Jo Tenfjord 1918-2007


Jo Giæver Tenfjord – founder of the Norwegian section of IBBY – died on June 22, on one of those fascinating light Norwegian summer nights that she used to love. She was almost 89 years old, and like King David from the Bible, she said that she was “full of days”, and wanted to die – her body worn away from illnesses. But up to her last hours she was engaged in all of us around her, relatives and friends.

She was an honorary member of IBBY – no wonder! Together with, among others, Lisa Tetzner and Erich Kästner she was present at the conference in Munich in 1951, initiated by the legendary Jella Lepman, who was also the founder of the Munich International Children's Library. “International Understanding Through Children's Books” was the theme for this conference, which was followed up in 1953 in Zurich, when IBBY was officially established. Jo was also present at this conference and was elected a member of the executive committee: a position she held until 1970. From 1958 to 1968 she was a member of the Hand Christian Andersen Award Jury , and again served on the jury from 1984 to 1986. Probably, she is the person who has been present at most IBBY conferences, up to the Dutch congress in 1996, when she had reached the age of 78. Besides being an honorary member of IBBY she received the Jella Lepman Medal in 1991, and twice her books have been nominated for the IBBY Honour List (1978 for writing, 1984 for translation.)

Jo made her debut as an author when she was just 23 and continued to write until at. the age of 76 she wrote her last book, Sally sjørøverdatter, which in its German translation, Sally und das Geheimnis der Schatz Insel, won a German literary prize. During the years in between, she wrote a great variety of works for children: nursery rhymes, novels, text for picture books, and she was a most competent editor of collections of fairy tales, fables and myths from many countries and eras. She also was a devoted translator of books by Maria Gripe and Astrid Lindgren among others. During her last 40 years, Astrid Lindgren always asked Jo to be her Norwegian translator and they were close friends.

Besides her work with children's literature, Jo was for many years the president of the Norwegian section of UNICEF, the president of Children International Summer Villages (CISV), and she has also been the president for the consulting committee for Norwegian radio and TV.

But first and foremost Jo Tenfjord has been of vital importance for children's literature in Norway, which has bloomed over the last half century – both in amount and quality. Norwegian children's books cross frontiers, and there is official support as regards the best text, layout and illustrations, Norway also has a Children's Book Institute. Jo Tenfjord has always been an important figure in the background, but more often like a happy figurehead. Flowers have grown in her footsteps!

Tordis Ørjasæter, July 2007