Books From Bologna: Titles I’d Love to See in America (Part One)
All right. This is it. The penultimate capper. The moment of truth. The posts to end all Bologna posts. I’m back in the States now, so I figure this is a pretty neat way to round everything out.
A couple caveats before I begin, though. While I play fairly close attention to what does and does not make it to American shores, I miss things. And some of the books I’ll be mentioning here (though I won’t know which ones) will have come out years and years ago and did, in fact, make it to the States. So forgive me if I missed something when it was originally released here. Also, sometimes I would encounter books in the bookshop or in other places where their countries of origin were not listed. Perhaps some of you will be able to help me out with a couple of these.
These are the books that would LONG to see on American shores. I feel that they’d work marvelously in the U.S. market, one way or another. And naturally the first love of my heart is…
Qui Veut Jouer Avec Moi by Clair De [France]
I’ve alluded to this book already in my photography award round up (found here). As I mentioned before, I want a bilingual version of this released in the States. I cannot be the only librarian with Caribbean families asking for representative children’s books in French. Plus, you have GOT to see these photographs. Look at the way in which colors and patterns are used throughout.
The funny thing about the original board book is that it’s surprisingly large. For this to work in the U.S. the size would probably have to be reduced, which is a freakin’ crying shame, but if that’s what it takes to see this book on shelves then I’ll take it! And after reading the jury’s statement about this book, I learned that it’s apparently full of references to other famous stories. News to me!
Yi Min Qa Na Li? (Where are the migrants going?) by Lam Kinchoi and Lin Jiancai [Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China]
Every year the International Youth Library (located in Munich and very much on the Betsy Bucket List) releases their own international book award: The White Ravens. And every year in Bologna you need to find the IYL booth because that’s where these books are on display. And if you are a person like me, desperately looking for great international fare, this is as close as you can get to one stop shopping!
Better yet, the IYL staff can direct you to the truly good stuff. Interestingly, the two books I liked the best in the booth were both concerned with outer space. First up, a bit of a metaphor. The premise of this one is that because Laika, the first dog in space, was sent to her death by the humans, a dog named Kaka and a turtle named An don’t feel safe on Earth and decide to leave with their own ship. They take all their favorite things (seen here):
And I love how the man shows time passing. Note that the turtle’s earrings change in this sequence.
Finally, the two land on Mars and raise their children there. I love that the kids are a mix of turtle and dog, with some favoring one parent over another. Still, they miss Earth and probably always will from afar. There’s a wistfulness to this book’s ending. As the White Ravens write-up says, “When Lam Kinchoi, winner of several awards for his picture books and prints, returned to Hong Kong in 2020 from the Cambridge School of Art’s Master’s Program, he reworked the first draft of his adventure story “Journey to Mars” into a story of contemporary Hong Kong, the title of which could also be translated as “Where Should We Emigrate To?”
Stellarphant by James Foley [Australia]
Another book about space, but this one’s more about equity. First off, check out how the book begins:
So an elephant walks in and asks to join the space program. However, lots of barriers are set up to prevent her from doing so. When she’s told that no spacesuit would fit her, she makes her own. When she’s told she needs to learn certain skills, she learns them. When she’s told none of the white male astronauts would work with her she finds hardworking animals, teaches them, and creates her own team. She even makes her own rocket! Finally, after all that, still the men can’t decide and it suddenly dawns on her that she doesn’t need them. She’s created her own opportunities. I’m sorry but this may sound obvious but the book has such a kicking style and message that it doesn’t feel preachy in the least. Just full of good old-fashioned elephant chutzpah!
Late Today by Huh Jeongyoon, ill. Lee Myungae [Korean]
Last year the picture books of South Korea were my absolute favorites I adored finding so many of them, though alas I have yet to see Battery Daddy or My Father’s Hands on any shelves here in the States yet (come on, people!!).
This year, the book I liked the best was Late Today. I’m fond of how sometimes publishers will help folks like me along and paste in an English text so that I can get a sense of a story. On a busy traffic day, a kitten has gotten itself into the middle of a rush hour jam on a bridge. Everyone worries for the cat, but no one does anything about it. No one, that is, until one brave boy decides to make a difference. Just look at how the artist depicted the cat weaves in and out of the panels, much as any cat would. Love the style and love that message.
You Have to Come and Get Me! By Chen, Rita, Fang-Yi [Taiwan]
Remember how South Korea stole my heart last year? Well, Taiwan snatched it away this year. First off, they won the Most Eye-Catching Booth Award right from the start. Here’s their sign:
And here’s how, within the massive booth, they highlighted individual artists:
Even better than all of that, they made browsing their titles exceedingly easy. I was able to page through book after book after book, which explains why you’ll be seeing “Taiwan” showing up as the country of origin multiple times today.
This particular book is about a child’s fears starting school. And while it didn’t include any text that I could read, I understood the story perfect. From depicting fear and worry physically:
To visions of what the other kids would be like:
Il Coraggio Nel Vento Di Montagna by Li Yao
Okay, this one definitely came out a number of years ago. BUT hear me out. I discovered it in the “Silent Book” exhibit (that’s what the Bologna Book Fair likes to call wordless books). The exhibit was split into two sections. On the one hand you had the most recent winners in all their esoteric glory. Alongside this, they also had this amazing section where every so often they would allow kids to help select their own favorites. I don’t remember what year this title won the honor, but I was instantly entranced by it. This is actually one of my favorite exhibits because it has the full books hanging from fishing line, for easy reading.
