Yesterday I attended “Where the Wild Books Are” at the New School here in NYC. Organizers Etienne Delessert and Steven Guarnaccia (who have both created some of my favorite books of all time) put together a very worthwhile Saturday afternoon (important because we were all in a dark auditorium on a spectacularly beautiful spring day).
Things opened with children’s literature expert Leonard S. Marcus giving an historical overview of international children’s books in the American publishing world. He was followed by Betsy Bird who spoke of her experience at the Bologna Book fair and then, to give a feel for the challenge of bringing more international books into the US, provided some comments made by librarians in her work in response to a series of such books.
Next came several academics reading papers on the books of different European countries. I enjoyed Denise von Stockar’s overview of Swiss and German books, no doubt because I’m German and thus much was familiar to me, but also because it was full of captivating material. Christine Pu gave an informative overview of French illustrators followed by the University of Bologna’s Georgia Grilli who did an outstanding presentation on Italian illustrators. I loved the way she situated her talk in the way so many have taken on Pinocchio, a classic that holds the same place in Italy that Alice in Wonderland does in England. But she also showed us other topics too, say a fascinating glimpse at children’s books under WWII fascism. I came away from these talks with a list of books I want to track down.
After a break we saw a lovely movie by the unique Indian publishing venture, Tara Books. I’ve written about their books before here — they are gorgeous, highly original, handcrafted works, often featuring the art of local people in Chennai, where they are located. This was followed by a terrific video presentation on the Asian publishing world by Junko Yokota (she is currently on a Fullbright in Poland and there wasn’t, sadly, the funding for her to come in person), a renowned specialist in international books. Later several people spoke with surprise at the huge range of Asian publishing, that they hadn’t realized how large it was. (Speaks to our tremendous isolation from the rest of the world, publishing-wise, doesn’t it?)
Lastly was a panel moderated by Steven Guarnaccia and featuring Claudia Bedrick of Enchanted Lion (a fabulous independent publisher here in NYC known for her international perspective), David Macaulay (one of the coolest book creators around –he even did a TED Talk), and Etienne Delessert.
I got so much out of the day, but do have two suggestions if it happens again. First of all, I would love to see an even greater variety of speakers from all parts of the world, ideally in person. And then, the only time the audience was invited to participate was at the end with the panel. Providing that opportunity with each of the speakers would have been most interesting too. But otherwise I’m glad I was there (and given that it was a spectacularly beautiful day outside it wasn’t easy to be inside!).
Brian Floca going for some wine (and perhaps the chocolate and bread as well) at the reception.
During the reception Sophie Blackall pulled out some unique Guinness potato chips out of her Mary Poppins-ish bag — they were surprisingly tasty, far better than Sophie’s face suggest, not too heavily lagerish, that is. (Sophie, I hope you will forgive me, but I did just love you sharing them with us:)
And then two great men (I’m between them) — Neal Porter and David Macaulay (and is that perchance a complete loaf of crusty bread in your jacket, Mr. Macaulay?) .