This One’s For the Publishers: Books You Should Bring to America
I’m no publisher. I’m a librarian. And I suspect that if I were a publisher, one of my true pet peeves would be some hepped up lady with a Master’s in Library Science coming on over, telling me how to do my job when it comes to overseas acquisitions. Probably happens all the time. Dewy-eyed bibliophiles see some beautiful and thoroughly esoteric picture book from another nation and beg the publishers to print it here in the States, heedless of whether or not it would, as they say, play in Peoria.
That said, I’ve been in Bologna at the Children’s Book Fair for a number of days. I have seen books so incredibly vague and devoid of plot it makes me downright jittery. I have also seen books that could do massively well in the American market, I kid you not. Now due to the fact that this was a rights fair, I suspect that a lot of the books I’m about to show you (culled from a slew of titles I rejected for various reasons) have already had their proverbial rights sold to someone somewhere. If not, though, take a gander at some truly choice books. Things I really would love to see this side of the pond.
Note: Often these books simply didn’t have any titles or authors listed in English for me to relay to you. Apologies for that.
And now I’ll begin with a book that actually made me cry.
This is Father’s Big Hands by Choi Deok-Kyu. it was also a Special Mention in the BolognaRagazzi Non-Fiction category.
So we need to sit down and have a serious conversation about why Americans prefer South Korean picture books to almost any other nation out there. I seriously believe we may like their books even more than anyone’s, including England’s. Why? What is it about these books that just . . . just . . . just WORK so well?!?
So this book has a slipcover on it that allows you to remove it. When you do so, it looks like this:
The entire story is an almost wordless parallel between a boy and his father. Here’s what I mean.
As you read through the book, you begin to pickup on the fact that the man taking care of his son is the old man being taken care of BY that son. Look at how elements of their clothing are repeated. Then you get to this:
And with those hands, I was destroyed. I was literally tearing up in front of the South Korean stand. From a publishing perspective, we’re looking at a whole generation of young parents that are facing the Baby Boomers entering into their final years. And some of these young parents will be taking care of their parents. As such, this book is perfectly timed.
Not to keep harping on how awesome South Korea’s books are but I need to show you another one immediately.
If you were able to read that amazing holographic title, then yes. The name of this book really is Battery Daddy, by Jeon Seung-Bae and Kang Insuk. So this title is doing stuff with felt that normally we only ever see with Holman Yang. The plot was easy to follow too. A hardworking battery is taken out of his basic day job in toys to work in a flashlight on a camping trip. When things go badly due to weather, it’s up to this brave battery to save the day, and then come home to his adorable loving kids. I mean, resist this if you can:
It shouldn’t surprise you that the book also inspired a stop motion short film, which received a Special Mention from the BolognaRagazzi Cross Media Awards.
Okay, let’s take a little break from South Korea (but you know I’ll be back). How do you feel about Norway these days? Would you care to see a truly lovely title that creates a susurration of rainbow-colored birds? Nora Brech’s Den Store Fuglejakten has this charming awkwardness to it in the midst of real visual beauty and I just dug it.
Next up, a book that was selected for the Silent Book Award winners. By and large, a lot of the wordless titles you’d find in Bologna were kind of dreamy and plotless. Not Nascondino by David Hearn. It’s kind of completely charming, actually. In the story a tiger is stalking a deer. However, every time the tiger gets near the deer has on a new disguise. When the tiger itself tries a disguise it’s able to finally tackle the deer . . . and now it’s the tiger’s turn to hide. These images show a bit of the sense of playfulness you’ll find. I love the photobooth shots at the end.
Something that was repeated at the festival was how bad many of the attendees felt not just for the Ukrainian publishers that couldn’t attend, but also for the Russian publishers that have been fighting against Putin for years. None of these people were coming this year, but that didn’t mean their books weren’t on display. This wordless Russian title didn’t win any big awards, but I found it fascinating. When a car slips off a cargo ship and sinks below the waves, it befriends a school of fish that sort of form themselves into this large, giant-like figure. The car is rescued (check out that shot down there where you’re looking up at it as it’s being lifted) and near the end it’s able to say goodbye to its fishy friends.
Sometimes when I was finding books I’d be able to flip through them and read them in their entirety. I’ll confess that I wasn’t able to do that with the South African title Copycat by Sadia Ismail, illustrated by Dale Blankenarr. That said, what little I’ve seen really and truly intrigues me. Wouldn’t you agree?
Found this next book at the bookstore that’s connected to the fair. The trouble was, a lot of the books available didn’t have any explanations saying where the books were from. My new friend Yasmine Motawy and I played a game where she’d show me books and I’d tell her if they’d sell in the States or not. This next book? I have a good feeling about it. As she said, it has a kind of Persepolis feel, but in a picture book form. I love the characterizations. Check out the daughter giving some serious side-eye in the second picture.
There were some other titles on the table near this book that also caught my eye. Like this gorgeous large format board book (there are lots of faces of babies inside the front cover too):
Or this mysterious sushi book, Shamsa il Sushi by Noura Al Noman. I literally couldn’t tell you what the plot was, but I liked the content:
You realize of course that half the books I go through have some kind of element that Americans would object to. Could be nudity. Could be something else (9 times out of the 10, though, it’s nudity). This next book doesn’t have any nudity that I could spot but it does have tiny adorable furry creatures getting drunk on the endpapers. Do you remember Gilles Bachelet, by the way? He did that amazing picture book Mrs. White Rabbit a couple of years ago and I’ve never forgotten his style.
Did you read my post earlier this week on the Illustrators Exhibit? If so then you know that this book (A Piece of the Sky by YI, Soon-ok, a twice named “Illustrator of the Year” in Bologna) contained a piece of art so beautiful that I’d steal it in a red hot minute if I could. Finally getting a chance to sit down and read the book, thank goodness it’s just as good as I hoped. In the book you see little chunks of blue sky with puffy clouds in odd shapes. Turn the page and you see that two might be the reflection in glasses or another could be that patch between the tops of the trees in a forest. The book is apparently an homage to Magritte’s painting Le Faux Miroir. Just lovely.
Ulf by Tanja Esch, anyone? This graphic novel has huge chunks online here, in case you’d like to see more of it. I dunno. There’s just something about its style that I liked. Particularly the references to Arnold and Shaun the Sheep.
This next book, The Girl and the Robot’s Heart by Neal Hoskins, isn’t even out in Britain until 2023. Better get in on this one, Yanks.
That’s all I have! Stay tuned for the upcoming post “Honorable Mentions” which will contain books for children that will probably never ever come to America for . . . reasons, but that are still awesome.
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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