Children’s Books Ireland is the national children’s books organisation of Ireland, whose aim is to engage young people with books through a variety of events and activities. These include the CBI Book Clinic, where young readers can be prescribed new books to read based on their interests, the Inis Reading Guide and magazines that contain reviews of the best new children’s books, and annual events such as the Book of the Year Awards and their annual conference.

The annual conference welcomes anyone who has an interest in children’s literature, including authors, publishers, illustrators, librarians, teachers and students. Its aim is to provide an opportunity to critically reflect on the importance of books on children. The theme of this year’s conference was “Dreams and Nightmares”, which took place in the Lighthouse Cinema on the 22nd and 23rd of September. CBI Programme and Events Manager Daiden O’Regan explained the title of the conference; “‘Dreams and Nightmares’ examine two essential elements of childhood, the light and the dark. Books can be a powerful and appropriate way for children to process their fears and deal with anxieties. Similarly, the power of dreaming and the potency of imagination as a force for good in the world cannot be overstated”.

A rich diversity of topics was addressed over the course of two days. Peter Brown is the author and illustrator of The Wild Robot books, whose images were used as the face of the ‘Dreams and Nightmares’ promotion. He discussed the importance of including light and dark, humour and lessons in children’s literature. M.G. Leonard was interviewed by Dave Rudden on her contrasting fear and love of insects, as she transformed it into her Beetle Trilogy. Lydia Monks and Oisín McGann showcased Monks imaginative illustration style. Louise O’Neill spoke with striking honesty about the themes in her young adult novels, focusing on the empowerment that can come from understanding darker topics. Children’s Laureate of Ireland and the UK, Sarah Crossan and Lauren Child, highlighted the importance of literary movements within children’s literature, including Crossan’s #WeAreThePoets campaign. Melvin Burgess, author of The Lost Witch, gave a refreshing insight to finding agency in young readers early on in life through books. Patrice Lawrence discussed the inspiration for her writing, and how dreams and nightmares compliment each other in realistic fiction. Abi Elpinstone spoke on her travelling experiences and how they inspire an atmosphere of fantasy based on real-life wonders. Steven Lenton closed the line of speakers in an energetic and interactive session on his development as an illustrator.

Melvin Burgess, author of The Lost Witch, gave a refreshing insight to finding agency in young readers early on in life through books. Patrice Lawrence discussed the inspiration for her writing, and how dreams and nightmares compliment each other in realistic fiction.

A highlight for TCD children’s literature student, Amy O’Sullivan was the New Voices panel, comprised of five-minute presentations by nine authors and illustrators; “I thought it was an excellent, time-efficient way for the audience to get an idea about what new books are out there, and a great way for authors and illustrators to promote their work”.

A defining factor of the CBI conference is the unconventional tone felt by many visitors over the course of the weekend. CBI intentionally subvert the concept of a conference to reflect the charisma and passion that comes from those working in the field of children’s literature. The O’Brien Press intern Orla Carr noted “the term ‘conference’ usually dredges up feelings of boredom and drowsiness, but the CBI Conference is far from such. It is a weekend that excites and enchants. A wonderful gathering of enthusiastic, passionate people, from writers to illustrators, librarians to booksellers, the enthusiasts and the hopefuls coming together to learn and be inspired”.

This sense of inclusion and hope arguably sets advocates of children’s literature apart from the rest of the literary world and is very much the case for those working in CBI. “The CBI conference started out as a summer school and has changed considerably from starting out. The major difference is that it is much less academic now, and more appealing to a broader audience. We hope. The ethos hasn’t changed though, it is still a weekend where all people involved or interested in children’s literature in Ireland can gather, converse and catch up and go away invigorated and inspired by the discussions both on and off stage,” O’Regan said.

The CBI conference started out as a summer school and has changed considerably from starting out. The major difference is that it is much less academic now, and more appealing to a broader audience. We hope.

This is most evident in the CBI Award Presentation given during the conference each year. The award is given to an individual or organisation in recognition of outstanding contribution to children’s books. Whilst some previous recipients include authors and publishers, this year’s award was a rarer case. Eve Molony is a volunteer school librarian from Scoil Ailbhe in Thurles and has spent over twenty years travelling from Dublin to the school each week to take the students for library classes. A video screened at the conference showed the immense impact she has had on the students of the school, inspiring a deep connection and love for reading in every child. The award was presented to her by current students, as well as previous generations she had taken the time to share her love of books with. It was a moment shared with many people who appreciate the importance of children’s books and encapsulates the inspiring ethos of Children’s Books Ireland.

For more information, visit https://childrensbooksireland.ie/