Diana Lawrenson

— Writer —

Diana Lawrenson Pages to Places Blog

Welcome to my blog that takes you from pages to places. Come and discover some quirky, little-known, or loose-but-relevant links from books to places around the world. You might even like to add a book suggestion of your own to the topic.

29 February 2016 | Germany, Munich


Blutenburg CastleCastle Blutenburg in Munich is part of an extraordinary story of courage, perceptiveness and vision. And books.

After the death of her husband in 1922, Jella Lepman became a journalist in Stuttgart to support her children. But in the 1930s, because of the rise of Nazism, the Jewish mother of two lost her job. She left Germany with her son and daughter for the safety of London where she worked in broadcasting and publishing.

When the Allies occupied Germany after World War 2, the Americans asked Lepman to become an adviser on the cultural and educational needs of women and children in their zone. It wasn’t an easy decision to return to her country of persecution, but Lepman accepted.

She came face to face with German children: ragged, scrounging for food, and begging for money in a black market. While the Americans were taking steps to alleviate physical hunger, Lepman realised the children’s minds, too, needed feeding. She fervently believed that while changing adult minds might be difficult, exposing children to stories from many nations would be the key to a more tolerant and understanding future.

Children’s books bearing Nazi propaganda had been removed almost as soon as the war ended, but practically no others had survived the Third Reich. Lepman wrote to countries for donations of books. Crate loads arrived along with pictures drawn or painted by children because art, like music, is an international language.

With charm and determination on all fronts, Lepman eventually staged her International Exhibition of Children’s Books in Munich in 1946. The exhibition met with such acclaim it went on to tour other German cities.

In 1949, thanks to public support from Eleanor Roosevelt and a grant from the Blutenburg CastleRockefeller Foundation, Jella Lepman established Die Internationale Jugendbibliothek ‒ the International Youth Library ‒ in a house and garden in Munich. It expanded into far more than a collection of international books, gradually encompassing art, drama, puppetry, films and the learning of languages. And like the children it served, the library grew. In 1983 it moved into the renovated 15th Century Blutenburg Castle where its holdings are now well over half a million books for children in 130 languages, dating from the 336sixteenth century to the present. Staff mount exhibitions every year, the German government awards international fellowships for research there, and children belong to its lending library of 25,000 books in 15 languages.

Annually a number of books are selected as ‘White Ravens’, described on the library’s website www.ijb.de as ‘books of international interest that deserve a wider reception on account of their universal theme and/or their exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design.’

Jella Lepman died in 1970. Through her unflagging efforts not only did the International Youth Library come into existence, but the International Board on Books (IBBY) and its Hans Christian Andersen Awards evolved. One woman beneficially influenced the future, because of the past, by fostering tolerance and understanding through books for children and young people.


  • A Bridge of Children’s Books by Jella Lepman
  • Books for Children of the World: the Story of Jella Lepman by Sydelle Pearl
  1. I was fortunate enough to visit Schloss Blutenburg several years ago and was shown around this picturesque little castle with its wonderful collection of children’s books by the delightful Claudia Soffner from the English Language Section –

    Jella Lepman a truly inspirational figure – showing that one person can make a difference.

    1. Yes, isn’t it a place of riches, Pauline. And wonderful that it’s still promoting Jella Lepman’s aim decades after her death.

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