Who or what is your biggest enemy? Is it war and the inevitable destruction that
follows? Perhaps it is a fear of those that appear different – speaking a foreign
language, wearing unusual clothes, or representing a divergent ethnic or racial
From caged tigers and gun-toting cats to masked giants and unnamed governmental forces, the updated exhibition Guten tag, Lieber Feind! examines this concept through a menagerie of international picture books. Each of the books helps children understand either how to live peacefully with the “enemy,” or explores the consequences of conflict. The work of Jella Lepman and the International Youth Library has been to build bridges of understanding through children’s books.
Sometimes the best bridges can be constructed through the illustrations of a wordless picture book. Two particular wordless books in the exhibition provide opportunities for readers to consider the effects of war:
For older children and young adults, Shaun Tan’s wordless picture book The Arrival (Scholastic, 2006) can provide a rich opportunity to explore not only the ravages of war but also the bravery of refugees that immigrate into another country to begin anew.
Small intricately detailed frames and lush two-page spreads lead the visual reader on a journey of arrival – the new arrival of a refugee to a foreign country. The reader follows the main character as he navigates this strange land with its unusual language to find accommodation, food, and gainful employment. Along the way, he acquires a pet, shares his immigration story, explaining the destruction of his native land, and arranges for his family to join him in the new country that has finally become home. The Arrival offers the perfect forum for readers to discuss not only why someone chooses to immigrate but also to experience first-hand the disorientation that war creates.
Perfect for younger children, Nikolai Popov’s Warum? (North-South Books, 1995) follows first a dispute and then an all-out war between mice and frogs. What starts out as a desire by both a frog and a mouse to have the coveted spot on a rock, quickly turns into a personal vendetta between the mice and the frogs in the country. As each page turns, the visual reader observes the toll that war is having on the beautiful landscape. The end result is depicted in a somber illustration of a frog under a battered umbrella sitting apart from a disheveled mouse in a barren wasteland. It is in this destroyed earth that the seed for understanding is planted in the hearts of children, providing the springboard for fertile discussions that can be further nourished by other beautiful books in the Guten tag, Lieber Feind! exhibition.
Jamie Campbell Naidoo, USA
Fellowship holder, December 2014