Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Et Pourquoi Pas Toi? - Editions Notari

Et Pourquoi Pas Toi? by Madalena Matoso, Editions Notari, 2011

Hello everybody !

Today I shall tell you about a beautiful picture book for younger children even if, if I think of it better, it’s a book for all ages. It’s one of Notari's last publications, I discovered it during the Bologna Book fair and that I am now happy to share with you. Notari is a small and eclectic publishing house from Switzerland that is run by the nice couple Luca and Paola Notari (of course).

For a start I would like to talk a bit about the author of this book: Madalena Matoso. Illustrator and author, Matoso is one of the founders of Planeta Tangerina, an interesting publishing atelier that has produced several picture books of great interest, suffice it to take a look at their catalogue to realize it. Madalena Matoso’s books are not new in Italy, in fact with Topipittori publishing she has two titles: Quanti Siamo in Casa and Quando Sono Nato, that have been published as well in French by Notari under the titles Chez Moi Nous Sommes and Quand je suis né, together with Se Balader. Only one title has been translated and published, this year, in English: When I was Born, published by Tate Publishing. Matoso has received several recognitions amid which the CJ Picture Book Award, furthermore in 2008 she was selected for the 28th Edition of the Exhibit "Le Immagini della Fantasia" in Sarmede.

But let’s talk about  Et Pourquoi Pas Toi? !

The book is wordless, its structure very simple and clever:

as you can see, despite the imperfection of my picture, the book has a cut at the middle of the pages, separating the tables in two mobile straps, images are consequently modular. Translation in images of the surrealist idea of the cadavre exquis (or exquisite corpse), of which another beautiful example is the Bestiaire Universel du Professeur Revillod, this book plays with image narration, though it maintains shapes and colours apt for a younger audience: clear cut images, on a white background, geometrical shapes, basic colours, image composition isn’t very complex though detailed; characters, outlined in a simple way, correspond to reassuring logics and are easily read.

In order to obtain a functional mechanism, on the left hand side all characters are dressed in red, while on the right they are dressed in blue, here below are a couple of examples:

Not only: image composition has been studied so as to give continuity to the upper and lower parts of the pages therefore, thanks to the use of simple geometric shapes, any combination you choose, page-cuts always correspond to a finished and following image, that sometimes leads to magic implications...

others simply fun ones

The declared topic of this book is beautiful and important: it tells of equality between men and women. In theory it’s a very complex topic to deal with though, thanks to the mechanism of mobile straps, all difficulties seem to disappear, there’s no need for words to explain, you just need to turn the page, the meaning is intuitive and immediate. This is how we end up meeting men and women doing the most varied jobs: women scientists, farmers, magicians or rock stars (see above), and men doing baby-sitting or just taking care of their sick kids, or primary school teachers...

Exactly because of the wide range of possible combinations, there are no age, nor sex limits. More: to a closer analysis the message goes far beyond equality between men and women, as in this gorgeous book there are no ethnical limitations: be you white, black, yellow or blue, you can do all you want. It’s the representation of an ideal world where I would want to live as well.

Created in collaboration with the Department for Social Cohesion, Youth and Sports of the town of Geneva, this book is an important tool for modern children from any nation: the idea of equality amid sexes and races is never learned soon enough, especially when society is subject to quick and important changes, like nowadays, especially when integration is a daily, urgent, issue. Maybe, with a book like this, children (or future adults) will learn not to look their neighbour with suspicion, and they will be able to give course to new perspectives for everyone.

Shortly: an international book for modern children! What else could you wish for?

I can already hear them: "is this a job for girls

                                                                                                                         or for boys?                                                                       
how about this one?

and this?"

P.S. I received the book from the Publishers upon selection at the Book Fair in Bologna, I thank them for their kindness and precious collaboration.

Copyright© text and images, Ed. Notari 2011. Images have been reproduced with the publisher’s permission, all unauthorized reproduction is strictly forbidden.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Favole di Esopo - Topipittori

Fables by Aesop, illustrations by Simone Rea, translation by Bianca Mariano*, Topipittori Editore, March 2011

I had been waiting for the publication of this book for about a year, I had fallen in love with  Simone Rea's artwork at first glance and since then, at regular intervals, I asked Giovanna and Paolo for some news about the book. I must have been a real pain in the neck!

