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Marcella Terrusi takes us on a journey through the 2020 BolognaRagazzi Awards as we await the 2021 edition.
We have now come to the fourth and last chapter of our journey. Among the books winning awards and special mentions, there were several recurrent intersecting topics: commitment to and awareness of the past; scientific achievements; and geographical diversity. There also seemed to be a need to tell little known stories of subordinated categories like woman and children, looking at the past in order to forge visions for a possible future. Picturebooks were harnessed to provide insights into other worlds, debunking stereotypes and triggering empathy for otherness to encourage young readers to understand and relish the complexity of the world. In the Opera Prima (Debut Work) category we once again saw - as with the New Horizons winner, Lullaby for Grandmother - the topic of fabrics and fashion. The delightful Korean An Old Tailor Shop at Intersection by Ahn Jaesun, published by Woongjin Think Big, tells the story of a Seoul tailor’s shop that’s been in business for over a hundred years. Philologically accurate in its account of fashion down the years, the characters are, however, dogs, lending an ironic touch to the specific – almost obsessive – topic, whose densely illustrated pages draw the reader in like a magnet.
Kiki en promenade, published by Éditions Les Fourmis Rouges, one of the Opera Prima special mentions, takes us on an exhilarating walk with a forgetful man oblivious of the fact that his dog is regularly replaced by an array of other animals. Its author - illustrator, Marie Mirgaine, meshes to perfection inventive illustration and text, taking the young reader on a light-hearted, often hilarious journey where the absurd is the source of humour.
In the dazzling Troca-tintas by Gonçalo Viana, published by the Portuguese Orfeu Negro, 2019 winner of the BOP Best Publisher of the Year Award, the reader is invited to question the world starting by overturning traditional shapes and colour palette.
The last book I would like to highlight was a mention in the Fiction Category. Le grand serpent by total author Adrian Parlange, published by Albin Michel Jeunesse, is a truly special “Italian format” picturebook with an elegant blue fabric cover. The big snake of the cover is here a graphic figure that weaves it way through the retro-style illustrations, page after page. Finding the reptile’s tail under his pillow one morning, the child decides to follow the coils back up to the serpent’s head as if making his way back up a river or a road. He will finally meet and talk with the creature and tell him what he found on the way. Although never explained, many things occur in the background as the journey continues and the pages turn. As the story builds, a certain tension is created as the child crosses the city following the white tape into the forest and then underground into the mysterious animal’s den. The apprehension is relieved, however, when – surprisingly – the astounded snake greets the young visitor warmly, delighted to have a visitor after months of solitude. The snake is totally unaware that his body is inhabited by many different stories and the scene of a multitude of events: it is the recess where two lovers meet, a haven from predators for animals, and a shelter from the rain, as it is for the child. By simply existing, the snake’s long body gives rise to infinite possibilities, as well as offering a protective space to others.
I like to think of the children’s publishing industry as this snake: a dynamic, continuously moving space where many more things take place than first meets the eye and where alongside children - the prime players - visibility is also given to crucial issues that help broaden young minds and encourage adults to stay young and human. History, memory, love, respect, human rights, laughter, listening, the healing power of art, story-telling, making mistakes, play, and encounters are the stuff of life that is mirrored in the infinite possibilities of literature, which, like life, is to be shared with others, with courage, love and a sense of adventure, together with a commitment to hard work underpinned by a vision in the hope of a possible Utopia.
And now, we wait to discover the winners and mentions of the 2021 BolognaRagazzi Award!
Marcella Terrusi, Ph.D, is researcher and professor of History and cultures of Childhood at the Department of Quality Life Studies of the University of Bologna. Author of monographs about picture and wordless books, she is a consultant for Bologna Children's Book Fair in more than 15 years