The Bologna Children’s Book Fair: Prize Winners You May Wish to Know (1)
Lots of awards at the old Bologna Children’s Book Fair these days. Lots. And often, they go to names we might recognize. Now if you want to see the full roster, that’s easy enough to find here. It’s a lot to go through, though. Since I’m here at the fair for you, I’ll just highlight those titles that caught my particular attention. This is the first in a series of posts about the award winners and what they say, the good and the bad, about how we judge children’s literature on the world stage.
The BolognaRagazzi Award: The prize for outstanding picture books
As anyone who has ever served on an award committee will attest, big awards for works of literature are, in essence, works of compromise. The top winner is not always the “best” book, but rather the book that the most people could agree upon. If you want to see where people’s hearts really lay, look at the Honors. Now the biggest award presented at Bologna is the BolognaRagazzi Award. It’s sort of your Newbery/Caldecott/Pulizer all wrapped up together. But it was the Honors (or “Special Mentions” as they call them) that caught my eye. Here, check these out:
Imagine if a Caldecott Award or Honor went to a board book. That’s a fascinating notion, isn’t it? Well full credit to the committee of this award, which handed a Special Mention to this book from Chile. ¿Qué tiene un bosque? by Yael Frankel is called a “gem” by the award committee, and is a pretty good example of a title that I suspect won’t make it to America. We have a fairly narrow range of what we consider marketable when it comes to board books. And subtle colors and tiny waistcoats (found in the art) probably aren’t going to catch any publisher’s eye.
For this next one, let’s play a game. See if you can figure out the author/illustrator of this book based on the cover art alone:
If you said, “By gum, that looks like Suzy Lee!” then you’d be right. The South Korean picture book creator hasn’t had a book on American shores since the 2017 title Lines. But for those of us who’ve been fans of her work for years (including Shadow, Wave, and The Zoo) it’s been too long. Summer uses watercolors, collage, pastels, rayon, acrylics, “clean brushstrokes”, and chromatic backgrounds. There’s even a QR code of Vivaldi’s “Summer” available so that you can listen to that as you read. Happily, Suzy had another book at the fair as well, but more on that later.
A lot to unpack here. Fechamos is by Gilles Baum with art by Régis Lejon and comes to us via France. It may also be a scintillating example of a book that would be read in a very different light here in America, though I’ll need to see the title firsthand to determine that. The plot is that a museum is being forced to shut down due to lack of funds. As such, a museum guard takes it upon himself to give the collection to people who will display the objects on the street for all to see. The idea is that the book would “provide an opportunity to reflect on and discuss the political and social role of the museum.” That said, I’m very interested in seeing in what way (if at all) it engages with museums’ role in appropriating cultural objects from colonized nations. Even this cover art appears to feature objects taken from unwilling countries. Reappropriation would be a fascinating element, if the book happens to go in that direction. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy to determine what it says for myself.
Extraordinary Award for an Extraordinary Arist
It was with a happy heart that I sat in my hotel room the night before my first day at the fair and discovered that a special award was being bestowed on one of my favorite international artists. The rather fancifully named Extraordinary Award for an Extraordinary Artist is being given this year to Beatrice Alemagna. If that name rings a bell it may be because I recently reviewed her work on Telling Stories Wrong. She’s hardly unknown in the States, though. Hopefully you’ve had the chance to see books like On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, Child of Glass, or last year’s thoroughly charming Never, Not Ever. Well as luck would have it, she’s actually original from Bologna itself.
This award coincides with Beatrice’s own post-pandemic picture book release Vi går till parken (Let’s go to the park). It’s a subtle story of kids that want to go outside to a park. The press release for this award described the book this way:
“depictions of poignant melancholy, with dark and spent tones, like the drained atmosphere of a place that no longer welcomes crowds of children but only a couple, a single one, or none at all. A book that is a veritable manifesto of childhood loneliness and that rises up like a scream, testifying to a period that has weighed on children in ways that are yet to be fully understood.”
Which makes it an excellent test case. I’ve noticed that most America pandemic or post-pandemic releases make sure to put a lot of bright colors in there. Is an American publisher willing to take a chance on “poignant melancholy” in a picture book translation? Time will tell.
Filed under: Bologna Children's Book Fair
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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