- Hello, Dear Enemy! Picture Books for Peace and HumanityRemarks on the International Youth Library Exhibition
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The Idea Behind the Exhibition
War, terror, and violence, insurmountable walls and borders, will exist as long as national struggles for power, ideologies, and fanaticism of all kinds threaten our communal human spririt. The “culture of peace” that UNESCO has been endorsing for years remains a distant goal. Images of violence, destruction, hatred and suffering and of poverty and misery dominate the headlines. Hundreds of thousands of people are on the run. Burdened by past trauma, they become neighbors to those who grew up in comfort and security. World events of the last months have propelled this topic to prominence in current discussions, yet it is not new.
At the International Youth Library, the topic of war and peace has been of central concern for many years. We are especially interested in how picture books narrate the topic. Children are confronted in many ways by war, hostility, and escape—some bear its traumatic effects, others are not immediately affected but are inquisitive. Picture books dealing with this topic in literary and artistic ways cannot answer all questions nor can they still all fears, but they can provoke reflection and inspire dialogue that sensitizes readers to processes of exclusion and invites them jointly to reflect on the foundations for a peaceful future.
Arising out of these considerations, the International Youth Library sent a “peace and tolerance” collection of forty picture books to the IBBY Congress in New Delhi in 1998. International interest in the books was so strong that the collection was reworked several times in the following years, enhanced with informational plates and a catalogue with commentary. The book exhibition “Hello, Dear Enemy! Picture Books for Peace and Tolerance” emerged from this collection of books and traveled the world: from Japan to Russia and Europe, all the way to the United States and Latin America.
On the Current Version of “Hello, Dear Enemy!”
In the fall of 2014, against the backdrop of the rapidly intensifying global crisis of the last two years, the exhibition was thoroughly updated in terms of its content, and a staging design for the presentation of the books was also developed. The exhibition now carries the slightly altered title “Hello, Dear Enemy! Picture Books for Peace and Humanity” and contains sixty picture books, of which the majority have been published within the last fifteen years. The exhibition is thematically divided into four groups which deal respectively with the concrete experiences of war and escape; the causes of war and violence; xenophobia and prejudice; and, finally, peace utopias. In contrast to earlier book selections, this exhibition focuses its content on the present; thus, picture books on the Holocaust and Hiroshima, which were given much room in earlier versions of the exhibition, are absent. This decision was made in part because compelling picture books have appeared in the last few years that directly consider the role of children in actual war zones and broach the experiences of persecution and escape. Also, the topics of the Holocaust and Hiroshima weigh so heavily that they ought to receive their own exhibitions.
Most of the picture books in the exhibition convey assurance and a clear message. Reality as presented in picture books lies at a distance from the real world, given the straightforwardness of their stories and their abstract, funny, comic-like, naïve, or colorful illustrations. This allows children to encounter existential needs, fears, and threats without suffering traumatic effects. That said, these stories avoid sentimentality and downplaying as much as they avoid shocking directness. Instead, characteristic stylistic techniques of picture book illustration such as humor, facial miming, gestures, exaggeration, and simplification are utilized; the literary template of the animal fable is also often drawn upon. This creates a balance between the seriousness of the topic and what is appropriate for children to handle.
In the category of “Lived experiences of war, destruction and escape,” there are picture books concerned with everyday life in crisis areas and with the reality of war, dictatorship, escape, homelessness, and uprootedness. In contrast to newspaper and...