Bologna: Illustrators Exhibition (includes many pretty pictures)
So you’re a librarian or maybe just an enthusiast who has come to the Bologna Book Fair to have a good time. You’ve gone to the floor and seen the tables there, but after a while you realize there’s not much for you there. You sit in on discussions, and those are fun, but maybe you’ve a hankering to see some real artsy art up close and personal. Hang on to your hats then, kids. It’s time to take a gander at the beautiful Bologna Illustrators Exhibit and all that that entails.
Our first stop, however, should be over to the Hans Christian Andersen Award winner. As its website proclaims proudly, “Every other year IBBY presents the Hans Christian Andersen Awards to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.” This year is an off year so no one was announced this time, but last year’s winner in the illustration category was Jutta Bauer (you can read her acceptance speech here). As such, there was a lovely display of her different works over the years.
Some of the artist’s best known work was on display. Grandpa’s Angel is one of the few Bauer titles to be translated here in the States. You will find very few picture books that speak of what the German citizens went through during WWII, but this is one of those few. Its reflection on the past through the eyes of a grandfather protected by his own guardian angel led to some American reviewers scratching their heads. PW said that, “Such sophisticated ideas rendered so simply may confuse youngsters,” while Booklist noted, “Philosophy may not be a primary-schooler’s thing.” Still and all, every review I read of the book was entirely positive, captivated by the book’s hopeful ending. The art on display reminded me of nothing so much as Ronald Searle, though I did notice that Bauer’s style will change depending on the book. SLJ thought the style here was closer to Quentin Blake. To each their own.
Sadly, Grandpa’s Angel is the only Bauer title I could find that was translated here in America. I’m certain that there may have been more, but they’re hard to track down. In the meantime, I enjoyed looking through her art and trying to figure out what the storylines might be:
Bauer’s style would translate so well here in the States. Of course, we Americans are a bit . . . um . . . squeamish, let’s say, when it comes to certain titles. Like, for example, this one about the man who lost his clothes:
Perusing the rest of the exhibit was a great deal of fun. Of the artists featured, I could find only one with a “USA” behind their name. That belonged to one Jennifer Uman, an artist I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet. She paired with a Valerio Vida and their book Jemmy Button had some images on display. As you can see, it’s absolutely gorgeous:
The story follows the true-life tale of a native of Tierra Del Fuego who was taken to England in the mid-1800s. Uman and Vidali paired up when she saw his website and emailed him about his work. As her own site says, “He spoke only Italian. She only spoke English”. Nevertheless they worked together, came up with a story, and this is their first collaboration. Insofar as I can tell this book has not yet been published in America and while the story has been told for adults, there are few English children’s books that ever mention his name.
Back to the exhibit. There is something refreshing about walking through a hall full of names that one does not recognize instantly. Artists with names like “Seesaw” (a great character name, by the way) worked alongside folks who are wonderfully known in their own countries. Though I enjoyed everything I saw, certain names stood out. These included:
Silvia Bolognesi (Italy) – Surrealism, particularly beautiful surrealism, isn’t necessarily easy. What we’ve seen we may have seen many times before. What I enjoyed about Bolognesi’s work is how she could take everyday objects and transform them into the idle wandering daydreams of half-awake children.
Sonja Danowski (Germany) – There’s just something about the way she does people. I like her animals too, sure as shooting. But for sheer distinction, Danowski’s humans look different from anybody else’s. I kept wondering if she could do something along the lines of Chris Van Allsburg, if she wanted to.
Chinatsu Hagino (Japan) – Meet the artist I wanted to steal off the wall more than any other. Hagino works in a pen and ink style that is beyond comprehension. Beyond comparison even. You have these teeny tiny illustrations, framed in great white borders. Later in the day I mentioned to someone that there was an artist I wanted to steal off of the wall of the exhibit. “The black and white pictures of animals wearing clothes?” they replied. So there you go. We not remember the name, but we remember the art. The pictures were too small for me to take photos of, but fortunately I was able to locate some online.
Hagino has, as it happens, published here in the States but the sole book was Ahchoo! Lion’s Got the Flu and it hardly shows her potential. This book, whatever it is, is what I want to see more of.
Rashin Kheirieh (Iran) – As it happens, Iran had a particularly good showing in the fair this year. There were more than just a few artists on display, my favorite being Ms. Kehirieh. From what I can tell she’s been published all over the world, though not so much here. Check out that range too!
Yu Kim (The Republic of Korea) – You know, the sole problem with these exhibits is that when you saw a collection by a particularly creative artist, you weren’t always told what book the illustrations were from. If there was a masterlist of these books, I’m afraid I missed it. The works of Yu Kim were listed as “nonfiction”, so if I was going to take a stab in the dark I’d have to assume that these amazing, incredible, ridiculous images must have been about the variations between species that carry the same names.
Gabriel Pachceo (Mexico) – About this point I started noticing the lack of African and Latin American names in the exhibit. Look at the master list of folks included here and you’ll some big country-sized, even continent-sized gaps. Mexico at long last made an appearance in the form of Mr. Pacheco. The man had a take on The Bremen Town Musicians that was just one of the most appealing little riffs on familiar matter I’d seen in a long time.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a publication of his Little Mermaid either, for that matter.
Isabella Labate (Italy) – It is impossible to walk past an image like this and not at least pause.
Ms. Labate is one of the few illustrators I have found who has included her own round-up of the Bologna Fair. Polish up your Italian and check out her own take on the exhibits and the speakers. That girl’s good with her camera. She also is savvy with her web presence. I was disappointed to find that the Bologna Illustrator’s page does not link to each artist’s website or blog. Ms. Labate, however, is all over the world wide web and updates her blog quite regularly. Well played!
Those Americans out there interested in submitting your work in the future might do well to take a look at the Illustrators Exhibition page for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. If you can submit, I suggest that you take a chance.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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