We are fortunate to have been chosen, once again, to host an IBBY touring exhibition of Silent Books (wordless picture books). The books are on display opposite our main doors, and will be here until next Thursday (14th October) lunchtime, when they will move on to the next leg of their worldwide tour. It has been great to see so many groups of students come in to the Centre to enjoy these books, and interesting to observe the different ways various groups have engaged with the collection.
IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young people) is a non-profit organization which represents an international network committed to bringing books and children together. Formed in the aftermath of the Second World War, IBBY aims to promote international understanding through children’s books, and to give children everywhere the opportunity to have access to books with high literary and artistic standards.
IBBY sponsors and supports a range of practical projects bringing books, libraries, and storytelling to children all around the world.
In response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving in Lampedusa, IBBY launched the project “Silent Books, from the world to Lampedusa and back” in 2012. The project involved creating a library on Lampedusa to be used by both local and recently-arrived children.
Every few years, a collection of silent or wordless picture books to be enjoyed by children who may not have a language in common has been collected from IBBY National Sections. Three copies of each title are collected. One set of books is deposited at Rome’s Palazzo della Esposizioni, one set is delivered to the library in Lampedusa, and a further set forms the travelling exhibition, which goes all around the world. There are 74 books in the 2017 collection, which we was due to come to us over a year ago, but was delayed for obvious reasons. (The latest collection is, I believe, somewhere in Australia, having started its world tour in Korea and then New Zealand.)
Variety and contrasts feature both within and between the selections from 20 different countries. There are also common themes and tropes. Perhaps because of the derivation of the collection, one striking commonality is a concern with place and places, moving between places, and borders and boundaries.
Two board books by the same author, Rosper Capdevila, detail the wonders of town and of countryside for younger readers, and encourage close looking for a bird (el Campo) and some twins (la Ciutat) on each double-page spread. (The first of these is the Spanish and the latter the Catalan version.) For older readers, there is a lively tour of the wonders of the Catalan capital (Barcelona, David Pintor). From the Netherlands comes an affectionate look at Most Beautiful Holland (Holland op z’n moist, by Charlotte Dematons). Across flat countryside and alongside canals, often on bicycles, but also by mobility scooter, on foot, or on roller skates, our travellers pass on from page to page, giving each other a helping hand along the way, with each background referencing a piece of either well-known modern art or an old master. Another journey in the form of an exciting romp through the big names of modern art comes in Thé Tjong-Khing’s book, Kunst met taart (Art and cake – from Belgium).
Crossing to the other side, whether moving between the countries of Europe (Európai Böngészö, Hungary) or metaphysically (dall’altra parte, Italy) is a fitting theme for a collection inspired by the plight of refugees. A striking and powerful example is Orizzonti (Horizons), by Paola Formica, from Italy. Bold, hot colours with simple yet effective graphics depict fences, barbed wire, fear, flight, tire tracks on sand, an overloaded open-topped lorry, one hundred and more people waiting to board a rowing boat, and wary faces in many different shapes, and hues of brown. The ending may be ambiguous, yet clearly conveys an urgent message to listen and extend a helping hand. This message brings to mind a wonderful quote from the mayor of Lampedusa at the time the library was founded:
for the island’s children,
so that they can learn to tell the difference between the horizon and the border,
for children just passing through,
so that Lampedusa can be more than just a staging post on their journey.
Because through books we can build an ethos of welcome, respect and participation.
Giusi Nicolini, Mayor of Lampedusa and Linosa