You Can’t Bring That To America (But Boy, I Wish You Could)
This seemed an appropriate post to round out my Bologna coverage with today’s final post. If you’d like to see even more books, videos, and reports, you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter. That’s where a lot of original content that didn’t quite fit into the blog format ended up.
Having already done a post on those books I saw in Bologna that would transfer beautifully to American shores, let us now turn our sights in another direction: Books that are fantastic and will never ever ever ever be published in America. Why? Well, as I went through the Bologna Book Fair, I was reminded that Americans get really uncomfortable around the following topics:
- Bodily Functions
I put nudity on there twice because by and large we reeeeeally don’t like it. And bodily functions do occasionally come into play, but we’re talking about a culture where a Vice-Principal was recently fired for reading the book I Need a New Butt to a bunch of kids, virtually. So, yeah. I’m not seeing the following books making it:
First off, Snowstorm by Gyeong-su Kang. It’s a very clever take on our different attitudes towards environmental disintegration. When a polar bear named Snowstorm finds his food sources disappearing thanks to melting glaciers, he’s forced to dumpster dive for trash near the homes of people. The people get upset and often fire guns at him (hence the reason this won’t come to the States). In a bolt of inspiration, however, Snowstorm has the brilliant idea to use mud to cover up portions of his fur strategically. Now he’s no longer a nasty polar bear but an adorable panda! The people are thrilled until the ruse is discovered. Gorgeous colors infuse this almost Cubist telling. Another reason it won’t be translated from South Korea? It doesn’t have a happy ending. Americans hate that!
It’s not so much that this Italian history of Queen Elizabeth II by Ivan Canu (called God Save the Queen) couldn’t be imported to the States. It’s more that I wonder who the audience for it might be. As it stands, it’s probably more YA than anything else. The book makes all kinds of references that children simply won’t get, while teens only might be intrigued. I’m not sold on it as a surefire thing, but it sure does have some fascinating references to pop culture worked in there.
The Strange Visitor by Heena Baek got me really excited at first. If you saw her Magic Candies (and, to a certain extent, Moon Pops) from last year then you know what she’s capable of. I thought this might be another slam dunk, but the sad fact of the matter is that only some of Baek’s books would do well here (see: The Bath Fairy). In this particular case we’re looking at bare butts and big old farts. When a younger brother can’t get his older sister to play with him, he wishes for a little brother. Suddenly a funny little fellow appears and starts calling the boy “older brother”. It’s got that fun off-putting feel that I like so much in Baek’s art, but the fart stuff is just a little much.
I’m actually really excited about this next one. Not that the cover tells you much:
Okay, so this is Inventario de Dioses by Manuel Soriano and Dani Scharf. I didn’t know anything about it. Then I saw this Table of Contents:
Took me a while to figure out what was going on.
It’s a book about gods. And man, oh man, it is something else. It will NOT come to our shores, but I wish to high heaven it would.
A lot of the artists that won Bologna Awards in the COVID time couldn’t be properly celebrated since the fair was entirely online. One such author/illustrator is Elena Odriozola from Spain who was the winner of the Biennial of Bratislava 2021 and was selected to create this year’s Illustrators Annual cover. This year a wide swath of her art was on display and it was remarkable. I’ve rarely seen anyone produce such a wide variety of styles. Here’s a peek:
It was my extreme pleasure to be presented with two of her books by none other than editor, critic and author, Gustavo Puerta Leisse himself.
Now peer up at the last picture up there I presented to you. The quote on the wall reads, “In [the] everyday scenes children can recognize their own feelings and find ways to talk about them.” This statement is presented above images from the book Yo Tengo Un Moco. It is admirable and very appropriate, as you will soon see.
I fear that as I went through this book (which Gustavo was kind enough to give to me) I began laughing WAY too loudly. This book had the amazing double affect of making me feel physically ill and breathlessly happy (a combination I haven’t encountered before). It features six members of a family. I am going to show you only one of these people. Let’s see if you can figure out what’s going on.
This continues with each and every member of the family. The little brother. The big sister. The teenaged brother that has the peer between the fringe of his bangs. Now by the time you get to the mom and dad who are strategic about their booger eating and trying to hide it, you just gotta admire this gross gross amazing book. It’s so simple and yet I’ve never seen anything like it before.
Switching her style completely, the title Sentimientos Encontrados is tonally so different.
It’s this shockingly beautiful book filled with the most delicate of line art. Look, you can see the whole cast of characters on the back!
There’s a spiral binding hidden beneath the spine, and why? Because this is also a flip book!
On the bottom are emotions, with some similar emotions as well.
As you go through the book you can assign one or more to any given scene. You can talk with the kids about why one or another might work better, depending on what’s happening with the action on the opposite page.
Each of the characters appears to be doing through some kind of personal drama. The grandmother dies and yet the family is so wrapped up in grief that her ghost lingers on. A baby is born. There’s a lot more too. It’s so delicate and elegant and also funny too.
I just love this shot of the dad casually chugging from the baby’s bottle:
And best of all of this, your cat will fit snugly on the pages.
So why won’t this book come to the States? Partly because it’s a subtle thing, I’d say. To understand how to use it, an explanation could be in order. But that’s not a deal breaker. We’ve had beautiful, strange books before. No the true difference is that it’s got nudity (Grandma’s ghost just doffs clothes at one point, and who can blame her since no one can see her?), serious hanky panky (in the margins), and cigarette smoking. Or, as Gustavo put it, “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll!”
My final book for you today is not a single book but a series. It is also, for reasons that really fascinate me, the most popular image I’ve ever placed on Instagram or Facebook. My Taiwanese friend assures me that this is hugely popular, as do scores of other people. You can just imagine the jokes they’ve been making. And no. They ain’t bringing it here. Take a wild stab in the dark to figure out why.
Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack here. I’m actually going to do a more in-depth piece on this series and American attitudes towards things that don’t really raise an eyebrow overseas. More soon!
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.
SLJ Blog Network