Notes from near and far

Did you know that there is another excellent children’s literature archive within a bus ride of Roehampton’s Children’s Literature Collection? The Wandsworth Collection of Early Children’s Books is housed in Putney Library on the corner of Putney High Street and Disraeli Rd; you can take the 265 bus from Roehampton and walk across the bridge into the High Street. It’s best to take a look at the printed Wandsworth catalogue in Roehampton library first to locate items you might want to see and you’ll need to make an appointment with the archivist, Ferelith Hordon (Putney Library tel: 020 8871 7090), who knows the collection inside out. I spent a day there recently and, despite arriving dripping wet thanks to a flash downpour (not the best condition in which to handle rare books), enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome from Ferelith who could not have been more helpful. The collection is particularly strong on non-fiction, with many early textbooks and travel narratives. Intriguing gems include no. 573 in the catalogue, Willy’s holidays; or, Conversations on different kinds of governments. Intended for young children, proving that citizenship was certainly part of the Early Years Curriculum in 1836; or Caroline Amelia Halstead’s Investigation; or, travels in the boudoir (no. 561). Make of that what you will – or, better still, go to Putney and find out.

A visit to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to take part in a panel discussion at the invitation of the Fair’s Translation Centre was a real highlight of this year. Wandering around the vast hangars of book displays from a huge range of countries and publishers induced a bedazzled state: the scale of the event is just overwhelming. The only way in is to engage with a couple of strands – no matter what – and stick with them, so I chose Lithuania, the guest of honour at Bologna 2011, and anything I could find on apps. At a lunchtime event Lithuanian writers and artists opened eyes to the circumstances in which they work; one artist whose previous job was that of grave digger described the daily six kilometre walk to his studio through the dense forest that inspires his illustrations. And what illustrations there were from the Lithuanian contingent! But it is, of course, desperately difficult to export this work beyond the borders of a small country: Bologna is a timely and necessary reminder of cultural activity beyond the English-speaking world.

Apps – what did we ever do without them? (Well, some of us still do exist without them, but probably not for long). A talk on illustration in the digital era was irresistible, especially as Michael Neugebauer was to take part; his reputation at the high-end of German picturebook publishing (Lisbeth Zwerger is on his list, for example) led me to expect a debate in which he would condemn the app as a gimmick – but not a bit of it.  Neugebauer has been working for some time with digital engineer Umesh Shukla to see what can be done with books already published, and what might be possible from scratch. Shukla argued that apps have a whole range of functionality: they are dynamic and interactive; they can enlarge, shift, add sound effects and create what he called sound images. As an example we saw work on an existing book, Lisbeth Zwerger’s The Little Mermaid

with water movement in the underwater scenes to enhance the ambiance. The effect was certainly mesmerising and did not appear to interfere with the integrity of the artist’s style – a basic principle for Shukla who is determined that his company should maintain the soul of the book. We also saw a few images created directly as apps (for another publisher) by Rosemary Wells – in her case there was no book behind the app. The conclusion was that a great book does not necessarily make a great app, and that Illustrators, Shukla claimed, will need to start thinking differently: if my book were to become an app, how might it work? AND one boon is that it’s possible to add different languages to an app – perhaps this is a future way out of the linguistic ghetto for minority language picturebook authors and artists.

Gillian Lathey

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