A castle for children’s literature

Marketing and Communications Manager Claire Miller reports on her recent visit to the International Youth Library in Bavaria. 

A short tram ride away from the centre of Munich is a small castle called Blutenburg. Built in the 15th century as a hunting lodge, it is now the home of the International Youth Library (IYL), where the world’s largest collection of international children’s and youth literature resides. The collection was founded by the forward-thinking Jella Lepman in 1949. She believed that literature for young people should be preserved as an essential part of world culture and society. The IYL has gone on to become an important repository of books in multiple languages, a learning centre for scholars, a library for children, a centre for community events and the home of permanent exhibitions for world-famous creators such as Michael Ende and Binette Schroeder.

The IYL came to our attention, as it did for many Australian publishing houses, through the meticulous work of Claudia Soeffner – a specialist in English-language books who, among many other duties, curates the selection of books from our region for the White Ravens List. Every year she sifts through websites and catalogues in her hunt for the best new English-language children’s and youth literature books. To make it into the White Ravens Catalogue, which is published and released at the annual Bologna Book Fair, is a special honour and one that Fremantle Press creators Chris Owen, Moira Court, Kate McCaffrey and James Foley have each received.


On my visit to Blutenburg, with Claudia away, my host for the day was Petra Woersching, IYL’s Direktionsassistenz. I learned that the IYL had just completed an enormous conservation project that involved cleaning every page of every book in the permanent collection (housed in the cellars beneath the castle grounds). Petra’s busy day included welcoming three new international research fellows to the castle and I had the privilege of accompanying them on a visit to the collection of furniture and books that surrounded Michael Ende when he wrote the children’s classics Momo and The Neverending Story.

Through Petra’s commentary, I discovered that the IYL was much more than a place for storing books and artefacts. The IYL runs special reading sessions and activities for the many refugees living in Munich, and the children’s library lends out books in over 20 different languages. A special exhibition of pop-up books was also a place of fun and activity with workshops, readings and other events programmed for local schools. The IYL hosts game, drawing and craft events, language classes, readings, a monthly storytelling group and a class for aspiring young authors.

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Blutenburg Castle’s smooth white walls are surrounded by a tranquil moat and, from the grassy inner courtyard, you can enter a chapel that is known for its late-Gothic masterpieces. Like many European castles it’s a scenic place to visit. But it’s IYL’s employees, with their passion for creating meaningful cultural exchanges between different countries and different generations, that keep the halls of Blutenburg thriving.

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