kasparavicius

It was fascinating to meet so many people at the fair and to be introduced to such an array publishers, authors and illustrators. It was an honour and a privilege to share in the work of such wonderful artists as Ieva Babilaitė, Lina DūdaitėRasa JoniAusra Kiudulaite and Inga Dagile. On Saturday, we also met with Kęstutis Kasparavičius on a visit to his home studio. Kasparavičius is one of Lithuania’s best-known author/illustrators and has been translated in over 27 languages – but sadly not English. It was fantastic to pour over his books with homemade cake with a cup of thyme and ginger tea.

A big ačiū (thank you) to the Lithuanian Cultural Institute and IBBY UK for organising the trip and to all the people we met! It was a breath of fresh air to visit Lithuania and foster partnerships across borders. With countries looking increasingly inward, we need more books looking outward – to other cultures and ways of looking at the world.

* Sophie Hallam is Commissioning Editor at Tiny Owl

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