Jay joined IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) as an individual member in 1984 and was one of the founders of the nonracial and independent South African Children’s Book Forum (SACBF) in 1988. He was pivotal in establishing SACBF as
the South African National Section of IBBY in 1992, immediately after the fall of apartheid in the country. He was a member of the Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury for the 1996 and 1998 awards and was elected to be the Jury President for the 2000 and
2002 awards. Through his enthusiasm and commitment to IBBY and children’s literature, he planned and organized the 29th IBBY Congress in Cape Town in 2004. Jay wrote and distributed the newsletter Bookchat, about children’s literature in South Africa,
and by the time he retired, he had distributed around 230 issues in printed format as well as countless others digitally. Jay was a passionate advocate of children’s literature and its place [End Page 117] in promoting international understanding. His
legacy in South Africa and around the world can be felt today. We have lost a good friend and colleague.
Lesley Beake remembers Jay in a moving article:
Jay was a friend of mine, a friend of my family; a friend of my friends. Perhaps most of all, for his entire life, he was a friend of books. Any books, but particularly the ones written and illustrated for children. As a teacher, a writer and a
passionate reading advocate, he knew the importance of a book in the mind of a child. He understood the comfort books can bring to a young person in times of difficulty and he believed that books are a passport out of trouble of every kind. He not only
knew these things to be true, he worked for his whole life to make these ideals a reality for South African children.
He wrote books too, of course, laboriously (and somewhat amazingly) typing his way with one finger, through millions of words, writing about and above all for children. In total, he published 63 books (12 for children and 13 non-fiction and the rest self-
published on various aspects of travel and books). He was always constantly in pursuit of ‘The Great Biblical Novel’ of which there were many versions, meticulously researched, on the lives of people who interested him and places where they lived.
His involvement with IBBY was something he would most like to be remembered for. He travelled to many IBBY World Congresses, some while South Africa was excluded, and then later to places as diverse as Santiago de Compostela and New Delhi. But the
definite life-highlight for Jay was the four year process that culminated in the impeccably organised IBBY Congress in Cape Town in 2004 that was largely due to Jay’s incredible involvement and level of commitment. He spoke of it in almost every
conversation thereafter. In a time of great financial risk for South Africa, he managed to make the congress pay for itself and welcomed delegates from all over the world to show them what we could do. Jay had a life well-lived. We will miss him, miss
him every day.
(Lesley’s full article can be found on the IBBY South Africa website.) [End Page 118]
...I grew up devouring the Enid Blyton stories, until I discovered Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Aged about 10, I made my first literary decision: dear Enid’s stories were all impossible, whereas Ransome’s camping and sailing adventures
could be true. (Later, I found most were.)
So I came to prefer stories that felt real. From that grew my preference for historical novels and biographies – and fiction stories about people and places as real as possible.
When I started teaching, my senior colleague told me: “If you can get the children reading, you have done half your job.” That intention stuck with me through my years as a teacher, most in South Africa. Reading aloud was not only enjoyable for the
children and myself, it also introduced them to a stream of new books.
Then I made the acquaintance of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People), the world body on children’s literature. Through them, I realised hundreds of other countries have the same problem as we do: a lack of books, thus no love of reading.
A woman from Brazil reminded me: “If a child encounters one book a year, then how vital it is to ensure that one book is a good book.” It’s quality that counts, not quantity...
Somehow, I can't quite agree with that last remark. Kids who are used to not reading aren't that likely to fall in love with reading.