Basque Children’s Literature: difficulties and formulas to develop children’s literature in minority languages

Printer-friendly version
Presentation in Basque - Audio file


am speaking to you in Basque so that you can hear the language. That is in fact IBBY's topic this year: minority languages. That's why we decided that my presentation would be in Basque.



I will first introduce myself: my name is Amaia, and I am a writer and illustrator of Basque books for children. I am currently the president of Galtzagorri, an association located in the Southern Basque Country, in San Sebastian, Spain. I, its president, come from the Northern Basque Country (part of France). Let me show you some images to help you visualize and understand our reality.

Ours is an association that promotes Basque literature among children and teenagers; in other words, we try to persuade them to read in Basque.

In my presentation, I will mention the difficulties and obstacles we face as well as the solutions we try to find and provide.

1. Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, doesn't exist as an official and independent country

That fact has its consequences and poses some difficulties: philosophical and cultural on one hand; and, obviously, political on the other.

Philosophical and cultural difficulties

I find two main difficulties: 1) Basque people's inferiority complex and 2) several differences between the North and the South.

1) Basque people's inferiority complex

We all suffer from that, North and South. But what is it exactly?

I believe it is the consequence of the cultural invasion by France and Spain: on both sides of the border, Basque people have interiorised that our language and culture are indeed nice, but only at folklore level. That we are a SUBCULTURE, REGIONAL, and at the end of the day lack any real value.

Why would you want to carry out your studies in Basque?

Why should you read in Basque?

What kind of a future will your children have with Basque?

They will be much better off using French or Spanish instead.

What's the effect of the above?

That we don't believe in the VALUE of our culture. We view it as a subculture, and therefore an unimportant one, lacking real value … certainly NOT UNIVERSAL.

2) Differences regardings child literature, between the North and the South. Since we don't have our own state, our history is different.

We don't have a common "culture" regarding children and young adult literature. We share the history of the state we have been dependent on.

In the North (on the French side), children's literature has been highly developed and is therefore very rich, whereas in the South (on the Spanish side), it is poorer.

But why is that so?

In the South, in the Spanish State, Franco's dictatorship was on until 1975. The "normalization/standardisation" of the Basque language only started in 1982-83. So you can see how very young Basque literature for children is.

By the year 2000, the production aimed at over 7 year-olds was mostly normalised. However, that for the 0-6 age group was almost non existent. Since then, a firm policy to promote the language has been enforced and the production has developed… but Basque literature for children is really very young!

We have now managed to publish the World Classics in Basque.

Difficulties from the political point of view

a) We have several institutions

Navarre has its own institutions / The Basque Autonomous regions has a government / In the North, as part of the French State, we have different administrative levels.

The above means that we speak to different people for different projects. And there is no real coordination between them. And the most serious problem is that each institution seeks to favour its territory when providing economic resources.

b/ We can't have our own IBBY section.

We can't have our own IBBY section because we don't have our own state. That is the reason why we come through OEPLI, together with representatives of other official languages in Spain: Catalan, Galician and Spanish. So we are joined together in the area of children's literature.

Being part of OEPLI is very useful:

- Because we are given the opportunity to take part in the ANDERSEN and IBBY honor list and projects

- Spain can propose one title per language to the IBBY honor list.

Therefore, the Basques have a space, as the Catalans and the Galicians.

As a result, IBBY Spain features 4 titles on the writers' list.

2. Problems derived from the fact that Basque is a minority language

a) Basque people don't speak Basque langage…. so they don’t know their children and teenagers literature.

The situation of Basque speakers is different in the 7 provinces.

3 Million people live in the Basque Country.

In the South, in the Spanish State 700 000 people speak Basque, and while the knowledge of the language is increasing, however its use has not increased.

In the North, in the French State, only 60 000 people speak Basque, and the language is less and less known and used.

Consequently, the language is not very widely spoken in certain areas, and even fewer readers know the literature that is published in Basque.


b) From an economic point of view: very little children's literature is sold in Basque.

It's amazing that so few picture books are sold in the Basque Country. Kalandraka has an agreement with a Basque publisher by which they share the cost of buying rights for children's books, and then, each of them prints the books in their language: Basque, Catalan, etc.It's surprising how few of those books are sold in the Basque Country, a lot more are sold in Galician and in Catalan.

c) As a result, the creative power is reduced.

Basque publishers are not strong enough to publish picture books! Publishing picture books is expensive. And, in the Basque Country, print-runs are small, due to the small number of readers. Moreover, out of those short print-runs, not a lot is sold, very little is, in fact! That is why many of our creators have to publish abroad… and, of course, not in Basque!

3. Our solutions and proposals

Galtzagorri only promotes books in Basque. Our aims are as follows:

  • To promote children and teenager literature, making Basque creators' work known/visible.
  • To provide training for those creators.
  • To promote the wish to read amongst children and teenagers.

BRIDGES that we build ourselves

  • I myself am an example of this: the president of an association in the South (Spain State) who actually comes from the North (French State)!
  • A recent project: creating a children and teenager LITERATURE FAIR, in BASQUE LANGAGE that would bring together all territories, North and South, in order to join forces.
  • We promove books only in basque language, and not in two languages (French-basque / or Spanish-basque), because in that case, the minoritary language can’t really exist!

We try to "fill the gaps"

a) Gaps in world literature: we decided to face the challenge of publishing what was missing in children's literature. For example, we didn't have a complete edition of Pinocchio, and Elmer didn't exist in Basque; neither did Tom Sawyer… In Elmer's case, it sold out straight away in Basque, and a second and third Elmer have since been published!

b) Gaps in the transmission of our culture: "Bularretik Mintzora" (from breastfeeding to speaking)

The first written work in Basque dates back only to 1545: ours is actually a mainly oral culture. Nowadays, most of young parents don't receive that oral tradition from their grandparents.That kind of transmission is over! Our current technological society has an influence too… And in view of the situation we had to tackle, we collected that oral tradition in a couple of CD-books, and took them to readers' clubs and workshops.

In our effort to reach the young, we create new work tools:

a) APPs

There were no apps related to Children's literature and we badly needed them. So we produced them!

b) Booktuberboom and Booktrailers

But we still encounter difficulties: our youngsters don't read much in Basque! Through this project, we aim to create "Basque booktubers".

We aim to reach all audiences in society

a) Children and teachers in the school sector.

We approach small schools: we bring 150 books in a box, and present them to the children.After that, the box stays in the school for a month. Teachers can use the books with their students. Children can borrow them to take them home.

We also organise workshops for teachers. We tell them of any new quality book in Basque, because we have realised that some of them aren't familiar with children's literature in Basque.

b) Families: book/readers' groups

Another problem is that many parents don't have a good command of Basque, the language in which the sessions are carried out in. We must treat those parents gently, and help them use games, poetry, riddles, books, etc. with their children.

c) Creators: professional gatherings/meetings (Marrazioak and Biko-Teka)

We only have one award for illustrated books. It's called the "Etxepare Institute Award". The organisers of the award got in touch with us to let us know that very few pieces were being submitted, and their quality wasn't very good. They suggested that authors needed to get some training. So we got down to work with the aim of increasing the production, as well the level of the works, and create new illustrated books in Basque.


Full of paradoxes, difficulties and obstacles, the Basque children' literature is still going on and moving forward!

And that's because we, in GALTZAGORRI, believe that our culture, BASQUE CULTURE IS UNIVERSAL!


Amaia Hennebutte, Galtzagorri Association, Spain