The book was finally published in March, right before the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and to confirm how strange life can be, a few weeks before I had personally met Simone in Rome, during a wonderful laboratory at Orecchio Acerbo Publishing house.

But let's start with order, because today we're talking about what is considered the forerunner of modern fables, and this deserves at least a short introduction.

During the centuries, Aesop's Fables have been translated several times - from Greek to Latin, to medieval versions in vulgar (Isopet or Ysopet) – and revisions; in some cases we could as well say they were re-written, as it was the case with Jean de La Fontaine who rewrote them according to the needs of his times. Also from the iconographic point of view, the Fables have been the source of several interpretations: from the famous New York Public Library's Esopo Mediceo to the one from Augusta, dating the end of 1400, up to the very famous children's version, titled Baby's Own Aesop, by Walter Crane dating 1887, not to forget Milo Winter's and Arthur Rackham's dating the beginning of 1900. To end this quick excursus let me mention one last masterpiece: the interpretation Antonio Frasconi gave of the Fables, for those who can read Italian, Publisher Topipittori wrote this beautiful post on its blog. Several diatribes regarding Fables' paternity took place in time and space: in fact, to its primeval nucleus several additions were made in later epochs, imitating their style, in some cases metrics as well, to the point that the identification of the original Fables became quite difficult to evince. To this purpose I suggest you to take a look at the Fables Pedigree you can find here and to read this article where their classification is thoroughly explained **.

We could talk about Aesop's Fables for days, but let's get to our times because, as it seems, the attention towards this literature's classic hasn't decreased: as an evidence to what I'm saying, let me mention the recent version published by Milan Presse with artwork by Jean-Francois Martin, that was awarded with the Fiction Bologna Ragazzi Award, and the beautiful version object for this post.

For a start, please allow me to make a short evaluation on the Fable's selection the publisher made: we're talking 20 fables, for each one we have a double page spread; amid the selected Fables we find some famous texts, such as The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Cat and the Mice, The Fox and the Grapes, together with less usual ones such as The Donkey and the Mule and The Crab and its Mother. A refined selection that has been clearly meditated at length.

And now let's talk about Simone Rea's artwork!

                                                                            The Lion and the Dolphin

The first thing that strikes me while looking at those illustrations is the use of colour: even though there is not much space left for white, Rea's tables are sober and elegant. His colours, peculiar and wisely measured, fill the glance and give us a sense of time suspension: the seraphic azures, at times clear others more material, copious or transparent reds, or the more neutral nuances to whom the illustrator gives the task to soothe the turmoil resulting from other colours. If you notice, white appears in the details: in the dolphin's dress light lace above, or in the chair in the illustration that follows, in the dresses' collars or in the t-shirt and in the frog's face from the last illustration. Another aspect that meets my taste in particular is Simone's sensibility for material, for the scratched, scraped off stroke, that often gives images with a modern tone an air of something more consumed, as if we were observing a film worn by the many projections, as if to underline the infinite repetition of these stories, indirect recall to the Fable's ancient life.

The Monkeys and their Mother

Another important aspect that needs be taken into consideration about Simone’s images is their composition. In fact, in order to maintain a sense of space and lightness, and of course to allow text inclusion, where narrating elements are composite, the heart of image narration plays all around structures that tend to agglomerate, giving to the tables background the task to soothe the scene and to create enough space to insert the text. Framings, always accurately distinct, give reading its rhythm and liveliness. I would also like to emphasize Rea’s incredible synthesis capability when narrating: even if it’s true that the Fables don’t have large texts, on the contrary most of them do have a very succinct one, it is also true that some of these stories entered popular tradition in many countries and, consequently, were enriched with a particularly important cultural and iconic inheritance. Our illustrator’s ability, to my opinion, consists in having inserted with discretion and intelligence some archaic elements re-elaborated in a more topic key.

