Librarians usually call them “wordless books”; recently I visited the Halifax Central Library to see the traveling IBBY exhibit of Silent Books. This is a collection of around 100 books, from all over the world, that anyone, no matter their native tongue, can read. In fact, that’s the whole idea of the exhibit—a collection of books accessible to newcomers – immigrants and refugees who arrive in a land where their native tongue is not the lingua franca. The collection was created, according to the IBBY website, in response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving in the Italian island, Lampedusa. The collection created the first library on the island to be used by local and immigrant children.
Here in Nova Scotia, there are already Syrian refugee families arriving, even in our rural area, and we expect there to be more. What a wonderful idea that we can offer books for families to share, no matter their language. We all have wordless books in our collections, and I am working on creating a booklist so that it is easy to find them, both for the public and for our staff.
Now on to the books in the exhibit. The complete catalogue of the books is available here. Take a look: the books truly are from all over the world. I saw books from Portugal, Spain, Russia, Thailand, France, Germany, Pakistan, and many other countries. And the thing is, I could read all of these books. I may not have understood the title, as it was in language I do not know, but I certainly understood the stories. That’s the beauty of a picture book – a short story that often makes one think about life. I read a book about an urban couple who went out to pick blackberries, only to find the neighbor’s dog peeing on the bushes. So they grew their own. I read a book about a Congolese deli with an International clientele. I read about three pigs who tricked a wolf and then made a nice rug for their home.
Some of these books made me sigh at the beauty and design, such as Loup Noir, from France. Illustrated in black and white, all angles and starkness, this story cleverly tricked the reader into thinking the wolf was bad, but in the end, the wolf saved the day. It reminds us that appearances are not what they seem, and our first impressions need deeper thought before we jump to conclusions. I laughed out loud at La Caca Magica from Spain. My inner five year old chortled at the graphic-novel style story of a bird who poops on a rabbit, but gets a big surprise in the end.
These books were funny. They were endearing. They were absurd, beautiful works of art. I felt like I was on a world tour where I got a little insight into stories from other cultures, stories that felt very familiar. Look again at your wordless books. They are silent in one way, but then again, they speak volumes. And if you are lucky enough to be near this exhibit as it tours the world, go see it!