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The Stories, the People and the Magic of BCBF

A walk through the pages of the 2020 BolognaRagazzi Awards - Part I

Picturebook as a time machine: memories and visions from the past to the future

  |   TOPICS: Awards
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Marcella Terrusi takes us on a journey through the 2020 BolognaRagazzi Awards as we await the 2021 edition.

When the International Jury – five consummate professionals – arrive in Bologna from various corners of the world to assess the books submitted for the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Awards, its members often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of books before them – rather like our acute awareness of our human frailty before a majestic landscape, or the Stendhal syndrome triggered by a splendid work of art! The almost two thousand books laid out on tables by category country and publisher exude a powerful force. They never fail to impress upon the Jury, BCBF team and co-workers the extraordinary vitality of children’s international publishing.

The painstaking work of assessment, comparison and selection by the Jury produces a shelf full of winners and special mentions, each time surprising and different. They all invite readers to plunge into their particular worlds. Behind these books are the many players in the publishing industry: authors, illustrators, publishers, art directors, but also bookstore owners, librarians, and scholars who will help take the book into the world, placing them in context vis-à-vis the past but also the future, considering the questions they ask about the world – the big purpose-of-life questions about the way we live and act, the life sciences or simply small-time personal issues. The BRAW 2020 book shelf holds an admirable array of quality works that deserve more than the cursory overview we have space for here. The BolognaRagazzi Fiction Award went to Meine libsten Dinge müssen mit, a delicate and poetic picturebook about the experience of impending displacement to another country seen from a child’s perspective. The text is imbued with the deep tangible melancholy that accompanies uprooting, an experience the Iranian writer, Sepideh Sarihi, originally from Teheran, has herself known, having lived abroad in Berlin for seven years; in the BCBF video interview we also learn that this is the first time she has written directly in German. The illustrations by Julie Völk – a young and prolific artist, who has already gained acclaim as a total artist – are tinged with delicate irony and affection. The narrative text and images – initially only 5 illustrations – first came together in the pages of Gecko, a children’s magazine based in Munich. It was only after two years that the project become a picturebook for Beltz & Gelberg, which also received a special mention at the 2020 edition of BCBF in the new Comics Award for Toni. Und alles nur wegen Renato Flash by Philip Waechter.

The winner of the Non-Fiction category, Marie Curie. Nel paese della scienza, is an astonishing visual short-novel, with powerful images, perfect graphic design in an elegant - predominantly two-tone - setting. The driving force behind the project was publisher Fausta Orecchio, who wanted to produce a new picturebook on a scientist she herself has deeply admired since childhood. Orecchio invited author Iréne Cohen Janca to write the text - originally written in French, and matched it with Claudia Palmarucci’s art stunning illustrations full of art history references (all indicated in the well-designed appendix). The all-pervasive polonium yellow encourages the reader to immerse herself in a historic scientific endeavour of rare intensity. The book is a new look at the extraordinary story of a great woman and scientist.

Opera Prima (Debut work) category candidates always contain interesting editorial projects. They testify to courage on the part of publishers to take on new authors at the outset of their careers but also to the courage of new authors and artists to seek out their own voice and story-telling ability. These two elements have come together perfectly in the award-winning book Where is Your Sister? – a hide-and-seek book, a well-paced visual game that will delight young readers as they try and find a little girl who gets separated from her family in a large shopping centre. The amusing patterns of the characters’ clothes are a guide for the reader’s eye, in this mature albeit debut work.

The New Horizon Award is a prize given at the Jury’s discretion acknowledging excellence that does not fit into, or transcends, the other categories. The magnificent large-format picturebook Lullaby for Grandmother is an example of a book produced by people, cultures and visions that are only apparently worlds apart. The author is Polish Iwona Chmielewska, twice winner of a BRAW award; the publisher is BIR Publishing, one of the leading children’s books publishers in Korea, publishing new, classic and award-winning authors and illustrators since 1990.

Artist and publisher first met in 2003 – when Poland was Guest of Honour Country in Bologna – at a meeting with Jiwone Lee, art historian, curator, and here, translator of the text. As Iwona Chmielewska explains in our video conversation, the story started taking shape when she found a box of buttons belonging to her grandmother, Hulda, and unfolds as we are shown her belongings. Lacework, embroidery, handkerchiefs, dresses and accessories all become the means through which to tell an individual but, at the same time, universal story. It is a lullaby for the child that her grandmother was, for every child that ever was. “How could Grandmother become a granddaughter?” the author asks herself at the beginning of the book. Quietly introspective and lovingly told, the book recalls an important time in the history of the 20th century through the story of a grandmother, describing life in the industrial textile city of Todz “where the Polish, German and Jewish population worked together”. Designed by Chmielewska, the pages are filled with large illustrations in mixed technique where the scanned pictures of laces, embroideries, clothes and child’s socks appear alongside photographs and enchanting pencil drawings. They are a tribute to the patient craftsmanship of individual men and women – in stark contrast to the horrors of war and holocausts – objects and details that come down to us testifying to what once was. If excellence in children’s publishing industry did not exist, this sort of book would not even have been conceived, let alone published. Using a thoroughly modern approach and modern techniques of photo, scan and print, this outstanding picturebook artist tells the story of a person but also of a historical era, its fashions, customs and illustration, combining avant-garde research with traditional story-telling in a format that opens up endless possibilities for the picturebook.

Science, sport, migration, memory, history, art and craftsmanship: all themes in books that resonate with children. The other winners and special mentions will tell other stories as we continue our rapid walk through the 2020’s BRAW. To be continued...

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 

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