In this story a boy runs away and hides out next to an old stone monkey. As he does, a virtual army of demons sets upon him. I mean, just look at these guys:
But as he sits there in fear, the monkey becomes, you guessed, the ass-kicking Monkey King and bestows upon the boy the power to fight back. The art itself is utterly stunning, but I also loved the obvious comic book influences at work as well. And with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese hitting Disney+ soon, has the time EVER been better for more Monkey King fare? Especially Monkey King PICTURE BOOK fare? I think not!
O Adeus Do Marujo by Flavia Bomfim [Brazil]
I’ve already done this book a full-throated crow in my recent post on the winners of the new Photography award. I’ll just add that after reading a description of the book I also learned that the photographs in the title are printed on linen. So so cool.
Plitsch, Platsch, Plitsch, Patsch
Nope. I don’t know where this book came from, but I do know an adorable finger rhyme when I see one. I also know that I got very fond of this little green board book when I realized that each of the fingers here had their own personalities. Now I’ll allow that it can be hard to translate nursery and finger rhymes from one country to another. But give this to a clever translator and let’s see if we can make it work!
Emma by Carl Johanson, ill. Stannar Hemma
Awwww. Wook at the widdle worm. How many cute worm board books grace your shelves these days? You know the answer to that? Too few! Besides, how can you say no to this punim?
I have a bit of difficulty identifying the names of Arabic children’s books, particularly when I find them in the fair’s bookstore rather than in a booth. As such, I don’t know where this four book series hails from or who the creators are. What I do know is that the number of potty training board books featuring Muslim families on my library’s shelves? Yeah, practically nonexistent. We need these books. Bilingual, if you’d be so kind.
Folktales I NEED
The Smelly Giant by Kurahau, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers [New Zealand]
It doesn’t happen often but once in a while I’ll meet someone at the Fair, we’ll get to talking about the books, and then we’ll both start cooing over the same title we saw in the booths. And I’m sorry, Australia, but New Zealand ran a close second to Taiwan this year in terms of spectacular content. I gleefully devoured this incredible folktale about a giant with a great personality and some seriously stinky toes. The art is incredible and the storytelling just fab. Plus, when you’ve got more than one American librarian cheering it on already, you know you may have something good on your hands.
Lucky / Happy Hans by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Maguma, text by Gita Wolf and Divya Vijayakumar [India]
The Grimm Brothers had a rather good year at Bologna, considering they’re dead and all. And of all the books I saw, this one was clearly the most ambitious and downright beautiful. Yes, it’s an accordion book, which I know is freakin’ expensive to make. But check this out, this is so cool. So first up, here’s the plot according to the White Ravens pamphlet: “From the story ‘Hans in Luck’ it recounts the (bad) luck of a young man who makes a series of very unprofitable exchanges that eventually leave him without any material possessions, but inexplicably happy.”
So the artist is Spanish, but the book hails from India. You pull out the title and it has two versions of one story. One version of the story is told in the past and the other like a video game set in a dystopia. The video game side sort of has a Pick Your Path element to it too. And while you’re doing that it allows you to ponder Hans’s decisions and motives. Yeah, it’s probably too pricey for big American publishers, but for a boutique one? It could be a star.
The Moon by the Brothers Grimm, ill. Avia Cohen
A far darker Grimm tale, and not a particularly well known one probably due to the weird mix of magic and religion. They did that sometimes, the Grimms. In this tale, a small group of men steal the moon from a town that has it tethered and are determined to use it as a cash cow. The scheme (somewhat inexplicably) works but as each man dies he insists on being buried with a sliver of moon. The trouble with being buried with the moon, though, is that then it’s is in the underworld, waking the dead. And that’s when Saint Peter gets involved. Trust me, I love a good weird book and this truly fits the bill. Plus it knows how to mix a strange kind of humor into the mix.
Who’s In the Fridge by Severus Lian [Taiwan]
You know when you’re just trying to sneak a midnight snack from the fridge when lo and behold you find a polar bear in there instead? I’m not even going to try to sell you on everything about this book. Just appreciate, for a moment, the ways in which the bear’s eyes move from one page to the next:
Flooded by Mariajo Ilustrajo
Did any of you see this TikTok video of a Starbucks where the flooding was waist-high but everyone just carried on like things were normal? If so, that’s essentially the premise of Flooded, a clever little British title (or so I assume since it references “wellies” at least once) that may be about equity at its core. In this story, flooding begins to occur and at first it’s kind of fun. As it rises higher and higher, however, the taller animals don’t really see it as a huge issue while the smaller ones are struggling. The key to getting rid of the flooding requires everyone to understand that there is a solution. It’s sort of about complacency and sort of about social change, and sort of about just a really funny story where things flood and animals go to offices. Hard not to love.
The Raccoon: A Handy Pocket Guide with Descriptive Text by Jessica Ciccolone
A clever little dickens of a book. Not entirely certain what its deal is, but insofar as I can tell, you wouldn’t have to change much if you wanted to bring it to the States. It’s meant to parody nonfiction books, even as it becomes increasingly meta. About the time the narrator is informing the raccoons that they cannot leave the book, they manage to find an actual physical hole at the back. See?
Thanks so much for reading and be sure to tune in tomorrow, when I present to you the second and final part in our Bologna series!
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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