Discoveries at IYL: European picture books

Through the fellowship programme offered by the International Youth Library up to 15 scholars from around the world have the chance to work and research in our reading room. Today we would like to share with you the discoveries of Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal from Singapore:

Dr. Myra Garces-Bacsal is an Assistan Professor and the Programme Leader of the Masters of Education in High Ability Studies at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Myra is a frequent guest at the International Youth Library and discovers new treasures on each of her stays here.

What did you discover?
I have been coming to visit the IYL since 2015, and one of the things that I often look forward to is discovering unknown-to-me artists and authors whose works have not been published in English-speaking countries. I have fallen deeply in love with the art of French illustrator Emmanuelle Houdart, as she celebrates beauty in the odd, the strange, the peculiar:

I continue to be constantly in awe of Norwegian husband-and-wife tandem Gro Dahle and Svein Nyhus who fearlessly tackle big themes such as domestic violence (Sinna Mann), depression (Håret til Mamma), and incest (Blekkspruten) in picturebooks.

Then there is also the Danish husband-and-wife tandem Oscar K. and Dorte Karrebæk who come up with the most disturbing, harrowing, and thought-provoking picturebooks:

What should readers know about European picture books ? Why are those books significant in children’s literature?

I believe that there is much to learn from European picturebooks, especially when it comes to dealing with highly-sensitive themes that are often perceived to be “too mature” for children. These picturebook makers simply create outstanding literature that are deeply moving and unforgiving in their portrayal of truths, no matter how tough; and surreal worlds that provide comfort in their strangeness. They respect children’s capacity to make meaning out of these stories that do happen to quite a number of children, much as adults may want to turn a blind eye on such stark realities. These are books that will most likely not be published in English-speaking countries, perhaps because it is unclear what particular market this is targeting (Children? Adults? Young adults?), or children’s book publishers simply do not want to take the risk of printing such emotionally-charged materials that may be deemed too controversial by the Disney-enamoured (happily-ever-after-hankering) public.

Why is this item personally significant to you?
As a clinical psychologist, I have always spoken about the power of literature in influencing one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. My research has tapped into the psychology of reading as well as how international and multicultural picturebooks may be used for social and emotional learning in the classroom. I have always believed that books have the capacity to make a person gain a much deeper appreciation of one’s self and identity, and to understand the bigger world that exists out there. Jella Lepman was on to something profoundly true when she noted that a bridge of international understanding can be built through children’s literature.



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