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CULTURE Images and Words to Get Together notwithstanding the Differences

BCBFBy Ada Treves

The 53rd edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the most important international event dedicated to books for young readers has opened this morning and Pagine Ebraiche, as it happens every year, is present. The latest issue of the national monthly of Italian Jewry contains eight special pages devoted to the fair and the latest trends of a market that has seen no crisis and is distributed by the organization itself, under the title “Leggere per crescere” (To read to grow).
We publish here the introduction to the special section, while DafDaf, the Jewish magazine for kids will be protagonist at the BCBF on Wednesday afternoon, for a round table on migration, integration and children’s books both in Germany – guest of honor – and in Italy.

A Bridge of Children’s Books. The idea of German Jewish journalist and writer Jella Lepman was to start all over again with the education of the youngest generation, beginning with culture. Sent to Germany immediately after the war, with hers thousands of projects and the many battles she was ready to fight Jella Lepman has given the first answer to the great void left by the war, and hers was the first sign of a cultural revival that would bring Germany among the protagonists in the world of education and culture. On her ideas the main research centre on children’s literature was established, as well as the most authoritative literary prize for youth, the Jugendbibliothek – the rightly famous International Youth Library in Munich- and Ibby, the International Board on Books for Young People, active in the whole world. Her projects, daring for the period she was living but now how sadly actual in Europe, where the large number of refugees and the threat of terrorism bring to light ideas that were believed buried, had a clear common idea: “Little by little we have make sure to put this upside down world again in the right way, beginning with children. They will show adults where to go”.

And it is her country, Germany, guest of honour at this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, that shows the way: there are about sixty German books, recently published that lead young readers to confront the many difficulties of integration. Without talking too much, with no empty words, the book industry of the country that more has to come to terms with a difficult and laborious integration has taken its own future in its hands. Multilingual picture books have always occupied an important niche in the German publishing market and the massive wave of immigration has led to wonder whether and to what extent this will impact children’s literature. Refugees are one of the main topic of conversation, with opinions and moods that sometimes collide, and fears and prejudices that increase. So, again, it is up to books and stories to give a face to abstract events, helping children to develop their natural skills of understanding and solidarity. The themes of escape and integration are a challenge but also a big chance that German authors and illustrators have been ready to seize, as many of their colleagues across Europe are doing. A phenomenon already visible at the Frankfurt Buchmesse, that together with the Goethe Institut is responsible for the German presence in Bologna, that is also the theme of the encounter organized by DafDaf, the Jewish magazine for kids during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. On the 6th April, at the Caffé degli autori (the Authors’ Cafè) at 5 pm a roundtable titled “Integration? Alle da!” will take place and many diverse points of view will have voice, comparing German publishing industry with the experiences of those who work with children’s books in Italy. But in Bologna, as the pages of Leggere per crescere explain it is mandatory to explore the many exhibits and opportunities for discovery that will take place in Bologna from the 4th to the 10th: in addition to the Weekend of young readers which opens to the public hall 21 – following the days of the fair that are traditionally reserved to professionals – the whole city will be invaded by meetings, workshops, presentations and events dedicated to children’s book.

Protagonist in two important books is a dark and terrible creature that has its roots in the Jewish tradition: a terrifying being which celebrated in 2015 one hundred years since its first cinematographic appearance and is still surrounded by an aura of mystery and awe. The story of the Golem could seem unsuited to young people, but a German author and illustrator, Anke Kuhl, has decided to go look for old books and study the origins of the story, and then to take the time to create a graphic novel for children which will also affect adult readers. And the successful collaboration between the Franco-Tunisian author Irène Cohen-Janca and Piedmontese illustrator Maurizio Quarello continues: they just published a story – Frantz and the Golem – that weaves tradition and fantasy in a moonlit Prague. Not to be missed the last book for kids by Giuntina, and the long-awaited new book by Ulrich Hub, author of the award-winning “Meet the Ark at Eight!”, who will lead the delegation of German authors present in Bologna. After three penguins that discuss about the existence of God, with his latest book Hub addresses important themes, again: the animals stuck in an airport talk about friendship and honesty, to address the deeper meaning of our most important value, identity.