A few windows, high underneath the attic roof, allow a little light to seep into the small space we now occupy. Rough wood walls are daubed with paint, and the tattered remains of posters hang desolately. Other brighter posters offer information. Propaganda perhaps? We understand little of what they say. Rope dangles emptily from the beams – for what purpose has it been placed there? A suitcase lies open, the contents spilling out, and in a corner it seems that someone seeking a little privacy has placed some sheets of cardboard around a few ragged cloths.
We sit on sandbags piled in a corner, and close our eyes for a few minutes respite from the scenes around the room. Opening our eyes, we notice a man who is displaced from his homeland, a family huddles around a transistor radio, a boy – Akim is his name – who has fled terrors no child should have to confront, other children from a war-torn land tell their stories of sleeping in a car and washing in a river, always seeking safety. A red shoe lies alone – whose is – was – it?
At the top of the steep stairs there are powerful-looking men in armour, or uniforms decked with braid and medals. Who can they be? What are they doing here? Some of them don’t seem to like each other much either. They shout insults. From downstairs we hear voices; people are moving about and talking in different languages, and foreign accents speak our own tongue.
Then, we stand, and go down those stairs, into to a world of safety and everyday lives. But what we have seen in that upstairs exhibition space at the Internationale Jugenbibliotek resonates in our heads. What should we do and what should we think about our experiences in this small space at the IYL? The name of the exhibition is, itself, a challenge: ’Guten Tag, lieber Feind!’ (Hello, Dear Enemy! Picture Books for Peace and Humanity). And the books in the 3-D displays and in the wall-holders challenge perceptions about children’s books, asking more questions than they can answer. But this is as it should be: war, displacement, terrorism brutalise the lives of many children today. Books such as these remind other children – and adults too – of this fact. And they remind us of how easily fear can become the habitus of our children if we are not vigilant.
The Internationale Jugenbibliotek offers much to reflect on in ’Guten Tag, lieber Feind!’.
Go to it, imagine, and think.
Valerie Coghlan, Ireland
Fellowship holder, December 2014
Books referred to above:
Cali, David & Sergi Bloch. L’ennemi. Editions Sarbacane
Carballeira & Sonja Danowski. Der Anfang. Bohem
Dubois, Claude K. Akim rennt. Moritz
Charters, Janet & Michael Foreman The General. Templar
Gruss & Tobias Krejtschi Ein roter Schuh. Boje
Shroeder, Binette. Ritter Rüstig und Ritter Rostig. NordSüd Verlag
Skármeia, Antonio & Alionso Ruano La composicón. Editions Ekaré
Tallec, Olivier Waterloo/Trafalgar. Enchanted Lion Books
Tan, Shaun. The Arrival. Hodder