The Gnat and the Bull

Let me clear this point: Fables, where they formed part of popular cultural patrimony, at first had a purely moral task and, only in a second moment, a pedagogical one, especially from the moment they were designated as an essential element in children’s educational equipment; in both cases the parallel between animal’s and human behaviours is perfectly clear, as much as it’s clear these behaviours were used as an example to communicate a common sense lesson. While observing Rea’s tables it appears quite evident how his playing with some elements, as for instance clothes used to dress animals as if they were men (not a new expedient but still used with remarkable skill), or the insertion of modernity cross-references (I’m thinking for instance at the puzzles magazine you find in The Monkeys and Their Mother ‘s image above, but also at the digital camera in The Frogs' Complaint against the Sun just to name a couple), do contribute in a decisive way to the reader’s identification process and, as a result of this, to an easier assimilation of the message contained in the text. It’s curious to observe how a similar process, in specific animal’s clothing, applied by two contemporary artists, almost the same age, may generate such distinct results: if we take Martin’s Fables illustrated for Milan Presse, and we compare them to Rea’s, we can recognize the similarity of intents that differs in the way these are filtered by the artists both in the chromatic choice, minimal in Martin’s tables, more complex in Rea’s ones, and in the settings: decidedly more retro for the French and more contemporary for the Italian. We’re talking here two excellent interpretations, no doubt. Were I forced to find a small flaw, I would instinctively think that the amazing artworks produced by Martin might be less immediate to a younger reader, that the refinement of his tables, and their reference to artworks from the first decades of the 20th century, might risk to lose that feeling of empathy I fully find in Rea’s artworks. It’s though appropriate to remind that children aren’t a single entity and that, any single one of them perceives and filters images according to his/her own sensibility, therefore my digression right above might be completely useless: what stands out, in the end, is the amazing work they both produced.

One last note goes to the book’s flyleaves: perfect anteroom for what we will find in the internal pages, inhabited by animals-children simply outlined with pastels, gently laid on the page, ready to lead us into this archetypal travel and to bring us back to where they found us, maybe slightly different.

If you’re curious to know more about Simone Rea, you can take a look at his blog.

*    with the exception of The Crow and the Fox, done by Topipittori.
** just for complete information, and if you can read Italian, let me signal as well this extract from Confessioni e battaglie by Carducci where, at point III, he tells about "l'Esopo senese curato dal Targioni e dal Gargani" [Aesop from Siena edited by Targioni and Gargani] that was published by Le Monnier in 1864.

Copyright© text and images, Ed. Topipittori 2011. Images have been published with the Publisher’s permission, any unauthorised reproduction being severely forbidden.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Premio Bologna Children's Book Fair - Fundaciòn SM International Prize for Illustration

Once again the Book Fair is over, the last official act was the assignment of the Fundaciòn SM Award, an important moment not just for illustrators, followed by the diploma ceremony for all the selected illustrators who submitted their artwork this year.

The recipient of the 2011 Bologna Children's Book Fair - Fundaciòn SM International Prize for Illustration is 

Page Tsou

Page is from Taiwan but he lives in London, he has an MA in Communication and Art Design obtained at the London Royal College of Art. Though he's at the beginnings of his artistic career, Page has already obtained many amid mentions and recognitions, he had already been selected at the Bologna Book Fair in 2008 and 2010, and he now finally obtained the prize in this last edition.

If you're interested in getting to know him better, here is his website:

and his two blogs: 

both extremely interesting.

Here is the video of the award reception:

Here the other illustrators receiving their diplomas:

Part One

Part Two

Here some images from the illustrator's exhibit:


Sunday, 3 April 2011

ALMA Award 2011

I was right there, at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, waiting for the announcements of the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, people started to gather, await was filled with soothed chattering. I asked myself if it would be as touching as it were last year: Kitty Crowther's work has, for me, a special meaning and this was one of the reasons why I felt so much touched when the announcement was made in 2010. And like last year Kitty was there, once again, she sat right in front of me, which made me all emotional again, when I see her I always feel like a kid facing her hero! Ok, enough with emotions, let's regain composure!

I decided to grab my camera and wait...

Who will be the winner? I was wondering, fervent with expectation.

The jury members arrived, the moment was getting closer... time to start shooting!

And, directly from Sweden, the name is finally announced: "The winner is....

A wonderful year for the australian illustrator: after the more glamourous recognitions directly form Hollywood here it comes, the most important prize for an illustrator, the ALMA Award!!!

Amid his books:

Once again the ALMA jury has selected an illustrator whose unique, courageous, work stands out of traditional values, whose way of looking at the world can be mercyless, whose ability to find poetry in smaller details, that slowly become predominant, is unequalled. 

Here is my video (once again I do apologise for all its imperfection) of the announcement, enjoy!